How To Communicate With Your Children About Stressful Financial Times

As the realities of the South African economy begin to bite, most households may increasingly find it hard to keep head above water. However, this is just the time to apply the utmost financial discipline.

Many parents are feeling helpless and stressed-out about what’s happening in the economy. Even if they have a job now, there’s a lot of anxiety about whether they’ll still have one a few months down the road.

Certainly, there are no easy fixes to our country's financial problems. Any quick look at the daily news will attest to that. Still, families can—and should—take steps to maintain control of their finances in these uncertain economic times. Doing so will not only decrease your stress levels but ensure that your family comes out stronger during these trying times.

Consider the following when thinking about communicating with your child about these current economically stressful times:

Have the conversation. Talk to your children about what they see in the news about the economy. Ask what they think we can all do about it. Ask them how they believe this affects them, their friends, and your family. Use this opportunity to talk with them about how your family may be affected. Talk about how your income loss affects money available for extra activities and allowances. Talk about family spending priorities. Discuss how each person will help control family spending.

Check in with them. Check back in with your children to see your message was understood. Choose some period after your initial conversation on money to check back in with your child, whether it be a few days or a week. This may depend on the child’s age.

Spare them the worry. Although parents are encouraged to share information with their children about the family’s budget be sure not to overwhelm them with grim details. Children need a sense of security and stability. Continue with family rituals and routines that don’t break the family bank.

Make it fun whenever possible. Elicit your children’s ideas and support about things your family can do to save money and cut costs in the home. Perhaps, the person in the house who takes the shortest time in the shower wins an award for the week. This activity can do two things (1) make them aware of the time they spend expending water, and (2) help them see (at the end of the month) how much money the family saves when everyone cuts back on water usage. For more tips on cutting household costs, see Spend Smart/Save Smart Tips.

Give them a task. If your children always ask for pricey items in the grocery store give them a shopping on a budget task. Give them an allotted amount, a list of items they must buy, and a calculator in hand. They will have to figure out how to price items and figure out the best value. You may need to model for them how to find the best value.

Be a good financial role model. Children learn values through not only what verbal messages they get but also by the examples adults/parents set for them. Also, help your children focus on the positive aspects of their lives. Look at family and personal strengths and draw on talents and contributions of all family members. Recognize these contributions, no matter how small.

No matter what your family’s financial situation is, do not overly worry. Yes, these are indeed perilous economic times. There is a lot we could become anxious about if we let ourselves—but don’t. Do what you can to try to get your financial house in order and to provide for yourself and your loved ones.