Layoffs Are Tough On Kids, Too

Losing a job can be very stressful. Not just for the person who was laid off, but for the entire family. And even though it may be difficult, it's important to keep kids in the loop about what's going on.

Author and family therapist Meri Wallace visited The Early Show to discuss the best ways for parents to broach touchy subjects like financial adjustments; emotional and behavior problems with both parent and child; and the restructuring of the family dynamic.

The following is her advice for parents:

What Should You Say To Kids If You Get Laid Off?

If you can, don't talk about it the minute you walk in the door. Wait until you feel calm. For an older child you should initiate the conversation. If they are at the age where they can understand how the economy is affecting lots of people - do so. For younger children you can initiate the conversation, but it is also OK to wait until they ask you a question like, "why is daddy home on a weekday?"

What you tell the child depends on their age. If the child is young, explain to the child you've been laid off and you have to find a new job. If the child is older, tell them the same thing. They will probably ask "why" you were laid off. And you should give them a simplified answer like, "the company daddy works for could not afford to pay him anymore, so he has to find a company that can." Then reassure them about the parent's abilities: "Daddy is a good lawyer and he will find a new job."

Suggestions To Help Children Cope With Unemployment:

  • Tell the child how you are going to get a job
  • Encourage them to participate in the problem solving: Older kids like to feel included and helpful
  • Encourage optimism: "Daddy will work everything out and will get a new job."
  • Prepare Your Children For Changes: i.e. financial adjustments
  • Follow your normal routines, but also plan special outings
  • Be Patient: One moment the child will seem to understand the situation and another, they're asking for the most expensive toy. That's how children are -- it's wise not to get angry and make them feel guilty.

Anecdotal Problems:

PROBLEM: Kids who feel like they have to help - they are the breadwinners.

SOLUTION: Children should learn how to save up for things they would like to buy, but reassure them the adults will take care of the major things.

PROBLEM: Parents' emotions result in crying, yelling, depression

SOLUTION: Explain your emotions. If you are more temperamental than normal try anger management techniques like, going for a walk, counting to 10, leaving the room until you are calm.

Also, stay busy. Get involved in a hobby that you enjoy; try volunteering to feel useful. Remember, for the parent who has lost the job, it is like experiencing any other loss. Typical feelings associated with loss, like, denial, anger and depression may occur. Professional help may be feasible even on the tightest budgets - so get help if you need it.

PROBLEM: Kids' behavior

SOLUTION: If your child's behavior changes due to a layoff, talk to them about their feelings. If their schoolwork suffers, tell them they need to continue to do well, which will help everyone. Encourage children to talk out their feeling. Encourage children to talk to parents whenever they feel upset. It's important to talk with parents about how they feel. Set up family meetings to talk about how everyone is doing. Admit it is a hard time for the family.

PROBLEM: Changes in the family dynamic:

SOLUTION: What happens when dad's suddenly around all day, and starts scrutinizing the kids' lives? It's good to handle problems that have been neglected. But parents should watch how things work and see where they are needed. Don't just revamp your family because your life is being revamped, too. Too much attention can cause resentment. For example, your child may say, "you didn't care before and now you do." As before mentioned, it's important to maintain normal routines.



About Meri Wallace:

Meri Wallace, M.S.W., C.S.W., Contributor to American Baby Magazine and author of "Birth Order Blues" (Henry Holt & Co., May 1999) and "Keys to Parenting Your Four Year Old" (Barron's Educational Series, August 1997). Wallace is also the founder and director of the Heights Center for Adult and Child Development and has been a child and family therapist, parent educator, and school consultant for the past twenty years.

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