How to Tell Your Child You've Lost Your Job
Q: The changes in the current economy have affected our family in a personal way. The company I work for has experienced a financial loss and is closing. Everyone is being let go. Our household financial situation is going to change, and it may be a while before I get another job. The children need to know what is happening, but how much information should they be given?
A: You are right not to protect your children from the news too much. Depending on their ages, they will sense a change in the household, as well as possibly notice changes in finances. You may be anxious, stressed, sad or even angry. These are all natural emotions for you in this situation, but might frighten children if they haven't been told what is happening. If children notice a change in a parent's behavior without information, they often imagine a much worse situation than what actually exists.
Once you feel able to discuss the situation calmly, begin with an age-appropriate explanation of what has happened. Listen to your children and attempt to answer questions honestly. Older children and teenagers can be given more detailed information, such as the department is restructuring, or the plant is moving out of the country. Elementary-age children may fear you have "done something wrong" and are being punished - much like being expelled from school. They may also have trouble understanding that this is not fair, and that sometimes things happen that are not fair. If a child is much younger, simply being told that the business is closing and they won't need you anymore is probably sufficient.
Older children will realize that purchases will have to be curtailed, and may understand that music lessons or sports may have to stop, or they may need to choose which ones to continue. They may be angry or blame you for their loss. A child in high school may fear that he or she will have to leave school to work to support the family, or give up going to college. Keep the lines of communication open and be as honest as possible. A word of caution here - be careful not to depend on the children for your emotional support, as this can burden them with unnecessary emotions and create increased stress for everyone. There are job-loss support groups available to offer emotional support and job-search skills that you may want to look into.
This is an opportunity for your family to pull together and help each other. Depending on your situation, this may be the first real family crisis you have faced and can lay the groundwork for the future. Make sure to help your children remember what they have not lost, such as family, love, a sense of humor and hope. Emphasize that many families have gone through this temporary situation. Your reassurance and optimism that you will get through this as a family will help reduce their fears. They need to know that you are searching for a new job and are hopeful for the future.
Everyone in the family should try to keep an open mind and look into options available to maximize the family's resources. Look into having picnics or movie nights at home. Many communities offer free activities. Ask for your children's help to find creative solutions to decrease expenses. Children can contribute in various age-appropriate ways: assisting in the job search by learning how to take careful messages on the phone; helping shop for the best prices at the grocery store; remembering to turn off the lights; or lowering their expectations about eating out or buying new clothes. Helping the family empowers them and reinforces the belief that the family can get through this together.
You can use this time to model problem-solving and working together, and this can help your children learn resiliency and coping skills. When you find a new job, your children will be proud of you and the part they played in helping their family through the crisis.
Sandi Knisley, BSN, RN, works for Moses Cone Behavioral Health in Greensboro. Submit your questions to "Is My Kid OK?" by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.