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The Parent ‘Hood: Concerns about poverty

The Parent ‘Hood: Concerns about poverty

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Your child is upset about the child in need you bought gifts for. How can you help?

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Parent advice (from Tribune staff contributors):

I would explain to my daughter that her feelings are exactly why I am giving to a child we do not know. I feel the same as she does! I would then explain that there are children who are needy throughout the year and that we should not only think about them during the holidays. Going forward, I would have her help me find an organization that we could work with so our family’s concern and donations could be ongoing and frequent.

—Dodie Hofstetter

Tell her you understand and appreciate her concern, and tell her you are proud of her for that. Maybe formulate a post-holiday game plan that lets you stay in touch with the child and offer help the rest of the year — anything from a little shopping trip to the gift of clothing or books to taking the child out for a meal or on a field trip. Form a bond with the child. You’ll be teaching your kid that caring isn’t something you do just for the holidays.

—Bill Hageman

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Expert advice:

Any number of thoughts may be swirling through your daughter’s mind as she contemplates the needy child’s plight.

“On an unconscious or even a conscious level, it might stimulate worries about ‘What if my mom or dad disappears and can’t give me Christmas gifts?’” says family therapist Fran Walfish, author of “The Self-Aware Parent: Resolving Conflict and Building a Better Bond With Your Child” (Palgrave McMillan). “Your daughter may simply be a very sensitive child who wants others to be as happy as she is.”

The important thing is to help her understand that by providing gifts for the needy child, you are making an important difference not only in one life, but also in a larger problem that plagues the world.

“Children feel a sense of powerlessness against big problems like poverty,” Walfish says. “This gives her a chance to take action and feel in control to help.”

Help her understand that the gesture is as important as the specific gifts.

“Remind her that whether you’re buying the child an iPod or a $5 gift card, you’re letting this child know she has an extended family in us,” Walfish says. “Our thinking about her and reaching out to her has great meaning and warms her in a way that can’t be measured.”

Be careful not to pile on the messages if your daughter is prone to anxiety though.

“Know your child,” Walfish says. “Some kids get really frightened when they see a homeless person on the street. Others don’t. It’s important that parents do some gentle prodding, versus pushing and directing, when it comes to understanding big issues like poverty and homelessness.”

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