Friday, May 1, 2009

Discussing difficult issues with your child

Sometimes it is difficult to leave your problems off the table. When it comes to your children it is important to be honest with your child, tell them as much as you think they can handle. Children are resilient, yet they can be keenly aware of tension in the household.

While open communication between parents and their children is the foundation of a healthy relationship, parents should not overburden their children. Instead, address problems at age-appropriate levels. For example, what a parent might tell a younger child about the family’s financial situation is different then what they might tell an adolescent; young children may interpret the situation as more dire than it actually is. Older children and teens will be more exposed to the news--discussing their understanding of the economy and its implication on the family can be reassuring. How parents phrase their worries about the financial situation influences a child’s interpretation. Younger children may take overheard statements such as “we’re going to the poor house” literally and thus internalize fears about losing their home. Talking to your children and asking them their thoughts and ideas will help clear up any misunderstandings, ease their anxieties, and reduce their stress.

Families can also use their financial situation as an opportunity to manage their children’s expectations for material goods. Teaching your children about budgeting, perhaps by setting up a “savings account” for their pocket money, or by allocating a certain amount for charity, will help them better understand that an Xbox or an iPod might not be feasible for the holidays this year. Furthermore, these times offer an opportunity to focus on the positive aspects, and prioritizing what’s important—relationships with loved ones and friends, the family’s health—can lessen children’s fears and reinforce family values.

How are you handling your conversation?

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