Thursday, September 8, 2011

Helping Children Deal with Job Loss

Q. I lost my job a few weeks ago. We have two children still in the home. I was surprised by how much it affected them. How can we help our children deal with my job loss?

A. With these tough economic times, it has become all to normal for us to hear this question. You, like many families, are facing a very hard road ahead. Losing your job is not just a loss of income, but a loss of security and identity. The grief that comes with a job loss affects kids too, not just adults.

For children, they see the strain and stress that the job loss creates in their parents. Often, parents are more angry, easily upset, or even depressed. The amount of anxiety that creeps into the home greatly affects the way children feel or function in their every day lives. Once anything this large affects the family system, there will be a trickle down affect to all those in the household.

The first thing we would suggest is to be honest with your kids. You do not want them to hear about the job loss from someone else. This only creates more panic and anxiety. Be age-appropriate in the information you give them. Listed below are a few age-graded suggestions:

  • For Children Under 5: Be simple and concrete. Children at this age are most concerned about their personal safety and need assurance that they will be cared for. They need to know that the job loss was not their fault and they have done nothing wrong.
  • For Children 6-9: They are concerned with right and wrong and may have trouble understanding that job loss may be unfair. Provide information as they ask for it.
  • For Children 10-12: They can put facts together in more complicated ways and can understand the everyday effects of job loss. They can contribute ideas to budget planning.
  • For Teenagers: They are capable of understanding the consequences of the job loss and can discuss issues in more detail. They understand the more subtle effects as well. They can be helpful in problem solving. Fears that they won't be able to go to college are common at this age. Discussion is important.**
Also, make sure to assure your children that while some financial things might change, their needs will always be provided for. Help them understand that money management is key and that you guys have to find more creative, cheaper ways to have fun as a family. Talk about playing board games, going to the park and other fun free activities you will engage in together. It is important for children to know that fun does not have to equal money.

And finally, as much as possible, keep the household routine the same. The less changes the children see in their everyday lives, the better they will fare. Maintain the same behavioral boundaries. Don't be tempted to loosen the rules just because you feel sorry for your children. Children thrive on consistency and knowing what to expect; this includes knowing where the boundaries are and knowing you will keep them inside those boundaries.

If you or your child are showing high levels of stress, seek professional help or enlist the help of the child's school counselor. If either of you begin to loose too much sleep, start eating more or less than normal, having more headaches or stomachaches than normal, or having more emotional outbursts, you may benefit from some professional help. Be alert to the changes in your child and yourself.

**Information cited from "Job Loss Affects Children"
If you have a question you would like to ask, EMAIL US: or leave a comment. We would love to answer one of your questions.

*This column is not intended to substitute for an actual session with a licensed counselor.