Tough Times, Tough Talk—What to Do When Kids Overhear

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on May 21, 2020, by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine 

Question:  Our 11-year old daughter overheard my husband and I discussing finances and is asking some tough questions. My husband was furloughed from his job and we don’t know when he will be back. Unemployment is helping but is nowhere near the same amount he was making. There is also uncertainty around my job and I am fearful I could get laid off soon. As it is, my hours are reduced. Obviously, we have been worried and our daughter overheard some of those worries. How do we discuss this in an honest way while keeping her concerns at bay?

Answer:  These are indeed tough times and are indeed difficult for so many people. Financial insecurity and uncertainty is an all-consuming problem. You are managing a lot. I truly hope everything with your job and finances improve.

It is very important to know that your daughter is watching you and listening to you always. Just in your day-to-day parenting, you are modeling and teaching your daughter about life—the good and the not so good. Our desire to shelter our children from things which are difficult and uncertain is not always the best plan. Right now, in the loving protection of her family, she can experience adversity while you and your husband show her healthy ways to cope by problem-solving together and maintaining optimism. 

At the same time, certain conversations and differences between parents should be taken out of the view and earshot of their children. Young children are just beginning to make correct judgments and can often misread circumstances. For example, she might one day hear the two of you arguing and mistakenly think you are going to get a divorce. Children also take the blame for discord between parents that they don’t understand. This can be very detrimental to their self-esteem and creates unnecessary anxiety. In those cases when your daughter overhears a difficult discussion, take time to give her reassurance that you are handling it.

I like your desire to want to discuss it with your daughter, in an honest way, while keeping her concerns at bay. Tell your daughter that life is not always easy, and that sometimes there are a lot of problems at once. It’s like when the car is driving on a smooth road and suddenly there are bumps and potholes. These are difficult times, but difficult times often pass and the road smooths out again. Reassure her that you and her father are working together to find ways that will make the situation better. This is a parent problem to solve and you are taking steps to do that.

 

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine.

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