The "Talk": Explaining These Tough Economic Times to Your Generation R (Recession) Children

Question: Up until recently I had been employed with a pharmaceutical company. A month ago I was given my pink slip which ended 12 years of being employed there. I know it's tough out there for jobs but I feel confident I'll find something. My wife and I have had many discussions about this but I'm just not sure how to tell our children who are 14, 11, and 6 years old. Any suggestions?

Dr. Andie: I'm sorry about you losing your job. I imagine it must be a difficult time for you. And I know that it doesn't make anyone feel better knowing that we all are coping with an unprecedented economic situation. Everyone has been affected by this Great Recession of 2009! Are you asking how to tell your children about your job loss and how the family financial picture will change for them?

Parent: Yes. Look, my own parents were children of the Depression and I can remember them telling me stories how that era affected them. I guess I don't want the same thing to happen to my kids. My kids aren't use to not getting the things they want. Don't misunderstand me, they aren't spoiled, they are really nice kids. But you know, kids today expect their parents to get them all this stuff just like the other kids in the neighborhood.

Dr. Andie: I understand what you are saying. Today's kids, I call them Generation R, are the children that will be dealing with the effects of this economic recession. What makes this Generation R different from your parent's generation, is that this is the first one that has totally embraced the computer/technology age creating an "I see-it-therefore-I-want" attitude. Computers have created a virtual reality resulting from computer games and the ability to navigate the computer on how to find those high tech toys or designer jeans which makes the accessibility to material things easier. Add the fact that children have been bombarded with media images and coaxed by advertisers into wanting everything producing it harder not to ask or want material things in an era of belt-tightening on the financial home front. Yet, unlike your parents that were the children of the Great Depression whose hard times negatively influencing their choices and opportunities as adults, we can help these Generation R kids, your kids, cope better. This is a critical time to instill strong social coping skills and inspire optimistic thinking.

Parent: Tell me some ways that I can instill these social coping skills with my children during such tough economic times.

Dr. Andie: Here are some strategies that you and your wife can use to help your children better understand how to deal with the present financial changes:

1. Express feelings about financial issues in a way that children can cope and understand with.

  • Tone of voice, body language and words all convey emotions
  • If fear is the dominant emotion being expressed in a panicky way, children will pick up on that. Especially younger children who are most concerned about their safety and need more assurances that they will be cared for.
  • It's ok to express your feelings but do it in a calm and non-threatening manner. You are setting an excellent example of being able to express your feelings but not being overwhelmed by them.
2. Explain that the economic situation has changed in a calm, yet reassuring way.

  • Younger children are most concerned about their own personal safety and assurance that they will be taken care of.
  • Parents set the tone: if they project calmness, their children will be calm.
3. Focus on what children can have instead of what they can't.

  • Parents always want to give their children what they want and feel bad when they can't. I just want to reassure you that children will do just fine with a bit of less.
  • Maybe the big family vacation is out of the question right now, so plan fun, family day trips together.
  • Reinstitute Family Night- rent movies from the library that are free and make some popcorn.
4. Help children learn to see situations from the "cup half-full" perspective through optimistic thinking to explain the economic situation.

  • Use an optimistic thinking approach in explaining any changes in the family economic situation by avoiding pessimistic words like "always" or "never" that paint a permanent picture rather than something temporary. For example, switch from a pessimistic "I'll never get a job; this always happens to me" to an optimistic "Sometimes people lose their jobs but I'm doing everything possible to find another one. I know we'll get through it".
  • Help children focus on the positive aspects in their lives.
5. Say "No" from an empathetic point of view of a child's perspective.

  • Reality is that children like to ask for things whether they really need them or not
  • In a world that has gotten more materialistic than ever before, many children are used to that immediate gratification with toys and other material objects. Suddenly the money well has dried up and they don't understand what has happened
  • When having to say no, preface saying words like "I understand not getting that toy is hard for you" or " I see how not getting that new dress effects you " instead of yelling about their selfishness in times of financial woes.
  • Be a model of empathy: by looking at it and voicing to them from their perspective sets the example of empathy of understanding another's feelings which is another key social skill for life. If you are empathetic, they will be empathetic back.
6. By being a role model on how to solve problems and deal with a crisis effectively will teach children handling future life challenges.

  • Children watch how a parent deals and solves difficult life situations. So if a parent successfully sets an example for learning how to cope with tough life problems with resiliency and optimism (key social skills in life), it's giving their child an wonderful opportunity to learn strong coping tools.
Dr. Andie: I hope these social coping strategies have been helpful to you as you and your wife sit down with them and explain what is going on financially with the family. I also want to wish you all the luck in finding a job and getting back on your feet.

Parent: Yes, thank you for your concern and also for these tips. You have given me a different perspective about this entire situation! I can see now how my wife and I can explain what is going on financially in our house. This will be a good time to get back to basics at the same time create those important social and emotional skills in our children. Maybe there is a silver lining in this whole tough situation!


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