Talking to Children About Money Problems

Many parents fear that exposing their child to real life problems will damage or scare them.  Often parents trudge through tough times denying reality in front of their children in hopes their children will remain unaware of what is going on around them.  However, keeping children in the dark can lead to serious problems for the child such as anxiety and depression. Often left to their own, children will imagine a scenario much worse than their reality.  Moreover, ignoring money problems denies you as the parent a valuable teaching moment; one in which life skills can be taught to children in a loving and age-appropriate manner.

So, how do you explain to your children that you must spend less?  First, don’t let these conversations make you feel worse than you already do.  It may help to start by talking to your child about your goals, rather than focusing on what you are leaving behind.  Your “attitude” in front of the children is key to how they hear your message!  If you approach this subject with feelings of guilt or a sense that you have in some way failed your children, you will telegraph those feelings to your children.

It is o.k. to acknowledge that you wish there were plenty of money for everything they could ever want, but tell them that is not where your family is financially right now.  Discuss with your children the difference between a “need” (food and shelter) and a “want” (a $200 pair of sneakers).

Life throws curves at all of us from time to time.  Help your children understand that this is just one of those times and that your family needs to work hard and spend less so that you can all achieve new goals.

How much information you share will depend on the particular child.  But children should always be respected as individuals and allowed to ask questions, even the tough ones.