A reader asked for help in telling her kids she'd been laid off. I asked Brad Sachs to respond. He's a psychologist in Columbia who has written books on parenting, including The Good Enough Child, The Good Enough Teen and When No One Understands.
Here are his tips:
* Be straightforward. "Children need to be able to trust their parents, and trust is rooted in knowing that they will be dealt with honestly." Sachs suggests you say something like: "I have some not-so-great news to share with you, but I think you're old enough that I can be truthful. You've probably heard that the economy is pretty bad right now and times have gotten tough. Well, I found out yesterday that I'm being laid off at work, and this means that I'll need to look for a new job. Until I find one, we're all going to have to find some ways to pull together and get through this."
* It's important to be hopeful. "You might want to suggest, 'I'm not happy about this, of course, but I've already begun thinking about some ways that we can cut back until I find a new job, and I've already begun talking to people and exploring some new possibilities on the job front that might turn out well.' "
* Share previous experiences with similar adversity. "If you have had experiences (as we all have) when what felt like a loss or disappointment in the short run actually turned out to be a gain in the long run, this would be a good time to share such a story."
* Enlist kids' help in cutting back. "Because children often feel futile and helpless in the face of forces that they have no control over, such as the loss of their parent's job, it is important to give them a sense of what they might do to contribute to the family's survival." Sachs says you could tell your children, "Tonight at dinner, we're going to spend some time talking as a family about ways that we can cut back on our spending and save money until I'm back at work."
* Let children tell their friends. "While you may not be enthusiastic about having your unemployment broadcast among your son or daughter's peer group, it is important, nonetheless, to let them know that they're free to discuss this with their closest friends if they'd like to, and that they're not to feel embarrassed or ashamed. On the other hand, if they'd prefer to keep it private, you can let them know that that's perfectly OK, too."
* Emphasize the true meaning of family. "Children need to be reminded that hard times can actually be good times, because we tend to come together and appreciate each other more when we yoke together in the face of misfortune. There's a difference between having goods and being good. When we educate our children in the vulnerability that we all share as human beings, it ultimately provides them with a deep sense of security and connectedness that transcends financial security."