There are quite a few words in my household that we just don’t allow. No swear words. No bathroom words. No disrespectful words. With kids in elementary school, it’s a constant conversation!
We try to live up to what Paul told the Ephesians. “Don’t let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, but only what is useful in building each other up, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29 NIV).
I’m sure every parent has pet peeve words that they’d rather not hear from their children. Lately, my husband and I have been cracking down on one word in particular.
I hadn’t heard my daughters tell me that they were “starving” until recently, when my 8-year-old stood peering into our full pantry and proclaimed it.
“Mom, what can I eat? I’m starving.”
Why It’s a Big Deal
Honestly, I hadn’t thought much of words like “starving” and “famished” until I started working for Food for the Hungry. And then I started thinking about people who actually were. Thousands of people will die from hunger and hunger-related causes today. By God’s grace, my daughter is not one of them.
To starve means “to die from lack of food.”
The word famished comes from the same root word as famine. It means “to be in the process of starving.”
There’s a tendency in modern conversation to exaggerate. We call successes “phenomenal” or “awesome” when they’re a bit noteworthy. We’re “freezing” when we forget to wear a sweater in 60-degree weather. However, “starving” is one exaggeration that I can’t tolerate–and it can be a teaching point for my kids.
How We Respond
When my daughter Linda stood at the pantry proclaiming her imminent starvation, I knew that she needed correction, but it didn’t need to be harsh.
First, I modeled appropriate speech. “It sounds like you’re feeling hungry. Would you like a snack?”
While Linda ate her snack, we sat together and talked about language.
I said, “Linda, I noticed that when you felt hungry, you said, ‘Mom, I’m starving.’ Do you know what ‘starving’ means?”
“Starvation means that a person has not eaten in so long that her body is going to die. Did you think your body was going to die?”
“Not really. I’m sorry.”
In a moment like this one, when children come face-to-face with poverty, I believe they need us to answer three questions.
- What is the truth?
- Am I safe?
- What can we do about the problem?
1. What Is the Truth?
I explained to Linda that there are kids around the world who starve every day. There is simply not enough nutritious food for them to survive. It takes many days of not eating enough food for a child to starve.
2. Am I Safe?
When children hear of disasters happening to other children, they need to know that they are safe from the disaster. A sense of safety is fundamental to a child’s development.
Whenever I tell my children about poverty, I explain that they live in a place where they will not be put in the condition of extreme poverty. When we talk about chronic hunger, I explain that their dad and I will always make sure that our family has enough food to eat. Even if we ran out of ways to feed our family, we would be able to count on friends and local agencies to make sure we have enough to eat.
Although many children around the world can’t count on this sense of safety, it can cause developmental harm to let our kids feel that they, too, are at risk. Plus, I’ve noticed that when my children know that they’re safe, they are more apt to show compassion toward others.
3. What Can We Do About the Problem?
Children need to know that they can be part of the solution to a problem. At home, we often talk about programs that help children to survive and thrive. We encourage our kids to give to FH out of their allowances. We pray for kids living in poverty.
By staying sensitive to words like “starving,” my family and I are trying to keep our hearts tender toward vulnerable people around the world. What are some other ways that you help your children learn about the realities of hunger around the world?