The Economy and Your Child

Recently a mother told me that her eight year old daughter asked if they were “in danger” because of the economic crisis.  “In danger” is an interesting expression, isn’t it?  For me, it brings up 9/11 all over again, because (at least for those of us here in New York City) we felt as though we were in real and present danger for quite a while after those planes crashed into our beloved Towers. 

So when a child asks if we’re “in danger” because of the economy, my first reaction is a fairly strong: “No!” 

Now please don’t misunderstand.  The crisis is, of course, many things: sad, distracting, challenging, anxiety producing, worrisome, etc. etc.  But it’s not physically dangerous and it’s a shame if our anxiety about it is translating to our children in this way.

Because children of all ages pick up on our feelings at a time like this and because they’re likely to be overhearing us or others talk about the economy, it’s time for a little straightforward communication to ease their possible anxiety and create a feeling of safety for them.  Here are a couple of helpful hints and some talking points:

1)  Don’t stay silent.  The rule of thumb is that if you’re talking about it with anyone else (spouse, parents, friends) then you also need to talk about it with your children.

2)  Keep it simple and stick to the facts.  If the economy is creating a big change in your life such as the loss of a job, say something like, “I lost my job and will be looking for a new one.”  Allow silence and time for your children to respond and ask you questions.

3) Answer only the questions that your children ask.  They are probably going to want to know if they’ll still have food, toys, spending money and the like.  Be truthful.  If you won’t be able to take the family vacation this year; if you have to move or they have to change schools, tell them the truth:  “We’ll be looking for a less expensive house / apartment / school.”  Pause again and allow them time to ask questions and express their feelings.  

4)  Listen with heart by reflecting their feelings:  “I know it feels worrisome,” “Change can feel scary,” “I’m disappointed too, I know how you feel.”

5)  Be reassuring, no matter how you actually feel.  The primary message should be:  “We are resilient and we’ve dealt with tough things before.  The most important thing is that we have each other and nothing can change that.”

6) Acknowledge that there are people who are worse off than you, and brainstorm with your kids about how you can help.  This is not meant to be a distraction from, or even a “moral lesson” about your predicament.  Rather, it’s a way for us to take action in circumstances that can feel out of control.  By giving cans of food to a food pantry, by collecting gently used toys or clothing for a homeless shelter, we not only recognize that there are worse situations than ours, but we feel helpful instead of helpless.

Remember that one of the most important lessons you can teach a child is resiliency.  By role modeling and communicating this to your child, you give him a gift that will last a lifetime.