Poverty and the Effects on Children


This week’s assignment topic of thinking of a person whose childhood was affected by a stressor instantly brought to mind a plethora of students who have walked through my classroom door, carrying the weight of poverty on their shoulders. Whether situational, generational, urban, or otherwise, poverty has a real effect on children. Leticia Miranda noted (as cited in Payne, 1996, p. 4) that “poor children are much more likely than non-poor children to suffer developmental delay and damage, to drop out of high school, and to give birth during the teen years.”

Thinking back to my first year of teaching, I can distinctly remember the moment when one of my precious students walked into my first grade classroom, wide-eyed as he nervously chatted with the group of friends that entered together. This typically jovial little boy seemed to have been affected by something, so I greeted him at the door and asked him how he was. He immediately responded with, “I saw a dead guy on the bus this morning!” Not recalling anything in my undergraduate textbooks or training that had prepared me for this moment, I took him aside, knelt down to his level, and asked him to explain. He responded by saying, “well, the guy was laying on the street with a bunch of blood around him and the cops were covering him up with the white sheet.” My heart sank to my toes. I quickly called my student’s older, sixth grade sister down to my room and asked if everything was ok. Quizzically, she stared at me and said, “Miss Bass (my maiden name), everything is good, why?” I probed again and asked if anything strange had happened that morning, to which she gave me the same puzzled look and said, “Miss Bass, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I relayed the story her brother had told me and finally, her eyes lit up. “Oh yea,” she said, “our bus passed a guy that got shot this morning, it kinda freaked [my brother] out a little.” I almost fell over. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This 11-year old had already suppressed a horrific event that had taken place less than an hour prior. As noted by Berger (2012), this child was already utilizing coping methods to lessen the effects of this stressful event.

I wish I could say this story was an outlier, one far different from the rest, but it’s not. Without fail, whenever a field trip is mentioned, I have always had a handful of students urgently rush up to me asking how much money it will cost, looking at me with desperation-flooded eyes after being told, and exclaiming that it will be too much for their parents (although typically parent), to afford. These are the same children who often feel the responsibility to look after their younger siblings and learn survival skills at a young age, for example, how to cook dinner over a hot stove and tuck their brother or sister into bed because no adult will be home for hours.

Children all over the globe are affected by poverty. Colombia is a country I have a special affinity for, as I have sponsored a little Colombian girl for the past six years and would love to one day visit her. Colombia’s children are affected by malnutrition, natural disasters, and violence. According to UNICEF, “forced displacement, landmine accidents, sexual violence and the recruitment of children and adolescents by armed groups are ongoing consequences of the armed conflict in Colombia” (“Humanitarian Action for Children,” 2014). To counteract these constant threats, groups like UNICEF are working to provide communities with clean water, help strengthen government entities that are working to lower the risk for disasters, provide education on environmental dangers, and offer safe places for children (“Humanitarian Action for Children,” 2014).


Berger, K. S. (2012). The developing person through childhood (6th ed.). New York, NY: Worth Publishers.

Humanitarian Action for Children (2014, January). In Colombia. Retrieved September 27, 2014, from http://www.unicef.org/appeals/colombia.html

Payne, R. K. (1996). A Framework for Understanding Poverty (Fourth ed., p. 4). Highlands, TX: aha! Process, Inc.


5 thoughts on “Poverty and the Effects on Children

  1. Renee,
    I had to read your post more than once. Oh my gosh, what a story. I wonder if the 11 year old used a coping mechanism or has become desensitized to the violence having seen so much of it. My cousins (retired now) taught kindergarten and first grade in a school in a low income neighborhood. They always wanted to do what they could to help these children and families. They were amazing teachers. The example they set made me want to be a teacher.


  2. Dear Renee,

    Thanks for your sharing. The story really touches my heart and stimulate my thinking. I read it three times in order to I have a clearly understanding.

    Actually, in a family, if the gap between property and richness is obvious which also affect children’s development. For example, my cousin( my little aunt’s daughter) was born and raised in a poor and devoiced family. I can notice that she tried to please every one and pay a particular attention to her behavior and words. She can not express what she like and she can not ask what she should get. She thought every one surrounding her will laugh at her because she was poor and she only had one parent to support her. She can not get a warmth, but she is eager to get a completed family. That is why she got a baby and then got married when she was 20.


  3. Mrs.Rowan,
    To have such a shocking situation explained by young children had to be heart breaking. However, I feel that children growing up in circumstances such as theirs need these coping skills to surface early in order to deal with the few; i.e. school, normal situations they deal with. In a lot of cases school is a place of refuge.


  4. Renee,
    I think that educators need to remember that often, our schools are the only place where children get what they need from food to consistency and attention. Its so important that adults in these places of refuge and education keep in mind that they are also agents of that refuge. We aren’t there to demean or use them.
    My heart goes out to children in situations like those you mentioned — I’ve seen plenty of them myself as well.


  5. Renee,

    What an eye opening (awful) story. I have only worked in areas where money wasn’t an issues, but other things were. I on the other hand, started my elementary years in an underprivileged area, so I’m not too unfamiliar with similar situations. It’s situations like this that give me that much more motivation to get back into the early childhood field and be the greatest educator I can be. Thank you for sharing this very personal story.


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