Talking to Your Children about Tough Financial Times
It's everywhere. Talk about financial struggles is on the internet, the television, in the newspapers, between parents, and amongst students in high schools. It is almost impossible to be unaware of the rising price of gas, food, and of foreclosures. Children are very sensitive to stress in a household and when they are left out of what is happening, they create their own stories which may be more traumatizing than the reality of the family's difficulties.
The question is not if, but what is the best way to talk to your children about challenging financial times. What do you say that is age appropriate. Before having this conversation, make it a priority to put your own house in order.
If you do not have a financial plan, follow the adage, “better late than never”. Helping a child feel secure is extraordinarily difficult if you do not manage your own emotions. Guilt and self-doubt may arise from feeling that something more could have been done to prevent this financial challenge.
Take responsibility for your part of the problem, but recognize what is not under your control. Go for walks, connect with the beauty of nature, and stay in the present. These tools will make it easier to calm yourself. After settling on a plan, think carefully about what to say. Children do not need to know specifics unless they ask, but they need to hear that the situation is temporary, and that you are working on a resolution. Moreover, since children often blame themselves, explain that it is not their fault.
Listen empathically. without judgment. Give your children the opportunity to express their thoughts, feelings, and fears, then carefully look for signs of distress. Are they experiencing sleeping or eating problems, or isolating themselves? If so, talk to them, and when necessary seek help from their pediatrician or a counselor.
Discuss the new priorities that you are instituting, helping children discern the difference between needs and wants. If they feel embarrassed about moving to an apartment from a house, or not having new clothes, convey your understanding about how difficult it is to make these changes. Emphasize the importance of working as a family to devise a plan as to how everyone can contribute to solve family problems. Explain how much money in the budget is allocated for each expenditure. When children feel that they are a part of the common good and understand what is going on, they feel less powerless and more in control.
Make the best of the challenges by turning adversity into an adventure. Create a list of fun, free activities such as planning a picnic, going for a hike, playing games in the evening, or making gifts.
Have age appropriate conversations. For children ages six and under, focus on reassuring them that they are safe and secure and are part of a team. Use simple language and be truthful. Answer questions that are asked. Children between six and twelve can raise money, such as having a garage sale. Help them figure out how they can help others, perhaps by donating clothes or toys. Children between 13 and 17 are more aware and are having financial discussions themselves. They need reassurance, but can do more to contribute to the family finances, maybe with a part time job. Teach them how to budget, so they can make changes to support the family's needs.
Finally, a crises is an opportunity to look within oneself. Adults and children alike may discover new strengths. Challenges also offer a chance to recognize the importance of being a part of a community. Though hard times can be divisive, we as individuals and as a community can choose to become stronger by the act of giving and receiving, thus realizing that we are not alone.