Talking to Kids about Economic Downturn and the Pandemic


2020 was the “Year of Explaining”: “Mom, why can’t we go see Grandma?” “Why do I have to wear a mask?” “Why can’t I visit my best friend?” And now, as we enter the challenges of 2021, we might find ourselves needing to talk to little ones about the economic downturn, too.

The good news is that your kids take their cues from you. The 2008 Recession taught us that children did better in tough times if their parents managed their own stress, discussed the situation and practiced conscious parenting. And kids whose parents talk to them realistically about money are more likely to wind up on solid financial footing as adults.

  • Start an age-appropriate dialogue, especially if your child has noticed that you or others around them are struggling. Children may feel tension and become anxious about money. Long-term worry about financial stability can compromise children’s physical and mental health.
  • Go light on details. It is inappropriate to discuss specific dollar amounts or possible disasters with young children, which will increase anxiety. Instead, go heavy on values (what we need and want for the family) and reassurance that you are working hard to take care of your child and the family. Again, age-appropriate is key: Be simple and concrete when talking to kids about the economy.
  • Be gentle but straightforward — things may be different now, and that may affect some things in your lives. But change is possible, even probable, in the future. Work on cultivating resilience to let children know that tough times don’t last forever.
  • Put the situation in context. “Remember Pop-Pop’s stories about being a little boy in Haiti, and how his family worked together…” Talking about financial difficulties normalizes them and makes them less scary to kids.
  • Make saving money fun and include kids: What can you do with leftovers to make them delicious? How can you make something great by upcycling something you already have? Focusing on creativity rather than deprivation changes the mood surrounding cutting back — and helps children learn to be resourceful.
  • Let your children see you taking advantage of all the help you deserve: L.A.’s free or low-cost health care options, housing services, food assistance programs, public utility payment assistance (or utility-funded emergency payment assistance) and/or donations of clothing and furniture. Look into federal programs, too. And be sure to check out the free courses, financial management tools and apps available online.
  • Model resilience. Show your kids that taking care of yourself is important no matter what your circumstances: Start a journal, try some yoga, talk to a friend or pastor, get some fresh air or take up a practical hobby like knitting or gardening. If you’re okay, your kids’ll be okay.
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