Family

For families living in poverty, coping during the holiday season can be the most difficult time of the year

For families living in poverty, coping during the holiday season can be the most difficult time of the year

Photo: Getty Images | Design: Genevieve Pizzale

Family

For families living in poverty, coping during the holiday season can be the most difficult time of the year

Talking to kids about poverty during the holiday season is so important—especially because the kid next door might be getting significantly more or less than your own little one

It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. For most people the holiday season is about spending time with family and loved ones, giving and receiving gifts and sitting down for a big family meal complete with all the fixings. But for many others, the holidays can feel more like a time of heightened stress and shame. “Many low-income people are not connected to family or community,” says Anita Khanna, director of Social Action and Community Building at Family Service Toronto and the national coordinator for Campaign 2000. “If they do have social connections, they may isolate themselves because they can’t afford to give gifts or prepare food to share.” Plus, it can be even more difficult to get enough to eat when there is an increased demand at food banks and shelters during the holiday season. When you add kids to the mix, shame and isolation can take hold. Here’s what you need to know about how to talk to your kids about poverty, especially during the holiday season.
 

Children living in poverty face a heavy toll this time of year

“Low-income parents often put themselves last in order to shield their kids from poverty, and the parents’ health and well-being suffers for it,” says Khanna. Some parents may even skip meals or prescription medications to save up enough money to buy their child a special present. But the stress of poverty can affect children as well, explains family counsellor and parenting expert Alyson Schafer. “Interestingly, most kids who are living in poverty are not very selfish and they don’t want a gazillion things,” says Schafer. “They know mama's gone without, they know papa's working hard or is stressing.” Because of this, she explains, children in poverty are more likely to be too embarrassed to reveal what they secretly wish for and will often feel guilty for even wanting something that would take away from their family’s limited resources. Still, witnessing wealthier classmates or neighbours receiving more can take its toll on kids at this time of year, whether children are aware of their family’s situation or not.
 

How to talk to kids about poverty

When it comes to having the tough conversations with kids about poverty and explaining why their peers may have received more or less than they did, Schafer recommends parents always keep an open dialogue with kids and to always remain honest. “I never believe that you should lie to children,” says Schafer. “Even if it's to protect a child, a lie will ultimately backfire because at some point the lie will be revealed.” Instead, Schafer says to act as a sieve and to only allow a tiny bit of information to pass through when children are young and to explain more to them gradually as they grow older. For example, when children are still very young, keep things simple by explaining that mommy and daddy have a budget and that they’re able to spend a certain amount on their gift. When they're older, begin teaching them more about bills, expenses and the importance of giving back to those who are less fortunate.
 

Refocus the holiday conversation

Schafer says that it's on parents to the set the tone for how the family views their financial situation and the holiday season. “Kids really do look to their parents for their attitude,” she says. One way to set a more positive tone is by redefining what the holiday season means to you. It doesn’t need to be about gifts. “It's the Salvation Army ringing the bell, it's the highest charity donation time, it's when we put gifts for the homeless under the Christmas tree and it is all about the idea of community,” says Schafer. “We parents could reframe and emphasize other parts of the holiday season that remind us of the goodness of humanity.”
 
 
HOW YOU CAN HELP:

1. When it comes to Santa, keep it simple

It can be a little more understandable to a child (though not always easy to explain) why a friend has a nicer gift from Mom and Dad (they have more money), but it’s much harder to address why Santa would bring the latest and greatest toys to others, and not your little one—especially if they deserve to be on the nice list. Keep gifts from Santa simple, meaningful and inexpensive—and if you’re going to splurge, make that the gift from Mom and Dad. The last thing you want to do is reinforce the stigma that a less fortunate child is undeserving because of his or her circumstances.
 
2. Think long-term

“It’s really important for people to think beyond the holidays and look at ways to become sustainers of year-round initiatives,” says Khanna. Since poverty doesn’t begin and end during the holiday season, seek out local community food centres or worker support centres that are involved with advocating for better social programs in the long-term and see how you can help to end poverty for good. Darlene O’Leary, socio-economic policy analyst for the Citizens for Public Justice, says a good place to start is within your own community. “Get to know the people in your community who are struggling,” she says. “There are community centres, food centres, health centres, and faith communities that organize programs that support those in need and where you can build relationships.”
 
3. Donate, donate, donate

Numerous organizations across Canada are dedicated to helping those in poverty year-round and there are also many initiatives that are committed to helping families in poverty during the holidays by way of care packages, toy drives or food donations. Check out our story on organizations that support ending poverty as a good starting place. Initiatives like The Snowsuit Fund provide items like mittens, scarves and hats to those who can’t afford them during the cold winter months. The Neighbourhood Centre's Holiday Hamper Adopt-A-Family program lets you choose from a list of families and their holiday wish list for you to purchase Christmas gifts, food and other necessities for their hamper. There’s no shortage of ways to lend your support. 
 
4. Get the kids involved

It’s never too early to get your kids involved with giving back to those in need. Schafer recommends starting by giving your toddler a canned good to put in a food bank donation box as a small way to introduce the concept of charity to children. As they grow older, have your child help pick out which charity to support as a family or encourage them to go through their closet and pick out gently-worn clothes to donate.
 
5. Keep care packages handy

One way that Schafer and her family like to help during the holidays is by keeping a stash of care packages in her car for whenever a homeless person may need it. “I keep little brown paper bags that have kleenex and Tim Horton’s cards and socks in my car, and if we're at a stoplight when somebody's panhandling, I'll just ask my kids to hand me a bag to give to them,” says Schafer.
 
