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Telling the children that a parent has been — or may be — laid off is never easy. But it is necessary, according to an article by Alina Tugend in the NY Times.
Not telling your children, no matter what age, is not a good idea because they will sense the tension. They may likely think that somehow it is their fault, say psychologists.
“Don’t think that the conversations with adults in the family are background noise,” says Ellen Galinsky, president of a nonprofit research group, Families and Work Institute. “Even the littlest kids will play detective trying to understand any unusual emotion.”
Jerilyn Ross, director of the Ross Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders in Washington, says, “You’re doing a disservice by not telling them.” She remembers one client who did not tell his son he was on the verge of being laid off.
“The kid was a typical teenager, ‘I want this, I want that.’ The father was lashing out telling him he was spoiled.” Dad should have told him the family was having money worries. Kids will feel guilty afterward, says Ross, who is a psychotherapist.
A certain level of trust is lost as well, when children are kept in the dark. Ross has seen teens who were nervous about going away to college and couldn’t figure out why. After discussion, they realized they were afraid no one would tell them if something bad happened while they were away.
It is a fact that children, especially older ones, are generally much more aware of what is going on than we give them credit for.
The Michael Cohen Group researches issues related to children, education and health. They conducted an online poll through social networking and other Web sites. Teenagers 13 to 17 were asked a series of questions, like whether they understood what was happening with the nation’s economy, and what kind of short-term and long-term effect it might have on their family and community.
“The awareness was much higher than I expected,” said Mr. Cohen, who is also a psychologist who conducted a survey at the behest of the NY City Board of Education to assess children’s responses to the 9/11 attacks on the city.
“Almost three-fourths of boys and two-thirds of girls knew that a core part of the problem was people buying homes that they couldn’t afford to pay for and knew that the homes were worth less than when they were bought,” says Cohen.
The other surprising finding — 90 percent thought that the crisis would have a negative effect on the economy as a whole, and two-thirds of the sample thought “it is now having or will soon have a negative effect on my family.”
Says Cohen, “I didn’t think they would see banks going under as an immediate threat to them in the near future. For the average 16-year-old, the near future is 6pm tonight, and 8pm is the far future.”
According to Galinsky, of the Family and Work Institute, the best thing is to sit down and discuss the situation. How you present the news depends on the age of the children. Small children don’t have a real conception of money — you just go to the bank and get it. It’s important to explain the connection between money and work.
She has a practical suggestion when talking to young children: don’t use the word “fired,” because that conjures up images of guns, and she has seen kids worry that they’re going to get shot.
The writer of the Times article, Alina Tugend, whose own family may be facing this situation, tells about a friend whose husband is living with the possibility of a layoff from a job in the banking industry. They sat their three children down — all of whom are 10 and younger — and told them, “Mom and Dad are going to be talking about this a lot and we don’t want you to worry.” The parents told them “We’ve tried to be smart with our money and we have savings and we’ll be fine.”
When the 7-year-old daughter stopped her mom in Target and said “Mom, that’s too much money,” mom told her, “Don’t you worry. That’s something Mom and Dad will worry about.”
Explain the situation clearly but make them feel secure, say the experts. Tell them Mom and Dad have a plan — even if the only real plan is to bury yourself under the covers until next year.
Says Cohen, “Don’t hide information, but don’t terrify them.” If the situation is already so severe that you have to sell your house and downsize, you can say something like, “We’re going to be fine, but we have to make some changes.” Whatever panic you may be feeling, don’t transmit your hysteria, he says.
Be real, however, and don’t be afraid to tell your childrn that you’re concerned about things.
“You can say, ‘It’s hard for me now, but I’m going to be OK,” says Ellen Galinsky. Children will almost always take their cues from your attitude.
Don’t make assumptions about what will frighten your children. Ask them questions rather than lecture them. Let them offer to help.
“It’s incredibly helpful for children to feel part of the solution, not part of the problem,” says Ross.
One of the upsides of the current crisis may be that families can begin to clear about matters such as these. Some parents may discover that their children are more resilient and more capable of coping with difficulties than they thought.
Cohen feels that if you are choosing not to tell your children what is going on, it might be wise to examine your reasons. Is it because you’re afraid of being diminished somehow in your child’s eyes if you don’t have a job? Are you protecting yourself, not your kids? Information like that is useful as you face the future.
Don’t expect your children to grasp all the issues immediately. Think of it and talk about it as a continuing conversation you’ll all be having together for a while.
source: article by Alina Tugend in the NY Times on 11/8/08. www.nytimes.com
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