How to Explain Job Loss to Your Concerned Child

A young boy struggles at home and in school after his dad loses his job. Here's how everyone can pull together to help him.



How to Explain Job Loss to Your Concerned Child

The Parent’s Story
It was a real shock to get laid off after so many years at my job. Ever since I got the news, I’ve been irritable, but I can’t help it. So far talking with business contacts has gotten me nowhere, and scouring the Internet hasn’t turned up any solid leads, either. I think it’s beginning to get to the kids — especially our 6-year-old, Jon. He asks a lot of questions like, “When are you going to work again, Daddy?” He got really upset when I told him that we don’t have money for extra things like pizza or new toys.

Before I lost my job, my wife worked part-time and spent more time with Jon. Now she works full-time and feels guilty for being away when she gets home at night. Plus she’s tired. When Jon’s running around out of control or getting whiny, she lets it go on. I really hate what this is doing to my family. I’ve thought about speaking to the teacher about Jon’s mood swings on the days when I pick him up, but it’s not easy to admit to her that I’m unemployed.

The Teacher’s Story
Lately, Jon’s mood has been erratic. Sometimes he’s quiet and lethargic; at other times, it’s hard to keep him in his seat. A few days ago, I approached him when he was sulking and he blurted out, “I’ll never have another toy. My dad has no more job and we have no more money.”

Quite a few families have been hurt by layoffs in our area recently, but Jon’s dad was the first one whose misfortune I learned about this way. I felt bad, but the news did help to explain some changes in the 6-year-old’s behavior. I assured Jon that things would work out, but he didn’t seem particularly relieved. I’ve thought of talking with his parents about the change in his behavior, but I’m not sure how. I rarely see his mom these days, and I’m uneasy about approaching his dad — I barely know him and I don’t want to upset or embarrass him. But how else can I help Jon?

Dr. Brodkin’s Assessment
The loss of a primary breadwinner’s job is stressful for the whole family, so Jon’s reaction is not at all surprising. In fact, children even younger than Jon sense the tension in the air at times like this. Jon is old enough to wonder how the family will get along. His dad’s understandable preoccupation with the loss of the job and his mom’s new weariness at the end of a long day away add to the strain on the little boy. No wonder he has been unsettled and moody.

What Jon’s Parents Can Do
Young kids tend to personalize others’ mood changes and blame themselves. It might help Jon if his father explains that he’s a bit distracted by a worry that’s on his mind, but that he’s going to find another job in time and the family will be all right. Jon’s parents may want to emphasize the temporary nature of the change and that many others are having difficult times now, too.

If there are close friends or extended family members around, this is the time to turn to them — not necessarily for financial help, but certainly to rally together. Having fun with his loving grandparents and cousins would be a wonderful tonic for Jon and can help him see that the family has a wider support network. Jon’s dad is entitled to career counseling and whatever emotional support he and his wife will accept. Once the parents feel less helpless, their son will be on his way to becoming his old self again. It’s also a fine idea to speak with the teacher about Jon’s reaction to the crisis.

What Jon’s Teacher Can Do
As the teacher has sensed, Jon needs a good deal of individual attention and reassurance. She might try giving Jon special tasks, and he can also use a good deal of praise for his efforts — even if they aren’t up to what they once were.

The teacher should also follow her instinct to call the parents. There is no reason to hesitate to talk with Jon’s dad. He and the family need support, and the teacher and her principal can help guide them in the right direction. In addition, if Jon’s dad has a hobby, skill, or talent that might interest kindergartners, the teacher can invite him to visit and talk about it. Receiving the admiration of his classmates should lift Jon’s spirits — and maybe his dad’s, as well. 

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