Helping Children Cope With Parental Job Loss
(~~Back To Professional Grief Information~~)
"I know but..." This phrase is heard time and time again by parents who are trying to explain the effects of unemployment to their children. When a parent loses their job, the family faces reduced financial resources, increased emotional pressure, possibly long term lifestyle changes and eventual relocation. While those prospects are difficult for adults to deal with, they are often devastating to the children in the family. In their efforts to protect and or inform their children, parents often tell too little or too much. Children need to be informed, but the depth of knowledge needs to be carefully assessed.
First, parents should determine what the facts are and determine which changes directly affect the children, presenting them in a mater of fact way. Along with statements of facts should be verbal acknowledgement of emotions. "We hate to disappoint you and cancel our vacation plans, but we are concerned about making our money stretch now that Dad is between jobs.". This statement shows that the parents are aware of the child's feelings and ties the action being taken to a realistic need while setting the stage for optimism about the future in a situation a child cannot change.
Parents should understand the children's need for opportunities to ventilate fears and frustrations without feeling guilt-ridden. Often children feel they can't express their feelings because it will cause Mom or Dad to feel bad. By not voicing their concerns and checking out the validity of their fears and assumptions, they can imagine a scenario that is much worse than reality.
If you are too emotionally overloaded to be a sounding board, provide the children with someone to talk to about their fears and concerns. As situations change, inform them at the appropriate time. Don't play up tomorrow's job interview as the answer to the problem, but as a step towards the solution.
Children have a difficult time dealing with the whims of the job-hunting game. Avoid making statements such as "If Dad gets this job, we will be able to keep Mom's car." Also avoid talking about major changes that aren't currently under active consideration. "If someone doesn't come through soon, we will just have to sell the house and move." By looking at the future and planning, you should be able to set some time frames in place. "We are going to stay here until January and if something hasn't turned up by then, we will have to seriously consider moving."
Finally, provide the children with opportunities to feel that they are making a contribution. A seven year old can keep Dad's shoes polished for interviews, a twelve year old can earn his own spending money. In return, parents should remember to be supportive of the children's efforts, no matter how small.
Feeling powerless is no less a problem for a child than for his parents. Weathering a period of unemployment can
be a time for the family to draw closer and to develop a sense of unity.