How in the world does a parent tell their children that life – as they know it – is about to change? So many of us have been fortunate to live “the dream;” make a down payment on a house, finance a car, have nice clothes, go on a vacation once a year. We gladly spoil our children with computers and ipods and the expected accoutrements of today’s teenage life. We eat well, live well, and expect to continue to build on our growing sense of comfort. And then one, and in many cases today, both parents lose their jobs or are caught in a downsize that greatly diminishes their income. What do you say to the kids?

We all want to be heroes to our children. We strive to give them something or someone to look up to. We believe that teaching by example is the answer and then the example dissolves. Besides the “birds and the bees”, losing a job ranks as one of the most difficult discussions to have with a child. But be sure that hiding family strife is not a good defense to the problem. Your kids know what’s going on whether or not you tell them. Best to hear it from you.

 Any emotional issue needs to be approached in an age-appropriate manner. Would it make sense to tell your 3-year old that she has to cut back on ice cream cones? Not exactly. But does it make sense to sit down with pre-teens and teenagers, those growing little consumers, and explain to them the realities of the family finances? The answer is, yes. As a parent you need not share you excel sheet. What you do need to do is insure your children that they will be well taken care of but that there will be some cutbacks. Instead of a family Friday night of dinner and a movie – it might just be a movie. Better yet, that’s why they invented Netflix. Popcorn and a movie at home works just as well. A decrease in personal allowance and an increase in family chores is another healthy change from which most families could benefit.

 Let your children know that you are doing everything possible to ensure that their world continues as is, but if moving is a necessary option, change of school from private to public, retreat from former clubs or costly activities is in the wind, include them in the decision-making. Note, I did not say “the decision.” At difficult times, children want to know that their parents have it under control and have a plan.

Do have a plan. Work with available financial counselors to make a realistic budget. There are a growing number of organizations that can provide this. Many health clinics offer free or income-based therapy for those having difficulty handling the psychological strife attendant with these changes. Seek out these professionals so that you vent outside of the home environment and work towards creating a new reality.

 In these difficult economic times it is critical to remember that you are not alone in this. It’s a time for us all to come together and support one another. Don’t let your self-worth get swallowed by dented self-esteem. You have value. It may just wear a different set of clothes.

About the Author

Susan Winston, LMFT

Susan Winston, LMFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist and a television producer and writer in Los Angeles.

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