Helping Kids Understand the Economy

Oct 11, 2008

In the wake of the economic crisis, there are many changes that we are making as families. We are trying to spend less, drive less, eat out less, and cut back on extras that we can live without. As adults, we make decisions based on our best judgment on how to effectively handle the changing economic climate. Kids, however, notice things are different, but do not know why.

In an effort to explain to kids what is happening, we need to be aware of age-appropriate language and topics. The younger the child, the simpler the conversation should be. Under the age of six, children can be told, “Mommy and Daddy are trying to save as much money as we can right now”. From six to ten or eleven, kids can be told, “We are staying within a budget because we want to make sure we can pay for what we need to live”. Children over the age of twelve can be told, “The economy is changing right now, and we are making sure we are prepared to handle whatever happens”.

Basically, I encourage you to follow rules I have given before. ‘If you can’t say it in ten words or less, don’t say it’. The more we fill in explanations with extra details, the more clouded and unclear our message becomes. Be aware of the need children will have to ask questions to clarify what you tell them, but be as concise as possible. A great article with additional tips can be found here.

Another extremely helpful piece of advice is to make sure no matter what age or what explanation, communicate stability and safety to your children. You may not feel that things are under control at all, but children need to feel reassured that you can handle whatever may come. The more secure you make children feel, the less anxiety or fear they will experience.

Finally, be aware of protecting little ears from adult conversations. It is easy to think kids are preoccupied playing or otherwise engaged, but children are acutely aware of what goes on around them. Do not share fears, anxieties, worries, hardships or other negative issues in front of them. Try to watch your non-verbal communication as well, as stress and anxiety is often communicated in tone of voice, facial expression and body language.

The bottom line for our national economic crisis and your family – it is never too early to teach children financial skills, understanding of money and budgeting, and making sound financial decisions. Use this challenging time to help your kids benefit in the long run.