What to say to your child when you are facing life-style changes:
1. Listen attentively. Their real concerns may not be what you think. Children are most concerned with aspects of change that affect them directly, like changing schools or after-school activities or friends. They may care very little who’s fault the change was or how upset the adults are unless they are pulled into taking sides.
2. Don’t try to talk them out of their feelings right away. It makes children feel you can’t handle seeing them upset and they will try to “protect” you by not sharing with you how they really feel in the future. Validate and paraphrase back what they say to you. Go easy on the evidence about why they should feel differently or want something you can’t give them.
3. Speak often about your own gratitude, even if you are also worried about financial changes. It’s okay to hold more than one feeling at a time. Children can benefit from having adults model that ambivalent feelings (feeling opposite emotions) are okay and do not need to be minimized or invalidated.
4. Find ways to help children learn to give to others (volunteer, give to the homeless, help another child at school, etc.). Volunteering is one of the best ways to help children build good self-esteem.
5. Tell stories of difficult times you have overcome in your life. Children love to hear stories about parents and grandparents’ childhoods, as long as they are not given as examples to shame or humiliate them (i.e., “I walked two miles to school in the snow and you shouldn’t complain about…”). Share your stories of courage and family ties.
6. This is the time to convey your spiritual values. Let your child know how you view the bigger picture. Do you believe you are guided? Provided for? Not alone? There are lessons and empowerment to be had?
7. State often and out loud the upside of the changes (i.e., We’ll have more time together. We’ll have a park nearby. We’ll get to see your cousins more often. etc.)
8. If children see you upset, let them know it is okay to feel scared, sad, angry… and hem know that you can “handle” it.
9. Try hard not to compare (how things were, what others have, what you could be doing, how their siblings or cousins are doing things better, etc.).
10. Be honest if something they want is not currently in the budget. Don’t shame them for having desires and wishes. And don’t make them responsible if you have to say “no”. Teach them you are strong enough to respect that they have age appropriate hopes and dreams and your saying “no” or “not now” is not their fault. Help them set up a long-term plan to get what they want.
11. Celebrate. Demonstrate joy. Have special acknowledgments for their accomplishments (They get to choose what’s for dessert. They get to eat on a special plate. Decorate their chair with their clothes and a cut out drawing of their face. Have a picnic outside in their honor.)
12. Keep some of their activities the same. With most changes there are a few things that can remain the same.
13. Help them keep a journal of their feelings and the changes they are facing. Be their scribe and write down their ideas at the end of the day. Help them cut out pictures from magazines and create a collage journal. Let them draw pictures of their feelings and daily events.
14. Take care of your own feelings. Don’t make children responsible to be your sounding board, or blame them for making you feel stressed. Don’t vent to them about whoever you believe to be at “fault”. Let children be children. Making child en an adult’s emotional peers robs them of the innocence and protection of childhood. Vent to adult friends or in support groups or to a therapist.
15. Forgive yourself. In every decision, you have done the best you could see to do at the time. Looking backwards we may see many other alternatives, but at the moment of decisions you did the best you could see to do at the time.