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Talk About Changes

Talking as a family about what is happening is a great first step toward coping and thriving. Communicating will help you and your family resolve problems and build resilience. Use the videos and tips on this page to navigate your family through these tough times.
 

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Breaking the News

Your first conversation with your children about any tough experience can feel overwhelming–for you and them–particularly if the situation drastically changes your family’s everyday life. Children might have many questions, some of which you won’t know the answers to. That’s OK. Whether preschoolers or school age, children simply need your honesty and reassurance. Share the information you think they can understand and deal with, as you know your children best. Letting children know what’s happening is crucial to helping them adapt.

Try some of the following suggestions to share the news with your children:

If a parent has lost a job: “Dad lost his job. It wasn’t his fault. This is happening to a lot of families right now because some companies, schools, hospitals, and others don’t need as many workers as they did before. Dad will find a new job, but we are not sure when. We hope it will be very soon. In the meantime, we’ll all be together and we’ll be fine.”

If your family has to move: “We don’t have as much money as we used to have, and we will have to move together to another place. It’s going to be different, but we’ll work to make it OK.”

If a parent's salary has been reduced: “The place where Mom works cannot pay her as much money as it used to. To save money we’ll have to change the things we do and buy.”
 

If a parent has to spend more time at work: “I have a different job with more (or later) hours, and I won’t be home as much. I’ll be getting home after you have gone to bed, but I’ll kiss you when I get home and we’ll see each other in the morning.”

Wants and Needs

Explain to children that needs are basics, such as food, water, and electricity. Wants are things that we desire, such as a new toy or video game. Help young children see that there may be many things they want, but there are few things that they need. Make a list separating wants and needs. Assure children that by not buying things family members want, your family is saving money to make sure you have the things you need.

 


Moving Forward

As time goes by, depending on their ages, your children will have different needs for continuing to talk about what is happening.

 

For young children, you might have to answer the same questions again and again. Your patience, persistence, and consistency in answering their questions will help them understand what is happening.
 

For older children, have an ongoing conversation about their experiences. First, ask what their concerns are to get a sense of what they know. Sometimes, they will ask questions and share what’s on their mind. Answering them in specific ways can help you comfort and assure your older children without burdening them with too much information.

 

 

Talking About Feelings

It is natural for children of any age to feel anxiety and fear. Listen to any concerns they may share and let them know that you understand why they feel worried or scared. Their behavior might also offer clues to what they feel. For example, signs of stress may include lack of sleep, a drop in the quality of their schoolwork, a decrease in motivation, or an increase in aggressive behavior.

 

Keeping Your Feelings in Check

Emotions can run high in anyone affected by economic change. Because you are the most important role model your children have, it is essential to be aware of your own feelings before talking with them. When you feel impatient, take a break and ask others for help taking care of your children.

 

Jean Chatzky Q&A

Q:  What can I tell my children when they ask for things we can’t afford?

A: You tell them, “We don’t have the money for that right now.” You can also use the opportunity to get into a conversation about how mom or dad is always making choices about the things they spend money on. Money is a limited resource and so very few people can buy everything they want, instead we have to decide what is more important and what is less important. And so, “We don’t have the money for that pony/amusement park/toy right now because we are using our money for things like school supplies/college/clothes.” You have to walk the talk as well. When you are faced with something you’d like to buy for yourself, but you can’t afford it, it’s okay to let your kids know you aren’t buying that as well.