Children often struggle with the social stigma that comes from being poor. Some kids might be teased or bullied because of their predicament, and even those that aren’t can wind up feeling inferior or deprived, especially when their friends at school are talking about all the wonderful new things they have. But there are ways for parents to push back against this stigma.
- Talk about how people often put on a false front, surrounding themselves with nice new things that they can’t actually afford racking up credit card bills. This type of thing was so common it caused a massive financial crisis. So while some families may indeed have more than you do, also remind them that appearances can be deceiving.
- Talk about how there are many ways to measure happiness and well-being, and money is just one measure, and it certainly isn’t the most important. So what if your friends have more money? Do they have parents that love them as much? Do they enjoy the same experiences? Are they learning the value of hard work? Would they know how to have fun if you took all their toys away? The things you have may be more precious than the expensive things they have.
- Be sure to give kids context for the messages they see on TV. This is a good time to discuss how companies and advertisers will try to trick us into thinking that happiness comes from money or that you need to have a lot of stuff in order to be cool. Make it a game to point out all the false messages you see on TV.
- One of the messages children might be confronted with is that people who are poor deserve to be poor, or that if your parents don’t make a lot of money it’s because they’re either stupid or lazy, potentially both. Parents are a big part of a child’s personal identity, and nobody enjoys feeling that they are the spawn of a stupid, lazy, good-for-nothing parent. So talk with kids about the other factors that might lead to problems, such as layoffs or an inability to go to college or the problem of having a degree in a particular field but not enough jobs in the area to match. Make sure they know there are plenty of other things that can lead to hardships which have nothing to do with being dumb or lazy.
- Point out that they are not alone. According to recent statistics in the U.S., 70% of households are living paycheck to paycheck, have little or no savings, and have a significant amount of credit card debt. Around 28 million Americans are receiving food stamps. Data also shows that families with children are more likely to be struggling. Which means that a good portion of the kids in their class know exactly what you’re going through.