Talking to Children About the Economy

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Updated: 7/20/2012 2:57 pm Published: 7/19/2012 4:24 pm

You can’t pick up a newspaper or turn on the television without hearing about slower than expected job growth, Europe’s financial crisis or America’s slow economic recovery. Many of the words are lost on kids – but the emotions aren’t. Carrie Little from Family & Children’s Services has some tips on how to talk about the economy with your kids.

Parents sometimes feel like they need to “put on a brave face” for their children – even when times are tough. Do you recommend that parents who are worried or stressed out about the economy hide their feelings from their kids?

Children are more intuitive than we give them credit for. More often than not, they can tell if mom or dad is worried or stressed out. If you don’t let them in on what’s going on, they’re likely to make up a much worse scenario in their heads – like mom has a horrible disease and is going to die instead of grocery prices are really climbing, so we’re going to tighten the belt at home. We also want to let kids know that feelings are natural and it is OK to express them. And we teach the best through modeling that behavior. But remember that expressing feelings is only the first part of that lesson. The second part is problem solving. Show your child how you will cope with that stress in a healthy way and they will learn to deal with stress as well.

And what about when the economy isn’t just a worry but has a direct impact on our household – because hours have been cut, a job has been lost or another change?

Kids thrive on routine, so if you are not getting up and going to work as usual, your kids will notice. It is always better to be straightforward and honest rather than have your kids fill in blanks with their imagination. It’s also important to create a sense of optimism and calm for your child. When the parent conveys the message that “these things happen, people change jobs, and everything will be OK,” the child will feel less stressed.

So, don’t try to deceive your kids – what else do you recommend?

  • Explain and reassure your kids – lots of hugs, hand-holding, physical comfort for younger children, and assurances that you will do your best to help them understand what is happening.
  • Encourage your children to discuss feelings— talk regularly and often with your children.
  • Acknowledge your feeling in an appropriate way. Don’t deny feelings of uncertainty or insecurity.
  • Maintain positive interactions with your children—play together, read together. Make it clear that the parent/child interaction remains intact.
  • Be aware of your own anger and loss of self-esteem. You may unintentionally direct frustrations, anger and feelings of powerlessness toward your children.
  • Be realistic about your finances. Reassure your children that they will have what they need, but not everything they want.
  • Hold family meetings to keep lines of communication open.
Family & Children’s Services has a number of classes to help people manage relationships in their lives and offers individual, couples, family and group counseling too. For more information, call 918.587.9471.

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