6. Offer your time and services

"Caring does not necessarily need to be a gift,” says Schafer. If you’re not in a position to help others financially, you can still get involved by giving back to the community through kind gestures. Shoveling snow for an elderly neighbour, volunteering time to look after the child of a constantly-working single-parent and even just saying “hello, how are you?” to somebody are all gestures that can be done to help or put a smile on someone’s face during a difficult holiday season.

Slideshow

prev next 1 of 11

Brands that give back

Peace Collective

This brand is so much more than its patriotic apparel. For every select garment sold, Peace Collective donates two meals to a Canadian child in need through Breakfast Club of Canada. Recently, they’ve taken on another cause and created the #Unignorable t-shirt in partnership with Pantone and United Way to put a spotlight on local issues such as social isolation, poverty and unemployment. Keep an eye out for more #Unignorable items and apparel in 2019.

Brands that give back

Afemme x Moon Time Sisters

Did you know that one third of Canadian women under 25 have struggled to afford menstrual products? That’s why it’s so important to support charities like Moon Time Sisters, which was born out of a need to help young women, specifically in northern communities, who are facing such difficulties. You can purchase women’s shelter kits through the brand’s website or one of Afemme’s handmade beaded bracelets, which also has a vision of normalizing menstruation stigma.

Brands that give back

Cheekbone Beauty x First Nations Child and Family Caring Society

When Cheekbone Beauty founder Jenn Harper was creating her cosmetics company she was simultaneously researching how to close the funding gap that exists between traditional and First Nations schools, which is often up to 50 per cent less. The Indigenous beauty brand donates 10 per cent of its profits to First Nations Child & Family Caring Society and has even bigger goals on the mind–to donate 100 per cent of proceeds from online purchases of its lip kit by 2023. 

Image by: instagram.com/cheekbonebeauty

Brands that give back

Lolë Yellow Label Program

The Quebec outfitter is back with its annual Yellow Label Program that sells your pre-worn outerwear and donates the proceeds to food banks including Moisson Montreal and the Great Vancouver Food Bank. So far the program has made measurable differences: the initiative has helped 1,900 families across North America and has raised over $400,000. How does it work? If you bring in your old coat into any Lolë store before November 11 you’ll receive a $50 gift card towards a new jacket for yourself, too.

Brands that give back

Alex and Ani

A truly charming way to shop for new jewellery is through Alex and Ani’s Charity by Design collection. Simply choose from any of the co-created bracelet designs and the brand will donate 20 per cent of the purchase price to a specific cause. This holiday season you can purchase the brand’s adorable snowflake bangle that supports Toys for Tots, or the queen bee bracelet which benefits Habitat for Humanity.

Brands that give back

Evelyn Iona x Canadian Women’s Foundation

The Canadian Women’s Foundation empowers women and girls through programs which help them escape violence and poverty. It’s a cause that everyone can get behind and is especially significant to Evio Beauty Group founder Brandi Leifso who conceptualized a green, socially conscious beauty brand while living in a women’s shelter. Today, she pays it forward by donating one dollar to CWF for every Evelyn Iona product purchased. 

Image by: instagram.com/evelyniona

Brands that give back

Manitobah Mukluks x The Centre for Aboriginal Human Resource Development

Every year Indigenous-owned and operated Manitobah Mukluks partners with the Centre for Aboriginal Human Resource Development (CAHRD) to provide educational bursaries for Indigenous students. Considering poverty in Canada disproportionately affects Indigenous youth it’s increasingly important to support businesses that contribute to self-determination and keep First Nations traditions alive.

Brands that give back

Hudson’s Bay Company Headfirst Program

Poverty and mental health share a complex connection, which is why getting the right support early in life is so crucial. HBC Foundation’s Headfirst mission continues to support mental health programming for teens and young adults with their annual Heritage Charity Bear and new this year is their charitable collaboration with WE’s Well-being program. For every Hudson's Bay Company x WE Rafiki bracelet sold, half the proceeds will provide Canadian students and teachers with the proper resources to promote positive mental well-being.

Brands that give back

Good Food for Good x Food Banks Canada

Good Food for Good’s mandate is to make it easy to eat well and do good. Inspired by the buy-one-give-one model of brands like Tom’s, the Toronto-based company provides a meal to a child in need with every purchase. Try their date-sweetened ketchup and barbecue sauces (seriously!) and any foodies on your list need to try the organic turmeric tea blends. We call that feel-good food.

Brands that give back

The Home Depot Orange Door Project

Since 2007 the program has raised almost 10 million dollars that’s gone towards preventing youth homelessness. The company’s holiday fundraising campaign runs from November 29 until December 16 and supports over 120 partner programs that teach things like life-skills development and safe housing options for at-risk youth. Donations can be made in-store or online.

Brands that give back

Endy's Mattress Donation Project

Mattress e-retailer Endy already tackles sustainability at every step of the way—like Canadian-made materials and manufacturing plus recyclable packaging—but did you know they also work to bring a better sleep to people who need it most? The Canadian company partners with charities across the country from Peace River Regional Women’s Shelter in Alberta to Home Again Furniture Bank in Newfoundland and Labrador to donate mattresses that don’t make it past their 100 night trial. So far, the number of mattresses donated would stack higher than the CN tower!

 

Comments

Share X
Family

For families living in poverty, coping during the holiday season can be the most difficult time of the year

Login