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The effects of poverty on the young child

Updated on August 3, 2012

Have you ever wondered how life is different for the child of a family in poverty? What qualifications does a family meet in order to be put into the poverty category? What affects does this have on the child? How many families are in poverty? According to Wright and Chau, a study done in 2008 says almost half of America’s population of children lives in low income families and half of that, 22% live in poor families (Wight & Chau, 2009).

With the economy on the decline sense the 1990s the number of families in the poverty belt has steadily risen. The increase in number of families in poverty can be accounted for because families that were once borderline or just about the poverty level in the 1990s are now below the level and families are having more children increasing the number of children in poverty. What exactly is poverty level? Well, according to the study by Wright and Chau in 2009; an income of $22,050 for a family of four,$18,310 for a family of three$14,570 for a family of two (Wright & Chau, 2009).

Does the percentage of young children in low-income families vary by race/ethnicity? According to Wright and Chau yes “Black, American Indian, and Hispanic infants and toddlers are disproportionately low income, with children of Hispanic origin comprising the largest group of low-income infants and toddlers” (Wright & Chau, 2009).

It is now common knowledge that children should eat breakfast every day, eat a well balanced diet with the right amount of fruits and vegetables. The health professionals have replaced the food pyramid with “my plate” saying that it’s easier for kids to understand in hopes that children can make better choices on foods. However this idea does not take into account that it is cheaper for the lower income families to buy they bag of chips than a bag of apples or oranges. It is cheaper for the family to buy 80% ground beef compared to the 90% and 95% that is better. When you live paycheck to paycheck or worse it is important to budget and watch what you spend. So many times this idea of the children choosing a healthier snack is just not logical due to the lack of availability. If the child/children do not go to school/day care (0mo.-4years) they may not have choices and may not even get breakfast because the family simply can’t afford to feed their child three square meals a day.

Another thing to take into account is the need for education. Families in poverty cannot afford the extras for education including daycare and the extra activities that befit children like sports and social activities. Many families in poverty are a single parent; parents have low education level themselves, many times if other family members are involved they do the babysitting while the parent(s) are working. The benefits of daycare and preschool are missed when the child stays with family or a friend of the family to cut costs. Also if there is little money for daycare then there is little to no money for team sports and extracurricular activities that cost extra for not only a member fee but uniforms and specified items for that activity are all extra expenses that many times the family cannot afford. “This can humiliate them further if they are centered out or made to feel different when they cannot present the proper funds for things like school activities” (Williams, 2007). Children need to keep active and learn how to socialize, how to work as a team and develop those fine and gross motor skills. Sports and extracurricular activities can help with that. When the child misses out on this it can later affect their lives in coordination and physical development. It has also be proven that children who are more active as a young child have better grades, less chance of suffering from obesity and are more likely to be active as they get older.

Children whose family is poor or low income also don’t have the popular cloths and toys. Due to this, it may be harder for a child who lives in poverty to make friends with bullying on the rise. Children are bullied for all different reasons and they are getting away with more and more. “Poor children living in affluent areas are bullied by better-off peers,” (Branigan, 2007). Not having all the up to date toys and necessities needed to live can place further stress on the child. When a child is stressed they release the stress hormone which can hurt their brain function. “…the humiliation of peers pointing out what they are lacking can be devastating” (Williams, 2007). Also children are very self centered when they are young according to Freud so when there is stress or a problem arises in their life they may feel like it’s their fault or if they were not so needy it would not be this way and so on, they blame themselves and want the fix it. According to Branigan children have even offered their piggy banks to their families at times of need. “Children… blamed themselves for their parents' stress and [will] hid their own needs and wishes, or even lend money given to them by other family members” (Branigan, 2007). Parents might be more hesitant to take advantage of free facilities for fear of ridicule and taking help from places like churches and other organizations might make them feel helpless and like they are letting down their children because they cannot provide for their children they way they should. All this stress at home can cause stress in the child. As the child gets older this can affect the child’s learning abilities, psychological status among other things. "Bullying was mentioned much more frequently by children in affluent areas ... Several described what was clearly poverty-related bullying: being told they were dirty or had nasty habits because they came from a poor family" (Branigan, 2007). We have seen in the public media what bullying can do to children. There is a vast movement to stop bullying all together because of the vast negative impacts it can have on a child.

