Financial Resource Center

Money Management

Losing a Job? What Do You Tell Your Kids?

by Judy Dahl / April 30th, 2020

If you have been furloughed or lost your job, it’s likely that your kids, like you, are worried about your future. It’s important to not underestimate their awareness of what’s going on in your life. If they act withdrawn or appear anxious, ask them what they are thinking and feeling, and then share information appropriate to their age.

What to say

It's important to be factual, and to speak at their maturity levels—which aren't always the same as their age levels. "Obviously you'll tell a teenager more than a four-year-old,” says Rick Kahler, CFP, president of Kahler Financial Group, “but that's why you start by asking questions, so you can build on what they already know. The worst thing parents can do is not talk about what's going on, especially if it's affecting your family. Kids know something's up; they sense the stress."

Younger children require less detail. "If I were losing my job, I might say to my five-year-old, 'Daddy's going to look for a new job.' It's very succinct and not alarmist," Kahler says. They need to know the situation and that you have a plan. "You don't need to say much more to younger children, but they're comforted when they know what's going on, what might change in their lives—such as not going to the movies for a while—and that you're working on it," says Alexander. Children who are a little older and more mature may ask further questions. 

Teenagers will generally appreciate more details. "I might tell them there'd been company-wide lay-offs, and that I was concerned," Kahler says. "They'll be entering the work force themselves, or maybe saving for college," Alexander adds. "You can talk about that, and about how they can help the family."

Be honest and upfront

With any age child, if you're sad or worried, you can say so. "Even a younger child will understand if you say, 'Daddy's sad about losing his job,'" Kahler notes. "To deny the emotion doesn't help—they can sense it, so it's better to explain it." Just be sure you have appropriate boundaries when talking with kids about money. "Don't lean on your child for support. If you need to vent, or are extremely fearful, get your support from another adult."

"If your family can no longer afford certain things, be up front about it," he continues. "Say, 'We're doing a little budgeting, and here are some things we're not going to buy any more.' Share why. If your kids are old enough, try to engage them in the process of how to reduce expenses."

Kids usually rise to the occasion and want to help. Find cheap and cheerful things to do together. Together, look for the best deals when you do buy, and encourage saving. Teaching children how to use money is an important skill in today's world.

Also, remember the crisis won't last forever, and let your kids know that. Reassure them that as a family and as a nation we'll get through this tough period. Tell them their help is important. We can teach our children resiliency by demonstrating our own.


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