While you don't need to be updating your kids about every credit-card bill or financial stress, you can’t keep them in the dark. Especially if you are one of the 129.5 million Americans currently out of work.
“Different children can handle different things at different ages," said Laura Berman Fortgang, author of "Now What?: 90 Days to a New Life Direction. “How much you tell them is based on what they can understand.”
When telling your kids about losing your job the experts advise to avoid lecturing, while encouraging them to ask questions. And remember to stay calm; most kids are extremely perceptive.
“The younger kids will focus more on how they will be affected, if they see an anxious parent they will mimic that behavior,” said Diane Levin, professor of Education Wheelock College.
Tone is also important. “Use a reassuring tone. Kids will pick up on the stress in your voice,” Levin said.
Who Needs to Know What, When
Under Age 5: Children this young won’t need a lot of details, but the experts suggest being reassuring and, if possible, increasing the amount of attention the kids get.
5-10 Years Old: Younger children need to know what is going on, but they can’t always put everything together.
"Try saying something like, ‘Mommy is not going to be going to work every morning like she used to. Work decided they have too many people and now mommy is looking for a new job,'” said Levin.
It’s also a good idea to talk about changes relevant to them, suggested Elisabeth Donati, CEO of Creative Wealth International.
Middle-High School Be prepared for plenty of questions, and let them be part of the solution.
“Children love to be part of the solution,” said Donati. “Ask them [to] help out, whether it's doing more chores to give mom or dad more time to look for a job or to get a part-time job - but it’s good to empower them."
Kids are going to react differently, but reassure them that what they are feeling is acceptable.
The experts agreed that if your clan spans many age groups, tell the children individually, but make cost-cutting ideas and solutions a family conversation.
Here are four more expert tips on how to best tell your kids you lost your job.
No. 1: Take Some Breathing Room
“If the routine is going to change immediately, tell them how it will affect them right away,” said Levin. “But if not, wait until you aren’t emotional and more prepared. You don’t want to be tense and anxious because the kids will pick up on that.”
You need to take care of yourself first, said Donati. “If you are still in an emotional state then shut up until you are ready. To dump on your kids when you are emotional isn’t fair.”
No. 2: Watch Your Words
"Language is key," said Fortgang. She suggested avoiding terms and phrases like “I’ve been fired,” or “terminated.”
“Kids hear 'fire' and they could think gun. Always make sure to emphasis the safety and stability of the situation. They hear things on TV and at school, about people losing homes and they could think that is an automatic consequence of losing a job.”
She also suggested saying things like “things are going to change,” but to focus on what will stay the same.
No. 3: Reinforce the Family
Constantly stressing the importance of family, and that you will get through these tough times together, is crucial.
Rand Conger, a professor at University of California who conducted a study of more than 500 families owning farms during the economic slowdown in Iowa in the late 1980s and early 1990s, said families that stuck together fared best.
“The families that reoriented and continued to help and support each other survived and got better. For those who let the economic crush interrupt the quality of relationships with family members fell into divorce and unrepairable relationships.”
No. 4: Encourage Questions
No matter the age, every child will have questions, but it might not be right away. Make sure they know they can ask questions any time.
“Let them ask questions. If not, their imaginations will run wild and they will make up what is going on,” said Fortgang.
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