Talking to Kids About Tough Economic Times

What do kids need to know in tough economic times?

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In today's difficult economy, many parents are struggling to provide basic necessities for their families. Faced with a financial crisis, what should parents tell their children? How much information do kids need to know?

According to child psychiatrist Karyn Horowitz, MD, director of outpatient services at Bradley Hospital, "it's best for adult conversations to remain adult conversations." She says that when it comes to finances, "kids are powerless and talking about money woes may make kids feel vulnerable, especially when there's nothing they can do to help with the situation."

"It's so important for kids to feel like their parents are in control, even when parents are experiencing a lot of stress and not feeling in control."

Horowitz recommends that parents should limit the amount of information they share with children under 10. She also says that conversations should be factual. "There's no need to share the unknown," Horowitz says. "If parents discuss their worries with their children, they may transmit that worry to their children." For example, children don't need to know that their parents are worried about possible layoffs or that they are receiving foreclosure notices from their mortgage lender. Parents should wait until their kids need to know something-such as a move-and then communicate that information in a clear and factual manner. Parents could say something like: "We're going to move to a new apartment soon. Mom and I found a place that will be good for our family. We will continue to take good care of the family."

When children ask questions before parents had intended to share information, honesty is still the best policy. Horowitz says, "Older children may notice something is going on and they may ask questions like, 'Why isn't dad going to work anymore?' or 'Why aren't we taking a vacation this summer?'" Horowitz recommends keeping the message honest and simple. Saying something like, "It's more difficult for us because dad isn't working now, but we're working together to take care of the situation," validates the child's observation and also reassures the child that his or her parents have the situation under control. Horowitz affirms, "It's so important for kids to feel like their parents are in control, even when parents are experiencing a lot of stress and not feeling in control."

Horowitz reminds parents, "What children really want is your time and attention." She recognizes that it's easy for parents to lose sight of this, especially during a crisis. Horowitz encourages parents to find fun and free activities for the family to enjoy together. "There are lots of things families can do that don't cost anything," says Horowitz. "Parents tend to think they need to do and buy the things that cost a lot of money to make their kids happy. Parents have more for their kids than they realize."