By Jarrod Compton, Native American Financial Services BOK Financial
Between record high inflation and talks of a recession, many parents aren’t feeling too confident in their financial situation. And while most parents try to shield children from bad news, but during times of stress, experts say it might help to talk.
Most families are feeling the pinch, and your kids are likely to notice. They want to know why groceries and meals look a little different, why they can’t go on vacation, or why they need to make that pair of tennis shoes last a little bit longer. Candid conversations about the economy in general—and your own household specifically—can help the whole family navigate times of stress.
When stress or anxiety levels are high around us in our workplace or household and we don't know what's going on, it's human nature to start filling in the blanks. It's important to be frank with kids to eliminate some of the worry they're experiencing, but it has to be at their level.
Candor, to a point
Parents sometimes expect kids to be little adults, but their brains are still developing, sometimes until age 24. They can't always process complex financial topics, but they can almost always sense when something is troubling you or causing stress for the family.
Some level of candor is appropriate. It's important to let them know what's going on, but don't take them deeper into a situation than they can emotionally contend with.
Telling your kids what you're doing to tackle the financial challenges will help eliminate some of the worry.
Some days will be worse than others. Show empathy, acknowledge the struggle, encourage them and give your kids hope that you'll make it through the situation. The more candid you have been with them, the more they'll understand and be able to work through the harder days.
Some family money experts suggest taking a team approach and including the kids in finding a solution.
While it's an unfortunate situation, it's also an important life lesson to get everyone in the family rowing in the same direction. Explaining the situation of having less money coming in sets the stage for a conversation about ways to have less going out. That dialogue involves all family members in finding solutions to help tighten the belt and emphasize the importance of saving for a rainy day.
Gauge the emotional toll
Parents should also be aware of how they deal with their own stress. If you can handle the stress in a healthy way, it gives your children a good example.
Stressful family situations can mold children's response to money for the rest of their lives.
According to an article from the Westminster School, research suggests that stress during early childhood can physically change the brain. While toxic stress is known to be connected to long-term physical challenges, it can also frame how individuals handle certain situations.
When people are in challenging financial situations where they're needing to cut cable, cell phones, eliminating subscriptions and anything they can to save money, it takes a toll on the entire family. It’s important to be mindful of the emotional impact on the kids—even if they understand it, it doesn't mean they won't grieve the loss.
While access to cell phones or a videogame subscription may feel like an extraneous expense that can be cut, those activities can be like lifelines for kids to connect with their friends. The emotional component of making your way through a stressful period is real for all members of the family.
This may also be a good time to teach children some of the basics about how the economy works. Resources such as Junior Achievement and The Balance are full of ideas on teaching your children about money and the economy. Hint: remember to keep it in simple terms they can relate to and use games such as Monopoly to illustrate the principles.
It's a good opportunity to teach your children that economies are cyclical, and that no economic factors last forever. In general, we have very short memories and we forget that there's always a down cycle that follows an up cycle. We need to be prepared for the worst when we're in good times, and we can be delighted when things start to look up after we've been in a down cycle.