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How to teach children about poverty

How can we talk to our children about the sadness and complexities of poverty in an age-appropriate way?


We all want our children to grow up with understanding and empathy for the challenges others face around the world. But how can we talk to our children about the sadness and complexities of poverty in an age-appropriate way, without confusing or overwhelming them? We asked some of our friends to share their thoughts and top tips:

Asher Morrison - Clinical Psychologist and friend of Compassion Australia

One of the real benefits of exposing children to the lives of those in poverty is the opportunity to foster and develop empathy. Empathy is a key attribute to healthy relationships and is something that develops throughout childhood as children move from a "me" focused (egocentric) worldview to a worldview that takes into account the needs of others.

  • Keep conversations age-appropriate. Understand your child's current level of social and emotional development. This will guide you in deciding the amount of information to share with them. The challenge in exposing children to poverty is in finding the balance between sharing the stories and challenges of those in poverty, without sharing potentially traumatic details.
  • It’s okay if children get emotional. Don’t dismiss sad feelings about the situation. This can be an expression of empathy and it’s perfectly okay for your child to feel sad or angry or any manner of negative emotions about the plight of others. However, it is helpful to then use these feelings as a spring board to find hope. Which leads me to my last point ...
  • Empower them to take action. Have some ideas about the course of action that you could take to help a person in poverty, as your child will probably want to do something about the situation.

Michele Cushatt - Author, speaker,Compassion International Ambassador and mother of six children

  • Learn to always keep your eyes open. When you drive past a homeless person, engage in a conversation, pray over that man or woman, talk about organisations within your community you can partner with to serve them.
  • Practice gratitude. Teach your children how blessed they truly are by expressing gratitude for the daily pleasures and conveniences we have. For example, three meals a day, a warm house, comfortable beds to sleep in, clean (and warm!) water, access to medical care, the privilege of an education.
  • Commit to generosity. When celebrating a birthday or Christmas, find ways to give away gifts before receiving any. We make it a habit on Christmas morning to deliver presents to a rescue mission before opening a single present at home. It changes the attitude and tone of the entire day.

Bonnie Yule-Kuehne - Global Vice President, Alpha International

Compassion and Alpha

“I have found child sponsorship a helpful way of connecting my son to the huge issue of global poverty on a very personal level. We sponsor four children in total and over the years, Zac has shared in our sponsored children’s lives and stories. He gets to read letters from children who have grown up in different situations to his own. He gets to learn about the everyday details such as what they wear to school and how long it takes for them to walk there. I don’t think there is a better way to help develop your child’s understanding of poverty, than to encourage a personal friendship between your child and a child in an entirely different circumstance somewhere else in the world.”

Tania Sullivan - Mum of 13 and blogger at largerfamilylife.com

Tania Sullivan Compassion

“Preparing for our recent trip to Uganda gave us plenty of opportunities to speak with our children about where Cait and I were going and why. We used a map, to begin explaining in very simple terms how not all children are as fortunate in what they have, not only regarding tangible things and possessions but also opportunities. We talked a lot about a lack of resources and choices. We also watched Compassion videos which were a great way of opening up further discussions.

All my children, in their own way, understood the reason for our trip and wanted to be part of it. The younger children helped pack the gifts we took and others offered money from their savings which they asked to be used to help.

On our return, the children were eager to hear about what we had seen in Uganda and what it was like to meet Doreen and her family. Being able to show them our videos and share our personal experiences helped a great deal. It brought the reality of poverty alive.”

Lily-Jo - Singer, songwriter and founder of thelilyjoproject.com

Lily Jo family

“When talking to my children about poverty, I want them to know that they have been created to make a difference to the world around them. One of our favourite things to do as a family is to read the letters from our sponsored children. My kids also really enjoy writing back and sending them pictures that they’ve drawn. I try to encourage this as much as possible, as it’s a great way help develop their social conscience. It also helps them to realise that there is more to life outside the safe walls of our home.”

Child sponsorship is something the whole family can be part of, whether it’s praying for your sponsored child, reading and writing letters together or learning about life as a child in another part of the world.

Find out more


This blog is inspired by Compassion Australia and friend of Compassion Australia, Asher Morrison.

WORDS : Compassion UK

PHOTOS : Compassion International

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