Tag financial

When Santa Lives Paycheck-to-Paycheck

Many parents are concerned about how to provide a wonderful holiday experience for their family when money is very tight.  This entry is designed to provide strategies to provide magic on a budget. (Much of this material is discussed from a Christmas perspective, but is easily adapted to other traditions.)

• Kids need and value time with you much, much more than presents. Give decorated coupons for fun activities and trips together (e.g., good for one trip for an ice cream cone, good for one bike ride/walk around a local lake, good for two hours of board game playing, good for one fishing trip, etc.).

• Remember: crisis = pain + opportunity. Yes, it hurts to not have the money to spend on presents to a degree that you are used to. Give that pain its due. But, when you’re done, wonder what opportunities await you and your family because of this pain.

• The magic of the holiday season can be created, expanded and enhanced with very little expenditure of money. For instance:

√ Get a cheap stuffed elf, reindeer or snowman and declare that it is a magical creature that travels to the North Pole each night with a report on how your child behaved that day, only to then return in the morning for a new day of scouting (there is a commercial product that does this titled Elf on the Shelf). Kids love looking for the new location each morning.

√ Encourage your child to write letters to Santa as often as he or she likes, asking questions throughout (e.g., what is Mrs. Claus’ favorite desert? What do you do when the reindeer get into arguments?) Tell them Santa wants to get to know her or him as a person so the letters should not just be about requests for presents. Then, put the letter(s) in your outgoing mail receptacle, or tape them on your door (make sure to use Santa’s address and a “magic stamp,” which can be a sticker of your choosing that you make magical by dipping it three times in reindeer food, which can be oatmeal in a pouch); later swap out the letter with a return letter from Santa.

√ Buy another cheap stuffed creature and leave it for your child, with a letter from Santa, declaring that it is a magical being that gets warmer whenever Santa is in the vicinity. Practices such as this can cause bigger pupil dilation than many presents.

√ Arrange for your family to give service to others. Many churches, soup kitchens, and charitable agencies could find something helpful for your family to do. These kinds of experiences can create a degree of warmth and magic that no present can touch.

√ Check out the website www.noradsanta.org, especially on Christmas Eve (they offer regular video updates of Santa’s travel around the globe).

√ Establish as many joyful rituals as you can: sing holiday songs at home, bake cookies from scratch, create photo montages, join a group that travels from house-to-house singing carols, make holiday decorations, offer to help your local town or church decorate, and so forth.

When it comes to actually buying presents, consider the following:

• You can get more bang for your buck at discount and dollar stores. The visual image of lots of wrapped presents, each of which can be very modest in cost, can help to create that response I know many of we parents want from our kids when they first look under the tree.

• Use websites that compare the pricing of a wide assortment of retailers (e.g., www.pronto.com, www.pricegrabber.com). Also, be sure to do an internet search for coupons for the retailer you have chosen.

• Lots of families chase the hottest, current generation of electronics. This means that the reseller market (e.g., as found in this newspaper, on ebay, and on craigslist) is often jammed with opportunities to purchase the previous generation(s) at slashed prices.

• Look for sellers who offer refurbished items, or ask retailers if they have floor models or open box items they are willing to sell at discounted prices.

When all is said and done try to avoid sacrificing your wellness on the altar of commercialism. Your child benefits much more from you being well than from some gizmo that will lose it’s charm after a short period of time. Moreover, no research exists, as far as I know, that correlates child happiness and wellness with the amount of money spent on a kid’s presents. But, plenty of research associates child wellness and happiness with the quality of the parent-child relationship, the presence of enjoyable rituals in the family’s life and the wellness of the parent(s). As the poet e.e. cummings noted, the world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful. Money is not required to enjoy this wonder and magic, even during the holidays.

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Holiday Joy on the Cheap

How has it become that the holidays are associated with expenses that exceed our resources? While doses of that may be inevitable, I want to focus on an alternative perspective.

The first thing we all do well to remember is that money and material things have little to do with making people happy, at least once basic needs have been met (e.g., clothing, housing, medical care, food and transportation). For instance, people who win large lotteries usually return to their previous level of happiness six months to one year later. Moreover, material possessions often tax us, as they need to be maintained, insured or otherwise cared for. Moreover, most things that can be wrapped lose their fascination quickly,. What truly promotes happiness are things like loving relationships and engaging activities, neither of which requires a lot of money. So, in the spirit of the 12 Days of Christmas let me suggest a dozen such possibilities:

• Purchase a cheap, mini stuffed animal and mail it to your young child from Santa. Put a note in there stating that this is a magical being who will watch your child each day (even when not in the same room) and leave each night to report back to Santa on his or her behavior. Each night then reposition your magical snowman, reindeer, elf, etc. (This is a variation of the Elf on the Shelf concept. Certainly you can buy this product from Hallmark, but such isn’t required to create a magical experience.)