Another issue related to poverty and low income is low self esteem. Children look at their life even as young as 2 and 3 years old and assess it. Being that the child is egocentric it is difficult for the child to see the silver lining in the clouds and usually only focus on the negatives and can think they their life is the way it is because of them; because they are a bad child. If a child’s view on life is dull their self esteem may not be as positive as it needs to be to succeed at everyday tasks. Self esteem starts at a young age and if it is not corrected and helped to make positive then it can later affect their education according to the article written by Williams, “a child’s poor self-esteem can influence the quality of their education” (Williams, 2007). Take for example a child who is born into a family living in poverty and as they begin to develop self awareness they begin to realize the difference between the way his family lives and dresses and some of the way other kids at his daycare dress. Other kids at his day care have new shiny sneakers with that symbol he sees on TV. Kids at the day care start pointing out the short pants and to small shirts he is wearing. He knows mom can afford more but yet he feels like he is not good enough for his class mates, ultimately he blames himself. This child will lose confidence in his self and perhaps in his family. “…it then can influence the outcome of their schoolwork and possibly their future employment prospects,” (Williams, 2007).

Poverty or low income living can affect a child at a very young age and can carry on though out their lives if there is not someone in their life to intervene with this vicious cycle. It can affect their self esteem and in the long run affect their education and outlook on life. This is why the cycle of poverty in a family from generation to generation can be hard to break. If a child grows up with low self esteem, and dealing with the psychological effects from poverty they may not have the ability to succeed and continue on to college or even get through high school. A child might not know that they can go to college, they may not know what the world can offer, or he may think that he is not good enough to do certain things in life. Peers may have told him that he is not good enough to do things and after a while of being told something without someone there (teacher, friend, aunt, uncle etc) to counter this they will begin to believe it. This can affect how successful the child will be in school and life. Most children whose parents were poor grow up to also be living in the poverty and don’t hold a college degree. Many work two jobs and struggle to make ends meet; their jobs are unable to get them out of the poverty level and they continue the vicious cycle of fighting to live.

“Children thrive better with positive role models and when they have positive friendships and supportive families and communities, it can make a difference in the way they feel about themselves as well as their future prospects” (Williams 2007). I chose this topic because I have always wanted to make a difference. However it is not enough to want to make a difference you have to take action. When thinking about that I thought well here is a good place to start. I grew up in a small town where everyone knew everyone and status mattered greatly. I was with the “popular” crowd while in elementary school and in 6th grade I made friends with a few girls not in the popular group and at the end of the year my parents separated. I was kicked out or disowned by people I thought were my friends (the popular group) and the new friends I had made stuck by my side. It was really hard for me to accept the divorce and the new financial status I was in with just my mom. My old friends began to tease me on my changes. My family and I had to now buy clothes from the Salvation Army and used food stamps to get by. I was a natural tomboy and always getting dirty, this too had to stop it was too expensive to go to the laundry matt all the time. We lived at my grandmothers for a while; 3 of us in one room and my mom on the couch. If it were not for my grandmother taking us in I do not know that we would have a place to stay at first. Of course things got better and I was and still am a resilient child/person and I bounced back from this down part in my life. I had a support system at home and at school with some teachers that took an interest in me and my situation. Without that support I might of ended up not being successful through high school and be where I am today. This is why I chose this topic, I was much older than the age I am talking about and I only experienced it for a few years, I could not imagine having to live that way and deal with the bullying for my whole life. I want to be that teacher that turns my kid’s world upside down for the better. I want to help families in need.


Branigan, T. (2007, November 13). Poor children in rich areas are bullied, says study. . Retrieved from

Williams, S. (2007, June 28). Retrieved from

Wright, V., & Chau, M. (2009). Basic facts about low-income children, 2008 children under age 3


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    • saif113sb profile image


      7 years ago

      Poverty the main reason people are forced to make difficult their children.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 

      8 years ago from Dubai

      Touched my heart. Children in poverty face the rough edge of life. People make friends with the money and social status and not the person. Good friends stick with you through thick or thin. Great hub. Voted up.

    • purnimamoh1982 profile image


      8 years ago

      It's a wonderful hub, very well researched and very well read complemented with personal accounts. While going through your hub, I was wondering how similar the life experiences are in different parts of the globe. I can not give everything to my child he may demand after seeing these toys with others in the colony. This is precisely for why I changed my son's school to a government run school although I spend almost the same amount of money for his trainings in painting classes and books/cds and other materials. I am happy that now he does not have an inferior complex. Your hub is one of the excellent writings I have ever read here. I forwarded your hub link to my husband. Thank you very much for such an interesting contribution. Voted up and followed you.


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