How to tell your child you lost your job

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If you’ve recently lost your job, or you’ve been forced to take a pay cut, you’re not alone. According to economist and researcher Johann Van Tonder, up to 13-million jobs could ultimately be lost as a result of the pandemic.

No doubt you’re also dealing with day care, school closures, and the challenges of all the lockdown rules.

It stands to reason then that you might be grappling with the dilemma of whether to tell your kids that you have lost your job and you’re worried about how you’re going to pay the bills. Let’s face it, the last thing you want to do is to put your child through more stress than they’re already going through with all the changes they’ve had to adapt to with the lockdown.

ALSO SEE: How to relieve lockdown stress for your children

While you don’t need to go into fine details of your financial concerns, experts agree – it’s best to be direct and talk to your kids about your job loss, or loss of income.

“Children pick up on your emotions and what you are feeling. If you don’t explain to them what’s happening, and how it might affect them, they just see you as being grumpy all the time,” says educational psychologist and life coach, Dr Tshepiso Matentjie.

But it does need to be age-appropriate. A toddler or pre-schooler will read your emotions and experience the effects of your job loss, or loss of income, differently than an older child, so you need to shift how you tackle the topic depending on your child’s age.

Tips for toddlers (age one to three)

Community service clinical psychologist Daniella Renzon and functional health and wellness coach Nikki Temkin offer these tips: 

Avoid saying too much

“At this stage, they don’t need the details or suggestions that this is a big concern. Keep it short, simple and honest while trying to protect them from. They will digest the information via your lead – if you seem okay about it, so will they be,” says Daniella.

Set boundaries

Your toddler might not understand why you’re at home all day but can’t play with him all the time.

“It might be helpful to set clear boundaries around how available you’ll be. This can include a set time when you will give them quality attention,” she adds.

Daniella says it’s important to consistently commit to that time, be present and don’t multitask. “It will be easier to manage their demands if they know what to expect and when they’ll see you. This helps them to know that they are thought about and feel valued, but there is a structure in place.”

Adds Nikki: “You can say, “Mommy loves you and she’s doing the best to spend time with you, but she also needs to look for work. After I’ve finished these emails, or this meeting, we can build a puzzle together, or watch some TV together.”

Set expectations

If your toddler insists you buy a toy or takeaway pizza, like he’s used to, you need to be firm and explain why they can’t have it right now. “Explain that during this time you aren’t going to be buying things and when you do, you’ll remember what they wanted. During your set time together, you can do special activities and even make things to play ,” Daniella suggests.

She says the main thing to keep in mind with toddlers is that you need to protect them from your stress and anxiety and monitor what you say around them. “If you don’t make it a big deal and set clear boundaries then they will feel safe and contained.”

ALSO SEE: Is your toddler restless at night? These 5 tips will help him sleep better…

Tips for pre-schoolers and young children

Nikki and Dr. Matentjie have this advice for talking to young children about financial matters:

Be honest

Let your child know it’s something you didn’t plan to happen. You can use the example that it’s like breaking an arm when you fall off a bicycle – that it might hurt or be difficult for a while but it’s going to get better.

Explain any implications your job loss will have for them, for example, they may not be able to enjoy regular takeaways like they’re used to, they may have to change schools or  move with you to a new neighbourhood.

Address their questions

To avoid bringing up concerns they might not have thought about, let them lead the way and ask questions so you can correct any misinformation they may have picked up from your conversations or non-verbal cues.

“Be very reassuring but also validate any feelings of theirs that may arise,” says Nikki.  In other words, tell them that what they are feeling and thinking is normal and you understand their hopes and dreams.

“Also accept that they might act out or might manifest anxiety through frustration,” she adds.

Offer reassurance

Don’t ignore their anxiety – every child needs to be assured they are safe and secure. You can say it’s normal for many people right now to lose their jobs and that the situation you’re facing won’t be forever.

“Tell your child, ‘I love you and I’m here to support you but I really need you to focus on your schoolwork while I deal with this,’” says Dr. Matentjie.

ALSO SEE: How to talk to your kids about the coronavirus and the lockdown

But before you do – this is what you need to do

Nikki emphasises the importance of processing your own feelings and anxieties about the loss of your job before talking to your children about these topics. “If you come across as resilient, hopeful and in control, that is what they will feel,” she concludes.

More about the experts:

Daniella Renzon is a community service clinical psychologist. She currently works in a child and adolescent psychiatric unit in Johannesburg but also works with adults, couples, groups and families. Learn more about Daniella Renzon here.

Dr Tshepiso Matentjie is an educational psychologist and life coach in private practice in Johannesburg. Learn more about Dr Tshepiso Matentjie here

Nikki Temkin is a functional health and wellness coach who helps clients recover from anxiety, stress, burnout and other health conditions to achieve balance, joy, vitality and wellbeing. Learn more about Nikki Temkin here.

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