How Do I Explain This Economy to My Kids During the Holidays?

| by Dr Gwenn

With the holidays upon us and our country still facing a challenging
economic crisis, many families are struggling with how to balance
celebrating and spending without disappointing their children.

From news stories to Facebook postings, families are expressing clear
concern for how to celebrate this year, what to buy for their kids and
how much money to spend. They want to be honest with their kids yet
shelter them from their adult financial concerns at the same time.
Moreover, they feel guilty because this year was supposed to be
different because last year they had the same stresses and concerns.

That's the bottom line for everyone. Last year we all hoped that this
year would be different. We hoped that last year's tough economic
downturn woud be much improved by this year. We all painfully know that
reality didn't quite occur as we hoped and we are all once again
struggling with how to celebrate with funds not being quite where we
hoped - and what to say to our kids.

Last year I posted about these issues based on a Boston Globe article
by Barbara Meltz. To help you talk with your kids and regroup together,
I decided to repost that article for you today. Here it is:


As with most tough issues in life, honesty is always your best policy
with kids, kid-appropriate, of course. Kids have an amazingly
fine-tuned radar for knowing when a parent is worried. More than that,
they are very good in picking up on gigantic world issues from their
friends and worrying themselves about their own world.

Barbara Meltz, Boston Globe columnist, agrees. In her article, Helping kids understand family finances,
she discusses not only how kids react to tough societal stresses, but
ways parents can not only discuss these tough issues and be on the look
out for signs that kids are having trouble coping with the enormity of

The article opens with the story of a family that could be any of us -
a basic nuclear family trying to plan for the future but is otherwise
financial ok at the moment. For this family, they focused their
conversation on "saving money by not wasting". In the father's words:

"'Countries have financial ups and downs. This is a down time. Our
family is not in trouble, but as a precaution, we are rearranging our
budget. You guys can help.'"

Their kids help with reminding the family to turn off lights and the TV. Those small actions can add up for all of us over time!

We take the same tact with our kids and are learning that their middle
school is actively teaching the girls about the environment and saving
in school. "Go green" has been our families motto for a while but at
the moment has taken on an interesting financial twist at the economy
continues to sour.

By the way, keep in mind that that kids' reactions to tough times are
independent of their families tax bracket and that isn't something
parents always understand. So if you are one of the lucky families who
won't have to worry about this financial crisis, your kids are still
worried, or at least worried for their friends.

Meltz and I have always shared a vision of being proactive about
parenting and needing to balance information with reassurance. Her
current article hits the nail on the head with not only the tone of the
conversations we need to have with our kids right now but ways we can
step in when we sense trouble.

The printed Boston Globe
article contains a small chart with a trouble-shooting guide to help
you intervene if your child is showing signs of stress. Here are the
highlights to be on the lookout for:

  • Changes in behavior.
    Meltz suggests initiating an age appropriate discussion and try and get
    your child talking about what he or she has heard at school.
  • Your child starts to discuss friends going through tough economic times. Hit the nail on the head by reassuring your child about your families situation.

  • You started a discussion and now your child seems very unhappy.Be
    reassuring and help your child see that your family's situation stable
    despite any modifications that have to be made due to the economy.

  • Nothing you say seems to "get through"
    (especially for a middle schooler). Meltz said it best "offer hope".
    The age group needs to know the truth so don't candy coat it but be
    careful not to make statements that place blame on the child
    inadvertently. This is the age of moodiness so this group will brood
    and stew while readjusting to a new reality.
  • Holiday expectations are becoming unrealistic.
    This is one area you just have to be clear about. Kids always get
    carried away with their holiday lists but this is a year where most
    kids just won't get a huge pile.

I find it helps kids to know that all their friends are going
through the same exact thing. It also helps kids to give to other kids
in need. I'll be blogging more on this soon but kids love to give back
and by finding ways to tap into that a bit, it will remove the focus
from your own situation and help them develop a sense of community and

One thing is for sure, this is one situation that is touching everyone,
although some much more deeply that others. We don't know how long this
will last so we have to be honest, realistic and help our kids
understand there is more to being a family than the tangible things we
have inside our houses...and that their world won't end wearing last
year's clothes.

For more information on talking to kids about the economy, click here.