DEAR HARRIETTE: I spent the weekend with my niece and nephew. We walked around the city, and my 6-year-old nephew asked me a question: "Why are there so many people on the street asking for money?" I was amazed by his observation, but I did not know how to respond to the question. If my nephew asks me a similar question in the near future, how should I respond? -- Eyes of a Child, Brooklyn, New York
DEAR EYES OF A CHILD: I believe in telling the truth, which may be nuanced in this case. One reality is that there are many people today who do not earn enough money to take care of themselves. This could be because they lost their jobs, they have fallen on poor health, they are drug addicts or they are suffering from mental disorders. For a young child, the answer could be as simple as some of them don't earn enough money to pay for someplace to live, and some are sick.
You can go further and talk about how your family chooses to acknowledge such people. Do you say hello to them? Do you give them money? If you do not give people on the street money, do you do anything to support people who are in greater need than you? Some families give to charities. Others give through their religious institutions. This is a great moment to talk to your nephew about compassion and the importance of not judging people who are in different circumstances than you.