Liz Pulliam Weston

The Basics

Parents, stop scaring your kids

Frightening children with economic doomsday scenarios and other doses of 'reality' is out of line. Don't dump your anxieties on your kids.

By Liz Pulliam Weston

I try not to be too judgmental of other parents. After all, there are plenty of ways to produce good kids, and none of us raising young children will be sure how well we've done for several decades yet.

That said, the way some parents are reacting to the nation's financial crisis is nothing short of horrifying.

Exhibit A is a woman quoted on MSNBC who exposed her kids to breaking-news bulletins about the crisis and then showed them the Depression-era movie "The Grapes of Wrath" to give them "a healthy dose of real reality."

The ages of the kids who were force-fed this "real reality": 4 and 6.

This woman's need to shatter her children's innocence and fill them with fear about their futures is incomprehensible. But what she's doing deliberately, other parents are doing unthinkingly.

I've heard too many adults loudly proclaim -- right in front of their kids -- that we're headed for the next Great Depression.

The problem with reality

All but the youngest children will pick up on the anxiety and foreboding inherent in that proclamation. But a child can't possibly put those fears into context or understand that Mommy and Daddy don't really know what they're talking about.

So here's a refresher course for parents who need a clue:

  • Nobody can foresee the future, and Chicken Little pronouncements are almost always wrong. (Remember all the Y2K predictions of economic apocalypse?)

  • Finally, you're the grown-up. Your anxieties are your burden. Don't dump them on your kids.

You don't need to hide from your children the fact that we're going through an economic cycle.

And if you've lost your job or your home is in foreclosure or you're facing some other severe financial setback, you'll of course have to be straight with your kids about the change in circumstances.

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But you should emphasize that you'll get through this time as a family and that you'll make sure the kids always have a roof over their heads, food to eat, clothes to wear and presents under the tree.

(If you're honestly not sure how you'll take care of the basics, read "Where to turn when you're desperate.")

Pessimism outlasts hard times

What you must resist is giving in to anger, despair and pessimism about the future. Extensive research of families under economic duress, including those affected by the farm-belt recession of the early 1980s, indicates that such negative emotions often lead to irritability and withdrawal from the family, which takes its toll on marriages and the ability to parent effectively, according to University of California, Davis, professor Rand Conger.

Parents' failure to cope can have lifelong consequences for kids, setting them up for depression, substance abuse, delinquency, less success as adults and parenting problems of their own.

Video on MSN Money

Parenting © Bananastock/agefotostock
Talking to kids about money
It's not quite likes the birds and the bees, but money can be a tough subject to discuss with children.

By contrast, parents can head off these negative consequences if they find ways to remain supportive of each other and focus on staying close as a family, including solving problems together. Families that were able to do this successfully, Conger says, turned out kids who were strong and resilient.

I experienced the power of this approach firsthand.

Continued: Putting things in perspective

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