How to Explain Homelessness to Kids (without scaring them)
Seeing people who live on the street is, sadly, becoming more and more common. And when kids notice, they're naturally curious.
"Why doesn't s/he just go to the bank and the grocery store?"
Understandably, most parents aren't sure how to answer questions like this. Here are our suggestions.
Talk to kids about homelessness - they probably want to know if homeless people are mean
One of the most important concepts to get across when your child notices homelessness is that being homeless doesn't make you a bad person.
When you cross paths with a homeless person whether it's on the sidewalk or in the car, wait for an indication from your child that they noticed. If they do, that's your cue to say something about the situation.
You could say something like:
"I think it's sad that person doesn't have anywhere to live"
"Even though that person looks scary, s/he’s still a human being who deserves to be treated with kindness."
Whatever you choose to say, say something. It's so important not to shy away from these conversations, otherwise you're risking that your child will make their own conclusions.
Steer the conversation toward helping your child think about what homeless people might be feeling instead of just an object to be talked about.
Give some examples like "hungry," "scared," "cold," or "lonely." Try to get your child to offer their own examples. By making them feel like they're part of the conversation, you're helping them process information at their pace. So important!
Talk to kids about homelessness - they probably want to know if homeless people are lazy
Here's another common question from kids about homelessness:
"Why doesn't s/he have any place to live?"
Your answer needs to make it clear that people are homeless for lots of different reasons -- it's not due to individual failure.
For example, you could say something like:
"Maybe they got injured or sick and couldn't afford to pay for a doctor. Or maybe they lost their job and couldn't find another one. I don't know the exact answer."
Regardless of the reason, the point to make here is that it's not the fault of the homeless person that they're in such an unfortunate situation. It's not because they're too lazy to get a job.
The goal is to encourage compassion, not judgement. Dissuade any thinking you detect that your child is considering homeless people as a group that needs to be shamed.
TIP: Keep your answers simple. Bringing up domestic violence or housing affordability will only cloud the issue and give your child a reason to leave the conversation.
Talk to kids about homelessness - they probably want to know if they'll ever be homeless
Once you explain homelessness, kids usually get worried that they could end up homeless too.
"What if we lose our house?"
. . . or something similar is typically the kind of question kids ask.
Reassure them that will never happen to you.
"Even if we lose our home, which is highly unlikely, we could always get an apartment or move in with Grandma (or whomever). We'll never be on the street."
Try to remember to be consistent with your answers. This will help your child feel safe while building empathy and compassion.