Kids also need you to acknowledge that a situation is upsetting. If you're relocating, for instance, say, "I know you hate moving. It's hard on all of us. It's okay to be upset, but I want you to know that sometimes changes like this can actually lead to better things in ways we don't understand yet."
But be careful to protect your kids too. Have your big strategy talks when they're asleep or out of the house. Similarly, don't go to your teen for emotional support. Kids should depend on their parents, not the other way around. By sharing your feelings too often you'll cause them undue stress, since they can't do much. Instead vent your fears and frustrations privately to other grown-ups.
Likewise, resist the temptation to feel sorry for yourself or your kids. It's reassuring for them to see you taking action -- sending out resumes and going on job interviews, for example. Stay busy with family, around the house, and with your friends and community. And don't give in to the temptation to cheer kids up with expensive toys, games, or clothes. Help them accept that there will be no new stuff for a while by spending more time with them doing things that are free, like playing sports or watching favorite TV shows.Keep Them on Track
Kids may slack off on chores and schoolwork as a way to express their anger. But insist that they continue to do their part. They may also try to manipulate you with guilt. Don't play that game. Tell them, "I understand you're frustrated. I am too. But I'm doing all I can to find a new job, and I expect you to do your best as well." Other kids may overcompensate and want to earn money to help out. You don't want a child to feel responsible for supporting the family, but definitely let her pitch in to help cover her own personal expenses. If she doesn't have a job, consider encouraging her to get one.
Finally, remember that your emotions will affect your kids. It may be difficult, but try to stay upbeat because that will keep everyone happier. You might want to create a family gratitude list -- once a week you each write down something you're thankful for.
Another way to keep the whole family feeling strong is to involve everyone in giving. It doesn't have to be a big commitment, just something like donating unwanted items to a charity thrift shop or participating in a local fund-raising walk. Thinking of others who are struggling can help kids stop worrying about themselves and reassure them that no one's situation is ever hopeless -- there are always people willing to help.Focus on the Big Picture
Parents may not want to tell tweens and teens what's going on because they're afraid their children will be disappointed in them. But kids are much more resilient than we give them credit for. When they see you handle problems, deal with crises, and make difficult decisions, their respect for you grows. Just as important, they learn that, like you, they too can handle life's challenges.
Originally published in the June 2009 issue of Family Circle magazine.