How to explain poverty and wealth in a child-friendly way

Every year, the credit agency Creditreform publishes the Debtor Atlas Germany. The 2020 edition also takes a worried look at the situation of children. Of the almost 1.7 million people, for example, who use the services of the food banks in Germany, almost a third are children and young people, i.e. a total of around half a million.

Where do we as adults place concepts like wealth and poverty? Well, roughly speaking, somewhere between Scrooge McDuck’s fantasy billions and mendicant possessions. In other words, the ranking of both poverty and wealth is relative: absolute and perceived poverty versus affluence, income or even wealth millionaires.

In addition, there are official definitions of poverty, such as those given by the World Bank. According to this definition, one can speak of absolute poverty when a person has less than 1.90 dollars a day at his or her disposal.

For many of us, both extreme ends of the income scale are hardly tangible. And if we as adults already have problems with this, what about our children? How can poverty and wealth be explained in a way that children understand and – even more difficult – how do we answer our children’s questions about whether we are rich or poor as a family?

Just getting by on income?

A look in the fridge, the wardrobe, the children’s room, the garage or the garden: most of us will say that we have enough to enjoy every day happily, healthily and well-fed. Rather, some of us will even tend to realise that we actually have too much of one thing or another here and there.

Of course, two cars, hoovers, three boxes of building blocks and two holidays a year do not necessarily make us or our children millionaires. Equally, we don’t have to fear for our existence if we only have one mobile home, no garage or only a small living room.

In other words, we make a good living with our income and are neither poor nor rich. Even if these exclusion coordinates do not always help children to understand whether they are rich or poor as a family, the “somewhere in between” at least represents an initial orientation, optionally accompanied by a certain relief or disappointment.

I would like to explain more concretely

As far as the child-friendly definition of wealth is concerned, the legendary cartoonist Carl Barks has fortunately given us a child-friendly example: Scrooge McDuck, the richest drake in the world, and his regular bath in his store of gold coins – a proverbial overflow of money.

Besides Scrooge McDuck, there are other, more real examples of what wealth and luxury can look like:

  • We can ask our child to imagine that instead of one, he or she would have seven beds, one for each day and the Sunday bed twice as big. Of course, a child normally only needs one bed. To own seven of them means wealth and above all luxury, that is, to own something beyond an average level without really needing it for living.
  • It is the same with poverty: if you have to share a bed or even a single toy with your brother or sister because there is not enough money to buy two beds or two toys, you are probably quite poor.

So basically it’s about putting poverty and wealth in concrete relation to the child’s perception:

  • What do mum and dad earn?
  • How much do the flat, the house, clothes, car(s), food and drink cost?
  • How much is left at the end of the month to be able to afford what goes beyond basic needs such as housing, food and drink, for example a holiday?

Saving should also be discussed

Does saving really make you rich, and if not, what is the point of saving and postponing consumption in the first place? Saving plays a central role in explaining poverty and wealth in a child-friendly way.

After all, children can easily get the impression that if they save a lot, they will eventually be very rich, practically at the same rate as their piggy banks and savings accounts fill up and possibly become even fuller and fuller through interest.

That this is not necessarily the case and that saving sometimes goes hand in hand with making sacrifices and postponing purchases is the downside of the gold coin. On the other hand, this is also a good starting point to show that saving also has its shades: it does not necessarily make you rich, but on the other hand it can also represent a nest egg and thus prevent poverty, at least to a certain extent.

Poor, rich, relative

Poverty and wealth only function as pairs of opposites. There are many contrasts and shades of grey in both directions. In this sense, we can explain to our children that we may not be able to take our joint bathing trip in our Goldtaler store, but that we have something to eat, drink and wear every day, and that there are people who do not have exactly that.

We should explain to our children what child poverty is, because after all, it affects almost 3 million children and youths and thus about one fifth of the minors in Germany. Children and young people whose parents can afford neither (larger) children’s birthdays or presents nor school trips, excursions or a larger flat. This does not necessarily mean that we have defined poverty exactly, but it does mean that we have classified it in a comprehensible way.

That’s what it’s all about – and a sense of tact. After all, poverty triggers feelings of shame, especially among children. Hardly anyone wants to talk about it. We should also convey this to our children when we try to explain to them what poverty means.

Conversely, quite a few are of the opinion that wealth also means responsibility. And this, finally, is part of the definition of what being rich means, among other things.

Sufficient facts

According to a recent study, it is or would be important to be rich for only just under a quarter of men and not even a fifth of women in Germany. In many other European countries, these figures are over 30 and up to 40 percent.

Moreover, only about half of the German population (about 50 percent) feels that it is worthwhile to be rich, whereas three years ago it was just under 70 percent.

We do not know why the value of wealth has declined to this extent. But we hope that the pursuit of money and gold coins has been replaced by spending time with one’s own children. After all, such moments are the only value that increases everything else.

Try Finny Apps now