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How to Discuss Family Debt with Children

Most parents are protective of their children’s innocence and try very hard to shield them from the concerns and worries of real life, including family debt. However, the more we try to hide our stresses, the more our children pick up on the fact that something is wrong. Struggling with debt can trigger negative emotions like fear, depression, and worry. Sometimes, these emotions can paralyze your ability to connect with your family. Children hear the arguments, see the tears and mood swings, and even sense the stress. Here are a few ways to talk to your children about family debt and financial hard times.

Children under 12 Years Old

If your children are under 12, avoid sharing all the scary details with them. Young children tend to internalize and blame themselves, so make sure to explain to them that the family debt is not their fault. Also, make sure to let your child know that it is not their responsibility to fix the family debt. Young children have active imaginations and may make the situation bigger in their minds. Let your child know that there is no danger of a family breakup or homelessness. If divorce or relocation is likely, reassure them that everything will be OK. Consider having your child spend the night with family or friends when you need to have difficult debt conversations with your partner, or if you need some time to yourself to deal with your emotions.

Young Teenagers 13–15 Years Old

Young teens understand more than younger children and are very curious. Be honest and share more specific information about the situation with your young teen, but reassure them that the situation is temporary. Your young teen can become part of the solution by helping to reduce expenses, such as by turning off the lights when they leave a room or by bringing their lunch instead of buying it. By being honest and including them in the solution, you will help them better understand the family budget and smart ways to manage money at a younger age.

Older Teenagers 16–18

Older teens should be more informed and involved with the household budget than younger ones. Encourage your older teenager to become part of the solution by contributing to the family’s finances or paying some of their own expenses by getting a part-time job. This is a great opportunity to share with your older teen how you got into debt, some of your money mistakes, and how they can avoid this situation when they become adults. Make this an opportunity for the entire family to come together to establish a solution and work with a plan created as a family.

If your child sees or asks about the family’s financial hard times, use it as a learning opportunity to teach your child the importance of money management, savings, needs versus wants, and getting credit counseling from an organization like Consumer Education Services, Inc.

Help your child feel secure that you will handle the situation and keep them updated on the family’s financial progress. How you deal with your debt problems will ultimately have an impact on how your children will manage their future finances.

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