Talking to kids about the economic crisis

Talking to kids about the economic crisis

These current economic times are tough for just about everyone. It seems each day more and more bad news hits and more jobs are cut.
But how are children dealing with the current situation?
Barbara Wollman is a clinical social worker at Squirrel Hill Psychological Services, a division of Jewish Family & Children’s Service, and is a registered play therapy supervisor.
“It (the economy) has come up often with boy clients before and during this economic crunch,” she said. “The boys that I see have always been a little bit more interested in the economy.”
In general, families are unable to attend therapy as regularly now and have begun to cut back on the number of visits they make.
“What has been changing is the parents’ ability to bring the children as frequently,” she said. “Health providers only provide so many sessions a year and the families want to stretch those sessions as far as they can.
“It’s almost like cutting the pill in half to save money,” she added. “They are decreasing the number of therapy sessions.”
Wollman said that while parents might not ask about the economy specifically during a session, they might read about potential problems facing their children and wonder if they are handling it the right way.
“They might want to look at this issue when they read about it,” Wollman said. “They begin to wonder if they should bring it up. It’s something they normally don’t think about. How is it affecting their child?”
The first noticeable changes can occur in the home, when the topic of conversation is geared toward the economy.
“We should look at how the economic situation is affecting our moods as adults,” Wollman said. “How is our behavior in the house different? Is there more stress in the household? If there is, that’s a sign that the children are noticing it.”
Wollman noted that children are definitely not oblivious to the current economic crisis.
“I don’t think they are oblivious,” she said. “There are very few things they are oblivious to. They might not be interested in it; they would consider it boring or wonder why their parents talk about it all the time.”
Children will pick up on the slightest of changes at home and begin to wonder what is going on.
“Are children not allowed to be involved in as many activities?” she said. “Are people giving up family vacations? All these things raise questions. These things do make children aware and they need to be addressed.”
Each age group of children will handle the economy differently, according to Wollman. The 3- to 5-year-olds won’t understand what’s being said, but they can pick up information through television or by just hearing their parents talk.
“The tone of the media is excitable,” Wollman said. “The kids pick up tones, even if they can’t understand the message. Young children can pick up on the parents, even if the parents don’t realize it. The kids are listening.
“The youngest kids need more reassurance than detail,” she continued. “You need to keep calm. They need to know that mommy and daddy will take care of it.”
While the youngest kids need to be reassured, Wollman said that the older kids, 6 to 11, should use this time as a learning experience.
“It’s the perfect opportunity for the parents to discuss it (economy) and maybe even teach them a few things about the situation,” she said. “Talk about an allowance and the value of a dollar. It’s a form of education.”
There are some things parents shouldn’t be doing during these tough times.
“Don’t rant and rave about how the kid is too expensive,” Wollman said. “Don’t lecture, use angry tones or annoyances. They are not helpful.”
Blowups occur usually when parents are caught off guard with an unannounced purchase the child might need for school or another activity.
“Last minute things are ways that parents blow up,” Wollman said. “When a child needs money quickly for something they might have forgotten.”
Wollman suggested that parents call the school and find out what their kids will need in the future. That way they won’t be surprised when it’s time to buy something.
“Be prepared and don’t be caught off guard or surprised.”

(Mike Zoller can be reached at

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