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At this age, children are quite literal, so your discussions with them need to be simple and to the point. To effectively explain such a complex subject:

  1. Wait for your child to bring it up. If you encounter a homeless person, your child may have questions, and this is a good opportunity to teach them.
  2. Express empathy and sadness for the person. By emphasizing how you feel sad that some people don’t have a place to live, you provide an opportunity for children to understand the importance of recognizing others’ hardships while modeling empathy.
  3. Provide a simple explanation to their question. We’ve all been asked questions by small children about our homeless neighbors (Why? How come?) It’s best to respond with an answer that a small child can understand, i.e. “Some people don’t have enough money to pay for a house.”
  4. Avoid discussing additional components such as mental illness or disability. Unless your child has specifically asked, adding in this layer will only confuse a young child.
  5. Encourage your child to discuss how to help. At this age, donating toys or picking-out items to give to a nonprofit may make more of an impact than donating money, which may be too abstract for some young children. That said, depending on your level of involvement, it may be appropriate to provide opportunities for your children to give through family activities like hosting a donation drive, or collecting donations in lieu of birthday gifts or holiday gifts.
  6. Assure your child that there are options for those struggling with homelessness. Young children may have feelings of sadness or worry after hearing that some children don’t have a place to live. Assure them that there are organizations who help homeless people find places to live, and reassure them of their own safety and security.

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