Before a discussion about how to communicate to your child/children about the financial turmoil your family may be going through, there are a few essential points that must be made. Co-parenting after a divorce is a very difficult job. Never underestimate the amount of effort it takes to establish a relationship that works. A commitment to the co-parenting relationship is especially important when helping your child during economically stressful times, such as a change in family finances.
Helping Your Children During Economically Stressful Times: Work Together
A Few Basics about Good Co-parenting
If you are a divorced co-parent, please remember that both you and your former spouse are mutually responsible for creating the foundation upon which your child/children are building themselves. Raising healthy children is a team sport which requires the active contribution and collaboration of both parents.
Successful co-parenting depends on the ability of two people to resolve their conflicts. It does not mean they must trust one another or agree on all matters related to the children. However, like any good business relationship, each partner must value and respect the other and must be receptive to their opinions. A good co-parent is someone who compromises. Successful co-parents try their best to keep their children’s interests first and foremost.
How to Communicate Your Changing Financial Circumstances to Your Children
Consider the following scenario: Your spouse gets laid off. You are not receiving your monthly child-support payments. The household bills are mounting. You feel guilty that you cannot afford to give your child the extras, perhaps even the necessities. You try to cover up your anxiety and anger, but your child sees through your efforts. Now what?
No matter how much you try to shield your children from the nation’s worsening financial picture, more than likely they have, at least, an inkling of the hardships everyone is facing. The research shows that if family financial setbacks are not handled properly, children will likely end up being the silent carriers of that stress, resulting in behavioral or emotional problems. Indeed, when children are kept in the dark about tough financial times that are affecting their family, they have a tendency to exaggerate and imagine the worst.
Like the uncertainty of your divorce, the impact of an unstable economy will compromise your children’s sense of security. Therefore, it is imperative they know that both parents, the co-parenting team, are taking care of them no matter what. The “we” message will not only minimize their fears, but keep them out of the middle of differences between you and your former spouse. The “we” message means you and your former spouse must put aside your differences, communicate, cooperate, and compromise.
According to Stanley Greenspan, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at George Washington University, the best way to communicate to kids about changing family finances varies by age. Toddlers and preschool-aged children may see images on TV or hear things that scare them. Dr. Greenspan suggests reassuring them, for example, by explaining why you may be working later hours. Children under the age of 11 tend to look at the world in black-and-white, all-or-nothing ways. They need help with shades of grey: “Yes, we have to cut back in our spending, but it won’t be forever.” Preteens (11 to 13 years of age) are cognizant of the news. Dr. Greenspan suggests giving them details, but in a realistic and positive way. Preteens like to help out so you may reward them, for example, for remembering to turn the lights out. Teens understand more, and they may need reassurance that the future will be better. You might encourage them to come up with different ideas about how to cut back expenses.
Create Stability by:
- Offering them reassurance and support. Reminding them they are not alone.
- Giving them extra time and attention. Listening closely to what they are saying.
- Explaining and answering questions honestly.
- Working to improve their self-esteem. Reinforcing their strengths.
- Helping them to develop hope. Helping them visualize better times.
- Providing structure to their daily routines.
- Encouraging an environment of openness to the expression of their feelings.
Dr. Deborah Hecker welcomes calls from both divorce lawyers and clients for assistance during the divorce and post-divorce processes.