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Explaining difficult times to children

Tips for enlisting their help

by Susan Newman, Ph.D.  |  2199 views  |  0 comments  |        Rate this now! 

As we all wonder and worry where our economy is headed, don’t underestimate how much your children know (or think they know) and how upset they may be. It’s unlikely that they will bring up the subject. Ask them what they’ve heard at school or on the news? With older children, use news reports to engage them in the conversation. Being truthful is essential for underscoring key lessons and keeping children from panicking.

If you or your partner lost a job, talk about how companies decide which employees they will keep and which ones they will let go -- you can get into issues of seniority or your company’s work source and how the demand is less, for example. For younger children, a simple announcement is sufficient.

Whatever your child’s age, the current situation is an opportunity to stop giving in and indulging your children. If nothing else, it gives you the chance to say NO, and to teach children lessons, concepts, and skills they will need as they mature: understanding they can’t always have their way or everything they want, how to cope with disappointment, insights into money management, budgeting and saving, but most importantly, how to support each other and contribute to the family.

Throughout the ups and downs -- age-appropriate suggestions:

1.) Stay calm -- how you react to the country’s (and your personal) economic problems is probably how your children will react. Staying calm sends the message that the circumstances are important and you wish they were otherwise.

2.) When your preteen or teen is heart-broken over something he can’t have or do right now, be sympathetic and understand his disappointment rather than lashing back.

3.) When a child is feeling sorry for herself, explain that most everyone is scaling back; teenagers especially don’t want to be different.

4.) Don’t talk about negatives with your children that haven’t happened -- a pay cut, a job loss, a possible move. Wait until you are sure it’s a reality.

5.) When a change takes place, underscore that mom or dad didn’t do anything wrong.

6.) Explain the situation without going into details of your financial situation.

7.) Don’t argue about finances in front of them.

8.) Set a good example -- watch how you spend.

9.) Up the attention, offering more hugs and kisses.

10.) Strive for normalcy by keeping routines intact -- dinners, reading together, homework, baths and bedtimes.

11.) Volunteer as a family to help those less fortunate.

12.) Reassure them that no matter what you will keep them safe.

13.) And, let them know that what’s going on now isn’t forever.

Ask for your children’s help

Be forthright in explaining that you need everyone’s help in scaling back family spending. Request their ideas. When I was a child my parents asked us to turn out the lights when we left the room. If you forgot and someone caught you, you had to put a dime in the family piggy bank. Younger children will delight in catching their older siblings or parents who leave a light on.

About the Author

Susan Newman is a social psychologist and the author of 13 books about parenting, family issues and relationships. For details, check out her websites: and Susan blogs for Psychology Today Magazine at: Singletons -

Read more by Susan Newman, Ph.D.

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