How Do I Talk to My Child About Homelessness?
Children observe the world around them and may have questions about what they see. Here are some tips on talking about homelessness.
You and your child are out for a stroll on a sunny afternoon, taking in the sights and sounds of the city. Across the street, your child notices a woman and her children standing on the sidewalk with a sign asking for help. When you look at your child, you notice questions swirling around in their mind, and you wonder, “How do I answer their difficult questions?”
Begin with their questions
According to Meeghan Bergmann, LICSW, IMH-E®, Early Childhood Mental Health Specialist at Wellspring’s Early Learning Center, “When you talk with your child about homelessness, follow their lead and respond to their questions with direct, honest, and developmentally appropriate information. By having these conversations early, you are building a relationship where they trust that they can bring their big questions about injustices in the world to you and that you will support them in learning what leads to injustices like homelessness.”
Let them know that homelessness can happen for various reasons, such as poverty, medical issues, job loss, and many others. When having these conversations, remember to be mindful and empathetic. Explain that homelessness can take various forms depending on each person’s circumstances. Families experiencing homelessness frequently avoid the streets by staying with friends, couch surfing, or sleeping in vehicles. Others may seek out temporary shelters or sleep in tents.
Share age-appropriate resources
There are a lot of great resources to share with your child to help them learn more about this sensitive subject. For example, Sesame Street addressed homelessness by introducing Lily, a muppet that experienced homelessness and food insecurity with her family. Books can also help facilitate conversations about homelessness. Meeghan recommends these books to read with your child: Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen by Dyanne Disalvo Ryan; A Place to Stay: A Shelter Story by Erin Gunti; Rich: A Dyamonde Daniel Book by Nikki Grime; and Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting.
Discuss ways to engage in your community
Take action together by volunteering at local community resource centers, holding a donation drive to support organizations addressing homelessness, or reaching out to faith-based organizations and other community groups to offer your family’s support.
Homelessness is around us—visibly on the street—as well as hidden when families are doubling up or couch surfing. It is a complicated issue that can be challenging to discuss with your child. Take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves and keep the conversation going as your child grows.