How to explain to a child that his/her parent has been dismissed from work
Explaining that you have been dismissed from work or that your salary has been reduced to your child, is a question bothering the majority of those who have been made redundant or whose income has been reduced.
While answering this question, it is important to take care not to keep the difficult situation in the family secret in front of the children, by similar or even bigger spending in order to protect the child. At difficult times, it is possible that the child may not have all the privileges, sports activities, dance classes and similar as before. It is important that parents offer their child to choose among acitivities, present alternatives. You can also always explore similar free, or cheaper activities. An older child will learn how to save money and search for similar opportunities together with parents, if s/he sees that parents take care that s/he continues with learning and activities.
Like in all other situations, it is good that children participate in whatever is happening in the family so far as they can understand it. Young children usually know if their parents work or not and what they do at work, and those who are about to start school, know their parents’ occupation, where they work, and that they get paid for their work. The older they are, the better they understand relations and the status of a job.
If a parent has a crisis at work, is threatened with the loss of job, or has already lost it, the child needs as much information concerning him/her as s/he can understand. S/he can know if the parent does not work any more, but parents should reassure him/him that adults in the family will always do what is necessary so that the child has what s/he needs.
Parents can tell the child how they are planning to cope with the new situation. Secretiveness, avoiding to talk about changes and a lack of knowledge of the situation can only intensify child’s anxiety. Even though s/he has not clearly been told what has been happening, the child will probably notice changes in his/her parents, their worrying and changed behaviour, and will start reacting to these.
Wishes and needs should be distinguished. Children know what their wishes are very well, but they are unable to always estimate what their needs are. Thus a four-year-old asks for almost all the toys s/he sees in commercials. Older children start comparing themselves to their friends and asking for what their friends already have. However, it does not mean that your child needs what somebody else has. You can tell him/her that some wishes may not be possible to fulfill like before, but that parents and other adults in the family will always do what it takes to ensure that s/he has everything necessary for everyday life. When talking with children, catastrophic scenarios should be avoided, because they cannot clearly see all parents’ circumstances and can see them as much more difficult than they really are. Parents’ talk about difficult circumstances can be true, but children will understand them much more literally, based on parents’ expressions of feelings. If parents show strong anxiety and a feeling of helplessness, as well as that they are not up to the new situation, then children will feel and show that they are more concerned, sullen, irritable, they will have separation difficulties and other ractions which indicate their increased stress. Maintaining a reasonable and calm attitude in front of the child, even in a difficult situation, is adults’ responsibility.
If money, economic status and spending are the only things that hold the family together, such a crisis in the family will surely be difficult. In such circumstances the child learns how to share the destiny of his/her family. If money has not been the main bond between family members, the child knows s/he is loved and accepted regardless of how much money the family has and will adjust to the new situation more easily. The child should, on a daily basis, regardless of the crisis, learn understanding the concepts of saving, helping those who do not have enough and the spending control. If so, s/he will more easily understand that the family financial situation has changed. Closeness between family members will increase if the child feels that what parents are talking about is clear and reasonable, that they respect their own limits like adults and do not only set them to their child who may not even understand what is happening.
When we are not able to buy something the child wishes, it is always better to clearly say ‘no’ with love, warmth and determination, than to buy something you cannot afford and than later reproach him/her how ungrateful s/he is, thus inducing self-dissatisfaction in the child. The outcome of this situation, as in all other upbring situations, is parents’ responsibility.
After disturbing events, we often ask ourselves ‘Why me?’. We are trying to understand what is happening, have a feeling of injustice and it is natural to seek answers. Similar things happen to children. It is important for them that the world they live in is fair and predictable. Answering the question ‘Why me?’, parents should not transfer overwhelming thoughts and feelings related to their experience to the child, but share them with other close adults who can provide support. The child should be given a reasonable answer which s/he can understand. E.g. we can tell the child that it is difficult to answer that question now because it is all about some relations between adults and that there are more people who have lost their jobs. Explain that it is a consequence of life circumstances which we cannot always influence and agree that it is not fair, but that it is not an indicator of your personal failure or your unworthiness.