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How to talk to your children about recession

Friday, July 24, 2009

Child's age should provide a guide as to how much information they need

Milwaukee, Wis. -- The downturn in the economy is constantly in the news and, with 467,000 jobs lost in June, more families are feeling the pinch. Even people still employed are worried whether their job could be next on the chopping block.

The bleak financial picture is unsettling for adults, but for many children, it creates anxiety about their own safety and well-being.

How can parents help children deal with their fears? Tony Meyer, a child psychiatrist and medical director of Aurora Psychiatric Hospital, had some suggestions.

"As adults, our job is to reassure children and to make sure that we listen to their concerns. While we don't want to dwell on bad news, we need to acknowledge the problem and allow the child to talk about it. It's much better to discuss fears and get them out in the open than to pretend something that doesn't exist," Meyer said. "After you've had your discussion, suggest putting on a video or doing some other family activity."

Not all children will admit to being worried or frightened, however. "That's when parents need to be alert to other signs that a child may be upset," Meyer said. "For instance, younger children may regress in their development, being afraid of the dark or wetting the bed. Older children may mention headaches or stomach aches, without relating them to what's really troubling them."

Age determines how adults should address a child's fears. "Again, we don't want to dwell on the job loss or other problem, especially with younger children," Meyer said. "Make it simple. They don't need a lot of information, just comforting. Let them know you understand and that they can always come to you with problems because you're there to protect them and care for them."

What to do when a child wants something the family cannot afford? Meyer says a simple approach is best. "Your answer is very dependent on the age of the child. For very young children all you may have to say is ‘no.' For older children, you may say, ‘Can you guess why we can't get this for you?' You give them a chance to tell you what they think and what they feel, and that can give you a pretty good place to start. For more mature children, you may talk about the economy with them."

An overview of what parents can do to help their children:

  • Don't brush off a child's fears as silly. Let them know you always are willing to talk. Letting them open up can help diminish their fears, even if you don't have an answer.
  • Consider the child's age. What you say and how you explain a situation depends on the child. Small children don't need detailed information; they just want to be reassured. Limit their exposure to the event according to their disposition and age. Let them know that it is your job as a parent to protect them at that you will always be there for them.

For more information, call Aurora Behavioral Health at 1-414-773-4312.

Aurora Health Care is a not-for-profit Wisconsin health care provider and a national leader in efforts to improve the quality of health care. Aurora offers care at sites in more than 90 communities throughout eastern Wisconsin.

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Contact: Sue Pierman

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