If you had a quarter for every time you’ve heard the word “crisis” lately, well, you could probably single-handedly stimulate the economy. These days it seems like bad news is everywhere — on television, the Internet, at playgroups, and at the checkout stand in the supermarket. All the talk of a recession, a struggling stock market, and layoffs probably has your anxiety level sky high.
It is not hard to imagine that all this bad news may be getting to your kids too. Chances are you have probably already fielded some tough questions like, “What does ‘recession’ mean?” For most of us, these questions are tough to answer — it is hard to know how to tell kids what is happening without frightening them.
“Business leaders aren’t the only ones who are facing the tough task of crafting reassuring but truthful messages about the state of the economy,” said Jamie Woolf, leadership expert and author of the new book Mom-in-Chief: How Wisdom from the Workplace Can Save Your Family from Chaos. “Parents also have to be smart about how to explain the bad economic news their kids are hearing at school and at home. You want to be honest with them, but you don’t want to scare them to death.”
The first thing parents must realize, Woolf explains, is that your kids are already aware, at least to some degree, of what is going on in the world. After all, Junior’s question about the recession certainly isn’t the first time he has surprised you with his keen level of understanding.
Here are four tips to keep in mind when talking with your kids about what’s going on:
1. Never say never.
It is important to not make promises that are not within your power to keep. For example, it would be unwise to say, “Daddy will never lose his job.” You may feel certain today, but circumstances can always change.
Instead Woolf suggests reassuring children with the truth: “Tell them that no matter what happens your family will stick together.”
2. Keep quiet until you have specific plans.
Kids consider what their parents tell them to be absolute truth. If you tell your kids you might be moving, they will take that to mean you are moving. Wait to share news with your kids until you know as many details as possible.
Realize that what is good news to you may seem like bad news to your kids. Children thrive on consistency and will likely view the changes differently than you do, so try to be sensitive to their perspective.
“Of course, you have to balance truth and secrecy,” warns Woolf. “Don’t wait until the last minute to spring bad news on your kids or they’ll think you’ve been keeping a secret from them.”
And if you have not shared the news with your kids, use caution with whom you do tell — you definitely wouldn’t want your child to hear the news first from someone else.
3. Share a unified message.
It is critical to make sure that both parents are in agreement about what to share and what to keep quiet.
“During any kind of crisis that involves your family, the number one priority should be maintaining the lines of communication between you and your partner,” said Woolf.
Make sure the two of you are on the same page before you go to your children, and if you have a big announcement, be sure to tell the kids together.
4. Give kids something to do to help.
Children are particularly prone to feeling helpless, especially when the circumstances may be difficult for them to understand. Getting kids involved somehow will empower and make them feel better about the situation.
“Perhaps you could explain to your kids that saving money is very important right now,” suggests Woolf. “Then ask them to help you brainstorm ways the family can save money, like turning off lights in unoccupied rooms or gathering old toys and making posters for a family yard sale.”
In tough times it can be easy to focus on all of the problems and forget about how your kids are taking it. In the end, the most important thing in life is your family. Focusing on family instead of your troubles might just be the stress reliever you’ve been looking for.
— Bettijo B. Hirschi