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Money Worries

The recession is a grown-up problem, but kids may be having money-related concerns of their own. Here's how to calm their fears.  By Joni S. Mantell, LCSW



With all the recent news about the recession, even young kids are likely to hear some scary things. Little ears pick up cues from the TV, from older siblings, and from overheard conversations between Mom and Dad. It's a tense situation for the country and for families, and it can be unsettling and upsetting for kids.

Although children don't fully understand what is going on in the financial world (most adults don't really understand, either!), they may be worrying about how it will affect them. Whether your family has increased budgetary concerns, a parent who has lost a job, or a need to move to a smaller house, children this age may worry that all of the family money will disappear or that their life could change radically. If you know what's feeding your children's worries, you can reassure them.

The Adoption Link
Even in good financial times, as children this age begin to understand that they were adopted, some are uncertain about their family's stability. Some children wonder, If my birthparents placed me for adoption, might my adoptive parents abandon me, too?

Many parents have explained to their children that their adoption plans were made due to their birthparents' circumstances--including poverty. Given this explanation, will the child now fear that he may have to leave his family because of its financial struggles? Reassure your child that adoption is forever, and you will always take care of him.

Calming Fears
Whether or not your child seems concerned, it's important to talk about your money worries. Kids know when something is bothering you, and if you say nothing, they may imagine the worst. Ask what worries your child, and correct any untruths.

Consider these six ways to provide the reassurance young kids need:

1 Be honest, in an age-appropriate way. Don't over-inform; stick to how the economy affects your family directly. Kids just want to know that they will have a roof over their heads and food on the table--and that things will get better.

2 Remember that children take what you say literally. Jokes about going broke or not having enough food may alleviate your tension, but young children are likely to take your jokes literally.

3 Your tone is as important as what you say. While you understand why you are upset, a young child may not--all he sees is a parent on edge. The more control you demonstrate, the more reassured he will be.

4 Turn off the TV to tune out the talking heads. Limit their news intake, or watch with them, so you can explain what's happening.

5 Have a plan. If you lost your job, for example, or anticipate that you might lose it, tell your kids how you will go about looking for a new one. Let them know that you'll be able to collect unemployment benefits, or that your spouse will increase his work hours to tide the family over.

6 Encourage kids to pitch in. Even young children want to help their family through rough financial times. Involve them in simple tasks, like cutting coupons. While their financial contribution will not be great, they will feel better for helping.

Kids may not like not having enough money to buy a certain toy, but they will like knowing that they are safe. 

Psychotherapist Joni S. Mantell, LCSW, is director of the Infertility and Adoption Counseling Center, in New Jersey and New York.

Finance 101
Everyday spending decisions have a big impact on children's financial futures. Here are three ways to educate them about managing money:
1 Use shopping trips as teaching opportunities. Show them how spending smarter (using coupons, going to sales, comparing unit prices) saves money.
2 Show children how to evaluate ads. Will a product really do what the commercials claim? Remind them that if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
3 Introduce the value of saving. Explain the concept of earning interest. See if your bank offers passbook savings accounts for kids, or consider paying interest on their savings at home.

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