First, you’ve got to calm your own. Opinions vary about how much adults should or shouldn’t tell kids about money (or sex) – or when. There’s one thing every parent eventually comes to understand. Your kids KNOW. They know everything.
Oh, they don’t always get it right, and they miss the details and interpret things from their own point of view. But they always know when something is up. You can talk with your spouse in the other room, behind closed doors. You can whisper on the phone to your best friend. You can even refuse to have any conversations about what’s worrying you when they are home. They still know. They smell the anxiety, kids do. And they hone in on it and – here’s the worst part – they interpret it according to their own level of maturity and mindset. Which means they get the important parts wrong and draw some very surprising conclusions.
And if you aren’t talking about their anxiety – or your own – about the family’s finances, their anxiety doesn’t just go away. It goes underground, where they process it as best they can. Out comes their kid-version of some very adult situations. If they can’t talk with you about their worries, they take those worries wherever they take their other concerns: maybe to the gym or a friend, but maybe to nightmares and misinformation.
So what’s a parent to do? Name it, claim it, aim it. Try it yourself first, and then use it with your kids. You’ll be doing double duty, each reinforcing the other.
Name it: What exactly are you anxious about? What’s your worst case scenario, and what’s the probability of that? You know all those “How am I ever going to…?” questions you’re freaking out about? Well turn them from fake questions that just churn your stomache into real questions, with answers you just haven’t yet uncovered.
Claim it: Make the problem yours. You may not have chosen to be laid off, but now that you are, figure out how to make it work for you and your family. What could possibly be good about this situation? How are you going to maximize that? How’s the family going to rediscover the values and shared experiences that matter to you? How are you going to pick what to give up, what to keep, and what to add to your life?
Aim it: What are the next steps to a flexible plan, with contingencies? Use your anxiety as a motivator to maximize creativity and energy. Schedule regular family meeting where everyone offers suggestions for how to pull together, make changes, and have fun in the process.
Coming up next: Part II: Tailor the approach to your child’s developmental level and temperament. C’mon back…
Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.