29 June 2009 05:02 PM

How to Talk to Kids About the Bad Economy

by Dr. Rick

The economy is difficult.  Jobs are eliminated.  People are laid off.  How to talk to children when the sour economy affects your family?  Telling your family, especially the kids, about, say, a job loss or a reduction in salary, can add stress during an already stressful time.


What should you say?  How should you say it?


It’ll never be easy, but here are some thoughts.

  1. Be the first to tell the news.  It's better for kids to hear difficult news from their parents, not from the neighborhood gossip.  Have a family meeting, without interruptions.  No cell phones or TV.  Tell everyone you want their full attention for a certain amount of time.  Keep it relatively short, but call other family meetings in the next couple of days, so everyone can ask questions and express feelings after they've had some time to digest the news.

  2. Anticipate their questions.  Try to think ahead to what they're going to want to know.  Be ready with some clear, simple answers.  Because they're children, most likely they will be concerned about how the new realities are going to affect them, their lives, and their routines.  Listen carefully to what they're really asking.

  3. Honesty is still the best policy.  Don't sugarcoat your news or play the "blame game."  Blaming your boss, your company, politicians, or your co-workers will only get you riled up and turn the conversation negative.  That's not what you need now, and it's certainly not helpful for the kids.

  4. Be positive.  Kids read our moods, so it's important to be as positive as possible.  If you come across as worried and despondent, they'll be worried and despondent.  If you're not feeling particularly positive, remember parenting, like teaching, is 50% acting, so give it your best performance.

  5. Be reassuring.  It's equally important that kids recognize that financial setbacks are temporary and will never affect your love for them or your ability to keep them safe.  Kids are resilient, probably more so than we adults, but they need the reassurance that the fundamentals -- your love and presence -- are not going to change.  Keep up family routines, which make kids feel safe and secure and which give their lives structure.

  6. Be realistic.  Kids like clear, unambiguous messages.  They'll be disappointed, but they'll understand that expenses will have to be cut, that the new purchases the whole family looked forward to will have to be postponed, or the cool vacation put on hold.

  7. Involve everyone.  Give the kids opportunities to provide some suggestions for cost-cutting.  Let them be part of your family's solutions.  They'll have ideas that will surprise you, and they'll like that you gave them a role to play in solving a family dilemma.

  8. Look at the big picture.  This may be as good a time as any to discuss your family's values, like solidarity in the face of adversity, family supportiveness, empathy for each other's points of view, and mutual respect.  You may be pleasantly surprised at the family relationships and activities that evolve out of a difficult time.

  9. Get support if you need it.  There are financial and family counselors who can lend a hand if you need it.  Take advantage of the school guidance counselors if the economy is affecting your children's school progress.  Family activities in a supportive atmosphere -- like church or temple -- can be helpful, too.

  10. Keep at it.  No one knows how long the economy's going to be in the doldrums.  Not economists, not "experts" on TV, not your best friend, not your co-workers.  So, you'll need to keep up your vigilance.  Watch your kids' moods, listen to their fears, pay attention to their school progress, which can be a good measurment of their well-being.  Have family meetings regularly and whenever necessary.

I’ve also written blogs on similar aspects of our challenging economy .  See my blogs of 4 December 2008 (“The Value of a Dollar”) and 16 April 2009 (“Setting Spending Priorities in a Difficult Economy”).


Breaking this kind of news to your children is a difficult job, I know, and we’d be interested in hearing the experiences and stories of those of you who have survived it.  Please share your stories with us by clicking on “comment” below.




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