For the first time in most of our lifetimes, the nation's economic uncertainties are eclipsing all other stresses for tens of millions of American families. Those uncertainties register with children who intuit the stress their parents now face and who absorb at least the tone of ominous financial news from television, the Internet and newspaper headlines. If we ignore the fact that they, too, wonder about whether their lives will change with the fortunes of the nation and their families, we bury their very genuine concerns and risk making them feel even less secure.
Remember, children and adolescents and teenagers who experience the anxiety of current events lack access to the underlying information to make sense of them, much less respond directly to them.
Talking to your kids, even as young as 6 or 7 years-old, about what may change and what will not can insulate them from imagining the worst. It can also keep them from feeling an exaggerated sense of fear or personal responsibility to keep themselves and other family members safe.
The key is to relate any uncertainties or actual impending changes (like job loss or the threat of losing one's home) within the context of your commitment to keep kids safe and feeling loved.
You can open the discussion by asking your children whether they have any questions about anything happening in the country, including the Presidential election and the talk about people losing jobs or businesses having trouble staying open.
Whatever questions they have can be answered with a nod toward the reality that this is a very difficult time for many, many families. It's okay to gently allude to ways that your own family is challenged. If you worry more about making ends meet at the end of the month, and if your son or daughter has heard you discussing that problem with your spouse, you can speak to the issue.
"We're working harder than ever to pay for things we need," you might say, "and that means you may notice I don't have as much patience as I'd like to." If it's the truth, you could add, "We get worried sometimes about whether we'll have enough money for everything. But we're working it out, and we'll be fine, in the end. The amount of money people have during their lives changes a lot. Sometimes it's more, and sometimes it's less. So we may have tougher times and better times."
Just don't forget to apply the real Band-Aid: "Here's what you never have to worry about: We're a family, and we love each other, and there isn't any way that will change.