Stressed About Money? The Kids Might Be, Too

Here's how to walk the line between telling them too little and too much.


Video: Family Health

By + More

What might signal that a child is worried about the family finances?

Sleep disturbances, appetite disturbances, concentration disturbances, nightmares, avoidance of situations or people are like the psychological equivalents of having a fever. So if the kid is given very stressful information and then starts to develop these symptoms, there's probably a connection. Kids can be surprisingly resilient. When they're exposed to things that you or I would say, "That's an excessively traumatic experience," only about a third of them will develop post-traumatic stress disorder compared to the 25 percent of adults who will develop PTSD. The key thing with feeling overtraumatized versus not is a sense of safety. "Are my life's core basic assumptions secure?" That's why people develop PTSD when they're raped, or when they see their best friend die, or their house burns down. Their core assumptions about their safety in the universe have been shattered. All these anxieties overwhelm them.

What can parents do to make hard news easier to bear?

I want to make sure that we keep as many things the same as possible. Particularly things that are enjoyable. Family rituals are one of the most powerful prophylactic measures that parents can bring to bear when there are significant stressors. Because it says to a kid, "Planes may be crashing into buildings, kids may be shooting kids in schools, everybody is worrying about their finances, but we still have pizza night, or we still go to the synagogue." It doesn't matter what you fill in the blank with as long as it's a consistent thing. In fact, we're running and gunning so much, are we so crazy hectic that maybe it would be good for us to cut out some of these expenditures and have more unrushed time together? Might there be more value in spending some time playing board games or going for walks or making ice cream?