Talking to Your Kids About Hunger (and other difficult subjects)

Talking to your kids about hungerOne of the great challenges of parenthood is talking to your kids about tough topics like hunger and training them to be critical thinkers and generous adults. Hunger isn’t fair, and it isn’t easy to understand or explain why we have so much when others have so little. Even as adults and parents, we don’t have all the answers. So how do we talk about tough topics like hunger with our kids? The short answer is that it varies – but there are some things we can do to navigate these muddy waters.

  1. Find Balance: (I feel so lame telling you to find balance. It’s like telling you to get more sleep or reduce your stress) Find the right balance between acknowledging the tough issues and controlling your kids’ exposure to troubles. A key here is that if they are old enough to notice and ask questions, they deserve honest answers. At three, a kid isn’t going to understand hunger at all, because they don’t really see past what they want at this exact moment. But we teach toddlers to share, and that’s an age-appropriate start. Preschoolers are more sensitive to what’s going on around them, and they start to see differences between people and ask questions about it. At this point, we can talk about how we are all different, but all loved by God, and all worthy of kindness.

    There is no hard and fast rule that applies to every kid, at every age. Some kids are really sensitive, and they need productive but limited exposure to the world’s bad parts or it eats them up. Other kids are less sensitive, and they sometimes need that exposure to crack through their shells. You know your kids. You know how tough topics affect them. You have to decide how much exposure they can handle.

    Likewise, find balance in your sources. The news media loves to sensationalize the bad parts, and fill the screen with graphic pictures that scare us into tuning in. Other organizations focus on the hope, but many use guilt tactics to raise money. Make sure you’re keeping an eye on what your kids see, and actively balance the messages they’re getting. Ask questions like, “why do you think the ASPCA makes commercials with pictures of sad dogs and cats?” By discussing what they see, you diffuse the guilt-inducing power of advertising and sensational news media. You also open the door to positive conversations.


  1. Turn a Tough Topic into an Opportunity for Conversation: Once a tough conversation starts, our instinct is often to provide trite answers and end it as fast as possible. We’re afraid we’ll say the wrong thing or upset our sensitive kids. And to be quite frank, we’re uncomfortable with the unfairness of hunger, and many of us struggle with guilt over how much we have and how others suffer. But I urge you, don’t shut down a wondering child. That sends the message that they shouldn’t care, and I know that’s not the message you want to send.

    Instead, turn the conversation into an opportunity. Talk about how things aren’t fair and we should be thankful for everything we have. Talk about what the Bible says about poverty and hunger, and what the Bible tells us to do. Deuteronomy 6:6-9 says, “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” Take ANY and EVERY opportunity to talk to your kids about God and his commands!

  2. Look for Heroes and Ways to Help: Beloved TV host Mr. Rogers once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” This is a great reminder to us adults when we watch the news, and good parenting advice as well. Remind your kids (and yourself) to look for the people who are standing up for justice. Look for the heroes who rush in when everyone is rushing out. Look for the aid workers who dedicate their lives to being in hard places for the sake of others. Look for volunteers and donors who make recovery possible.

    And then ask the most important question of all – “how can we help?” Finding a way to get involved diffuses feelings of powerlessness, victimization, and selfishness. Helping teaches compassion and generosity, and instills in us all a sense of community. Serving others is obedience to God’s commands. It opens doors for new friendships and opportunities to tell others about Jesus.

    If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few ideas:
    – In the search bar at the top of this page, key in “service projects” and all the posts I’ve done on that topic will appear.
    – Food Shelf Friday’s Pinterest page has two boards of service project ideas, and one of them is specifically geared toward serving with kids.
    – Sponsor a child through Compassion International, or write to your sponsored child.
    – Go through your toys and clothes, and donate a box of clean, usable items to your local Salvation Army, Goodwill, or local food shelf (If they take that type of donation).
    – Pick up a few extra items when you’re shopping, and donate them to a food shelf or a supply drive at your church.

There are a ton of ways you and your family can help others; this barely scratches the surface! Feel free to share ideas in the comments!

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