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Deciding what to tell your kids when you lose your job can be one more big worry on top of other stresses you experience when you learn you’re no longer employed. Set time aside to process your disappointment, shock, or anger, but then start planning how you’ll share the news with your children because they’ll notice that something is up.

When parents are distressed about stressful things, like losing their job, hiding this stress from their children is impossible because they’ll see the emotional response. Children are sponges, picking up verbal and non-verbal messages from their parents. Here are some tips on what not to do when telling your kids you’ve lost your job and how to approach it instead.

Don’t pretend nothing happened or wait too long to talk about it.

The danger with hiding your layoff news from your children is that kids might blame themselves for your behavior changes. Children are self-centered and think it’s all about them. You’re irritable, acting distant, over or under-eating, and crying, so whatever it is that differs from the previous outline of your day, children will think it’s their fault.

It’s not a discussion you can put off for too long because your children will notice something has changed, or they’ll find out from someone else. For example, you may have recently lost your job and want to wait a few days before telling your kids, but then the question arises while they’re at soccer practice. You’ll wish you had said something before it came out in this unexpected conversation with someone else.

However, if you do wait too long, it’s still possible for you to recover. You can sit with your children and talk about what happened. Let them ask questions and try to refocus the conversation on how you’ll find another job, but in the meantime, you can spend more time together, which is what all kids want.

Don’t share worst-case scenarios.

The vital issue is not to overshare. Dire-sounding language like “We’re in a lot of trouble” or “Everybody’s got to tighten up” can upset children. They may already jump to conclusions, like thinking your family will become homeless, so discussing the possible adverse outcomes could add to their anxiety. Kids need security in their lives, even when the adults may not feel the same way, so you should model good coping skills in your language.

You want to show your kids that you’re facing a challenge, but it’s something you can overcome, and you’re problem-solving around it. However, you shouldn’t lie and pretend everything stays the same if you see upcoming plans changing. Instead, reframe potential changes in future vacations and routines as part of your problem-solving strategy. Honesty is always a good thing.

Don’t bad-mouth your employer.

Children aren’t little adults, so filtering information is essential. No matter how mature you think your children are, they’re not your peers, so you shouldn’t discuss losing your job with them like they’re an adult. Many parents adopt one of their kids as their best friend, which can lead to oversharing. This behavior typically happens a lot with preteens and teenage daughters. Children will act very comfortable and confident to get you to tell them more things, and then they ponder and have bad dreams, becoming inhibited and anxious.

When having this discussion with your children, ensure you’re in a headspace where you don’t project your fears on what the job loss might mean to your child. It’s okay to be nervous and share this with your kids, but ensure that you’re not coming off as angry or anxious when talking about losing your job. It would help if you were careful with your language when describing what happened. For example, you might not want to say you were fired, leading to more questions about what you did wrong. Also, don’t discuss the unfairness or anger about the situation; that’s more of an appropriate conversation for your friend or spouse.

Don’t tell your child not to tell people they trust.

Kids shouldn’t be asked to keep many secrets because it sends the message that the secret is something to be ashamed of. Giving children more leeway to discuss you losing your job to people they trust is generous to the child’s well-being. With that said, give them as much rein as possible about telling their best friend or their teacher. Sometimes, the parent should tell the teacher because the teacher will wonder why your child is withdrawn when they used to participate in class.

Don’t invalidate your child’s feelings.

Children may react to your job loss by making the news about them, but that’s part of being a child. They may ask if the family is still going on vacation or if they’re still going to be able to have their birthday. It can seem selfish, insensitive, and not compassionate, but they’re children. They don’t know how to step into adults’ shoes, and you don’t want them to because they’re prematurely adults.

You want to expand their feelings vocabulary, so it’s essential to acknowledge any disappointment over changed plans without feeling ashamed or sorry for them. You should be respectful of their yearning and longing and develop creative alternatives.

How to approach the conversation instead.

You can’t necessarily know how your child will react to your job loss news, but there are ways you can position yourself for success. To have this conversation go well, choose a time to tell them when you can give them your full attention. If you can, try to do it intentionally while walking together in nature instead of making it a distracted discussion.

You should also expect your children to ask questions and listen with calm curiosity to what they’ll want to ask you. You can start the conversation by asking what they think could happen to see their worries and correct their misperceptions. You could also try using transitions they’ll understand, like when their teacher changes or their friends move. Those life transitions happen, and kids must understand these natural processes.

Losing your job can be a terrifying time, and it can be scarier when you think about discussing this job loss with your children. However, there are ways for you to discuss losing your job with them without scaring them or making them feel like it’s their fault.

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