Be open, honest with kids about your unemployment

Posted3/25/2020 9:48 AM

A possible recession is in the news again. That means unemployment could become a fact of life for more than a few of us. So, how do you tell your kids you've lost your job?

The other night I was watching an old TV sitcom in which an 11-year-old is told his father has been fired.


"Fired!" he responds. "Fired? How's he going to pay my allowance?!"

Though this was supposed to be a comedy, I found myself concerned about poor old Dad. It's hard enough explaining to other adults -- spouse, friends, family -- that we've lost our job. How do you explain to a child who can't understand fully what a job is, and what part it plays in adult life, what it means to be fired.

Granted, what we say and how we say it depends a lot on the situation. It could be helpful to have some general guidelines about how to talk to our kids in such situations. So, with that in mind, let me offer a few ideas.

1. Be open and honest. We won't be able to hide things from our kids for too long. It makes more sense to tell them up front what's going on.

We want to tailor what we say, and the words we use to say it, to each child's developmental age and needs. And we ought to tell our children that, yes, we are concerned, or sad, or mad, or whatever, and that it's not their fault or responsibility to make things better.

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2. Keep a normal routine. Children are especially susceptible to any changes in the day-to-day patterns we live by. If we're normally gone from 9 to 5, for example, we probably want to spend a good chunk of that time out looking for a new job (both because we need to and because it helps maintain the family routine).

3. Let your kids help. They'll usually want to. Make sure their help is age appropriate. A 4-year-old might play quietly so Mom can finish her resume or make a few phone calls. A 14-year-old might walk over to get the paper, or baby-sit a younger sib. Praise them for how they are all pitching in when the family has a problem to solve.

4. Prepare them for changes. If spending habits, time at home, work schedules, etc. are going to change, we need to tell our kids beforehand. And we want to talk particularly about how these changes will affect their lives. We also can let them share ideas on how they can adjust to any changes.

5. Take care of ourselves. We're going to be stressed. We can start to fall apart -- emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually. That doesn't help anyone. It is important that we find ways to express our emotions constructively, take care of ourselves physically, check our thinking and lift our spirits.


6. Check in regularly as a family. All of the above is best done through consistent family meetings. All family members can benefit from these opportunities to share problems, emotions, ideas, hopes or just plain news.

7. Get help. A family therapist can help us make sure that every member of the family is getting her or his needs met during such family crises.

There is certainly nothing easy about losing a job. As parents, we also have to make sure that our loss is not our children's loss. By following some of these suggestions, I think we will find that not only are we there for our children, but that they will be there for us as well.

• Dr. Ken Potts is on the staff of Samaracare Counseling Center in Naperville and Downers Grove. He is the author of "Mix Don't Blend, A Guide to Dating, Engagement and Remarriage With Children."

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