NC State Extension Publications


Is losing your job a possibility or a reality? Few families have savings to buffer their expenses until they find work again. Acting as if nothing has happened and keeping kids in the dark — letting them think everything is normal — can only last a short while. They will pick up on your hushed conversations and tension.

How can you talk with the kids about this?

Hold Family Meetings

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Before losing your job is the time to start holding family meetings. However, a crisis such as losing a job can be a good reason to start holding them. Family meetings help center the family and bring family members together without distractions (no television or texting for example) to talk about what’s on their minds. It is a time to plan, to discuss household chores and even work together to think about what will be prepared for dinner in the coming week.

To call a family meeting, set aside time. Announce the time, and tell family members in advance to turn off their phones. Tell them that the music and television will be off. Make the meeting short, say half an hour, but set aside enough time to respond to questions.

Use the family meeting as a time to bring up the impact of poor economic times and to discuss how the family must cut expenses. Ask each person for their ideas. All ideas are welcome.

Pick Your Words Carefully

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Think about what you will say. Spouses or partners should think about this together to be sure you are on the same page. A family conference is not the time to disagree about details. Take the large ideas and work with them after the meeting.

Consider the age of your children and the message you are sending. To say you “lost” your job may be misunderstood. A 3- or 4-year-old may ask “where did you lose it?” or “why can’t you find it?” Words like “lay-off ”and “severance” are not well understood either. Perhaps it is more clear to say, “I don’t have a job any more, so we don’t have as much money to pay for things.”

Tips on family communication
  • Hold a family meeting so everyone hears the story at once.
  • Pick your words carefully depending on children’s ages.
  • Assure children that they are safe and you have a plan
  • Listen carefully to children’s words and concerns.
  • Model the best way to manage stress so they can learn from you.

Assure Safely

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As with any crisis, children want to hear that they are safe and that the adults in their lives have a plan. “Safe” doesn’t mean you can continue to spend. Safe means you will provide food and shelter. A new family routine may involve cutting items out of family spending or even moving to a smaller home. No matter the decision, show that this is part of the plan. It may mean less eating out, no treats at the store, fewer movies and more bag lunches.

Listen carefully to children’s comments, and answer each question seriously. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know yet. Get back to them with an answer.

Manage Stress

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Children handle stress differently, but mostly they will model you. So be sure you are ready for their response. When there is a show of emotions, it is not a time for punishment. Let them air their emotions, then address the concern when everyone is calmer. Recognize their feelings, name the feeling for the child and ask for their ideas about how to solve the current issue. What will they do, and what ideas can you try together?

Find more information at the following NC State Extension websites:

Publication date: March 1, 2009

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