Talking to Young Adopted Kids about the Recession

By Joni S. Mantell, LCSW, Director IAC Center

With all the recent news about the recession, even young kids are likely to hear some scary things from the TV, from older siblings, or overhear conversations between Mom and Dad. This can be unsettling and upsetting for kids.

Children will not understand what is going on in the financial world but will worry about how all of this will impact them. And children between ages six to ten think in black and white
so they will tend toward absolutes. Whether your family has increased budgetary concerns, a parent who has lost a job or the family needs to move to a smaller house, children this young may worry that ALL of the family money will disappear or that their life could change radically. Adoptive parents may also wonder whether their children might have some particular concerns about this.

Even in good financial times, as children ages 6 to 10 become more connected to the reality that they were placed by their birthparents, some feel insecure about their family’s stability. Consciously or subconsciously some children may even wonder “if my birth parents placed me for adoption, could my adoptive parents abandon me too?” Parents may notice increased sadness or sensitivity to transitions, clinging, separation anxiety or even panic about abandonment during this stage as their child connects to his early losses.

Mindful of children’s self-esteem, the current trend is to help children understand that their adoption plans were made due to their birth parents’ circumstances and not because something was wrong with the child. Adhering to this concept, a number of parents explained to their children that the lack of money was a key reason the birthmother placed the child for adoption. Given this explanation, might a child now fear that he would have to leave his family due to financial struggles? While kids may not be able to articulate such feelings, they can feel some anxiety in the current economic situation.

Warning signs that your child is upset could be problems sleeping, stomach aches or head aches, moodiness or irritability, and difficulties with transitions or separations. Whether your child is acting differently in subtle or more dramatic ways you will want to find ways to bring up current money worries, because kids can sense when something is up, especially if you’re worried about your own finances or that you might lose your job. If you ignore the situation, kids these ages may imagine it’s worse than it really is.

This is a good time to find ways to reassure your child that he is safe and will be taken care of even during a time of financial distress. Your goal is to reinforce for your child the message that he’s with you forever.

Before initiating conversation, watch and listen to your child. What you say will depend on your child, his maturity level, and whether or not you surmise he is picking up on the current money concerns. Always check to see what your child has heard so that you can correct any untruths. And then consider these six ways parents can provide the reassurance young kids need:

  1. Be honest in an age-appropriate way. Don’t over inform. Stick to how the financial economy affects your family directly. They just want to know that, hard times or not,they will have a roof over their heads and food on the table — and that things will get better.
  2. Your tone is as important as what you say. Keep you composure. Your anxiety and distress directly impact your children. While you may understand why you are upset young children may not. All they see is a parent who is on edge. The more in control you are the more they will be
  3. Remember that children live in a black-and-white world and take you literally. Don’t kid about the situation. Subtle humor about going broke or not having enough food to eat may alleviate your tension but young children are likely to interpret that information literally.
  4. Turn off the TV and tune out the talking heads. Exposing your kids (and yourself) to a steady stream of hyped-up headlines and downbeat news is bad for your psyche. Limit their news intake. Just like a natural disaster- children may not understand how information coming from media impacts them directly. Watch with them so you can explain.
  5. Have a plan. If you’ve lost your job, for example, or anticipate that you might, tell the kids how you’ll go about looking for a new one. Meanwhile, let them know that you’ll be able to collect unemployment benefits, or that your spouse will go back to work or bump up his or her hours to tide the family over.
  6. Encourage the kids to pitch in. Even kids as young as 6 want to be proactive in helping their family through rough financial times. Involving them in problem solving will also help them to feel like an important member of the family, more in control and less inclined to dwell on the family’s hardship. You can involve them in simple actions like cutting coupons, having bake sales, saving their allowance for something particular on even asking them to donate some rarely used toys for a fundraising garage sale. While the financial impact will not be great, they will feel more at ease by contributing. Small and practical ways to save will help them to feel in control.

Be patient. Children process information differently and more slowly so be prepared for many questions repeated over and over. Be reassured though that while they may not like the fact that there isn’t enough money to buy a certain toy, they will like knowing that you will protect them and that they are safe.

Educational Games and Fun Ways to Teach Kids about Money:

  1. There is downloadable software at kidnexions that is design for kids to have fun monitoring their savings. It is touted as the modern-day piggy bank! It helps kids to have fun monitoring their savings. It helps parents use allowances to teach about interest, reward schemes and eventually how to manage a bank account online. The software has colorful graphs to help young savers keep tabs on their progress toward big purchases.
  2. Books for kids on money include such classics such as: “Alexander, Who Used to be Rich last Sunday“, and “The Berenstain Bears Trouble with Money.” And The American Girl doll company offers “A Smart Girl’s Guide to Money.
  3. At Educational Learning Games, click on Money Games to see a plethora of money-minded games like Payday, Allowance Game, Budget Game and Grocery Store Game that tackle everyday financial tasks in colorful board -game form.
  4. Money Savvy Generation makes piggy banks that require kids to sort their change into four parts – spend, save, give and invest.

And a few more ideas for teaching children about money:

Everyday experiences and spending decisions can have a far more negative impact on children’s financial futures than any investment decisions they may ever make. You will want to communicate with your child about your values concerning money – how to save it, how to make it grow, how to spend it wisely. Here are 5 more simple ways to help educate children about personal finance and managing money.

  1. Begin to help your child distinguish needs and wants. This lays some groundwork for spending decisions.
  2. Use regular shopping trips as opportunities to teach children the value of money and for concrete lessons on planning about money. Going to the grocery store is often a child’s first spending experience. Show them how spending smarter at the grocery store (using coupons, sales, comparing unit prices) can save money. Spending money can be fun and very productive when spending is well-planned.
  3. Allow children to make some spending decisions. Let them select at least three things the money could be spent on, and then making a choice of which item to purchase or save for.
  4. Set goals. Nearly every toy or other item children ask their parents to buy them can become the object of a goal-setting session. This helps children learn to plan responsibly.
  5. Establish a regular schedule for family discussions about finances. This is especially helpful to younger children–it can be the time when they tote up their savings and receive interest

Infertility and Adoption Counseling Center
Joni Mantell, LCSW, Director IAC Center



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Based in Pennington, NJ