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Mentoring Tips: Talking about Poverty

 In Across the Country, All About Kids, Ideas for mentoring

IMG_0363The following email is from a Kids Hope USA mentor whose student’s family is below the poverty level in her area. We wanted to share the response from the Kids Hope USA Child Psychology Team in case you ever wonder what to do if this topic of conversation comes up for you.

The Child Psychology Team is available 24/7 to any Mentor or Director in the Kids Hope USA network. Email with your questions. 

Sent: Kids Hope USA – Responding to Poverty Question

Good Afternoon!

I have a question regarding my Kids Hope USA student whom I’ve been meeting with now for four years. My student is in fifth grade and we have a very open and close relationship. I’ve always been aware that there have been family struggles and that he is on the “free lunch program,” but it has never been an issue or a topic of discussion for us until today.

This afternoon, during our mentoring hour, my student shared with me that sometimes it felt as though everyone else’s life was perfect, but that my his is not. I asked why he felt this way, and he explained that his family has a “lot of money issues.” And that it makes his parents stressed out, and that now he and his siblings were fighting all of the time.

I did my best to encourage him, but honestly I had no idea how to respond in regards to a family having money issues. I told him that even though this was very stressful, that I was sure his parents really cared about him and his siblings, and were doing the best they could to take care of him. But I didn’t know how to address the stress of feeling poverty as a fifth grader. Do you have any suggestions on how to respond if/when it comes up again? Things to say, do, or not say?

Thank you so much!

Kids Hope USA Mentor

Received: Kids Hope USA Mentor – Responding to Poverty Question

Hello! It is great to hear from you and I hope you are well – thank you for all you do as a mentor!

As far as your question, that is a really tough one! Poverty is just a tough issue. Here are a couple of thoughts:

1) I appreciate that your student trusts you enough to share such a difficult issue. While he is sharing this type of information, I would encourage you to use all of your active listening skills to allow him to keep talking. It may even be helpful to focus on the emotion that you observe during your conversations (sad, mad, scared, etc). Even if you can’t “fix” the circumstances, there is a powerful message you convey when you stick with him in spite of circumstances.

You might also keep focusing on the identity issue – he is important to you regardless of how much money his family has. It is these types of conversations that kids tend to gain a sense of value and empowerment.

2) Keep enabling your behind-the-scenes prayer partner. Certainly, financial stress trickles out to all of the family members. It is difficult to hear that the stress is causing conflict among the siblings. Having your prayer partner covering the entire family in prayer behind-the-scenes will produce unexpected blessings!

Just let me know if you have any additional thoughts or questions. Thanks for the way you are investing in the life of your student. You are priceless!

Grace & Peace,

Dr. Emilie


Has your student ever had conversation’s about poverty with you? How have you chosen to respond? What has worked and what has not? Share in the comments below!

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