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Should we talk about financial problems with our kids?

April26, 2021

It's no secret that parents play a vital role in their children's financial education. Being a good role model also means leading by example. But when the going gets tough, debts pile up and there's a loss of income in the family, is it wise to discuss it with your kids? 


According to Anne Tremblay, a psychoeducator and psychotherapist at Service de consultation le Cerf, a discussion with your kids is not usually a good idea. "Parents play a primary role in ensuring the psychological and physiological safety of their children. It's important that children be as free as possible from their parents' personal problems and, in this case, their financial worries," says Ms. Tremblay. "The idea here is not to pass our stress on to our little ones, who—especially the most sensitive ones—are like sponges and absorb their parents' worries. When such hardship strikes, the best thing to do as a parent is seek help and support to move forward. Psychologists, therapists and counsellors can suggest solutions that fit the situation so that life can get back on track as quickly as possible."


If, however, financial problems affect the children more directly (for example, the family home is sold, a vacation is cancelled or a child's allowance is temporarily cut), it goes without saying that the subject must be broached very carefully. This discussion should take place only once the parent has calmed down and has a plan. "It's absolutely essential to reassure the family that their needs will be met, which requires some planning in the short, medium and, ultimately, long term if more serious financial problems come up. I recommend taking the time to set up a "family council," where everyone's input is essential to finding satisfactory solutions for the entire household. It's best to present the situation as a challenge to pull together. Everyone pitches in for a while to get through it. But avoid using numbers and downplay the situation by being optimistic about the future. Presenting possible solutions to a child will make them feel very reassured."


As Ms. Tremblay points out, despite our best efforts, we can never fully protect our children from life's curveballs. Hard times also help us build resilience, that is, the ability to bounce back from adversity. During a difficult period, as a parent, you have to seize the opportunity to be a model of courage for your children. Taking concrete action to get out of a bad situation sends them a message of kindness they'll always carry with them. 


Anne Tremblay is a psychoeducator (MSc) and psychotherapist. She has solid and extensive expertise in intervention, psychotherapy and consultation with children, teens and adults who are experiencing behavioural, adjustment and mental health difficulties.