• Engage your child in a letter writing campaign with Santa (or any figure of your choosing). Send the first letter stating that Santa is willing to answer questions and write back-and-forth and that he enjoys receiving drawings. Include in your letter some holiday stickers and declare them magic stamps that call Santa to your box to retrieve your child’s letter. (The back story would be that Santa makes rounds prior to Christmas.) If you felt like it you could include a treat back with some of Santa’s letters.

• Purchase a cheap, mini stuffed animal and declare that it gets warm whenever Santa draws near. (You’d be amazed at how effective this can be.) (By the way, if you are a Santa family, check out www.noradsanta.org for offerings than can add significant doses of magic to your experience.)

• Bake holiday cookies once a week and deliver them to a soup kitchen or someone who could use a pick-me-up (e.g., maybe you would be allowed to partner with your local meals-on-wheels).

• Start an annual tradition of making holiday decorations and putting them on display (a trip to your local craft store can trigger creative ideas as can many online sites).

• Join a church choir for the season.

• Go sleigh riding. Sure, this can be done expensively, but it can also be done with cardboard and a snowy hill, or a wet, grassy hill.

• Start a family game night, with members of the family rotating being in charge (i.e., picking the game and assigning teams). Flavor the night with treats. Losers might do something nice (but easy) for the winners (e.g., make their bed the next morning, give them a 15 minute massage).

• Create one night a week when you watch old family movies. (It’s funny how many hours of these we have laying around but never watch.) This is all the better if you have movies from your childhood. You could partner this with a “campout” where you all make sleeping tents in your TV room.

• Have bubble gun wars. Bubble guns (you know, that shoot bubbles) are cheap. You could arm each family member with one, divide into teams and have the equivalent of paint ball wars. This could be done indoors or outdoors depending on your situation.

• Start geocaching. Geocaching involves finding hidden “treasures” in your area (usually trinkets of very little or no value) and replacing them with treasures of your own. See www.geocaching.com for an orientation.

• Play yard hockey. You could do this with brooms and a tennis ball or some other light ball. (You could also duct tape the end of the broom.) Set up goals, boundaries, time limits and any other rules you need. You could even buy a cheap trophy with the engraving “2012 Yard Hockey Champs” and award it to the team that has the best record by the end of the holiday season. (Imagine your child, in the future, planning to bring home his or her intended future spouse and asking that person “so, how good are you with a broom?”)

That’s 12 I came up with in a few minutes. With a little thought and effort you could probably double my list. Actually, here are three bonus items that my wife and eldest just suggested after I asked them to review this post.

• Follow a local sports team. Odds are that there is a local high school or college basketball team whose games you could start attending.

• Drive around looking for the best lighting display. You might bake some cookies for the winners and either present them your award or just leave them on their door step with a congratulatory note.

• Pick out new recipes to try as a family.

For those who celebrate The Festival of Lights, click here for a post with some great activities for kids.

Which do you think your child will recount, with joy, years from now? That present he or she opens in a few weeks or what it was like to see dad limping around with a taped up broom? Right. It’s the connection and the shared activities that matter. These can truly yield priceless returns on the cheap.

Six Parenting Tips for Avoiding Holiday Freak Outs

xmas themeMost of us are about to go all in on the holidays. This edition articulates six of my favorite tried-and-true strategies for managing holiday stress (yeah, yeah, a lot of the stress is joyful, but that doesn’t keep us from wanting to go postal on people from time-to-time, lest we are planful about our stress management).

#1. Create a plan for your kid’s academics, socializing and health habits. The holidays are like a cheerful, large-and-in-charge, bully coming to our door and demanding that we bounce around the universe like hyperactive gerbils on crack. If we, and our kids, are 100% compliant with this cheerful bully’s dictates, diverse mom and childwe’ll likely end up feeling exhausted, overweight and very backed up with our responsibilities (e.g. academics). Better to proactively agree on a plan for sleep, physical activity, diet and the completion of academic tasks. Then, socializing and other holiday activities can build around that.

#2. Create an hour a week of one-on-one time with each of your progeny. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I’m a broken record with this tip. But, it’s like I’m coaching you how to prepare your kid for a jousting tournament, so I always include the instruction: “make sure he puts on his armor.” Special time is that armor. Click here for a download on how to do it and/or see Chapter One in my parenting book for a more thorough review of the rationale and strategy.

#3. Keep realistic perspectives. I’d like to name a new parenting syndrome: CGS, or “Clark Griswold Syndrome.” To appreciate the nature of this syndrome watch any of the family vacation movies staring Chevy Chase. Parents suffering from CGS go into the holidays busting their tails in order to engineer nirvana. Then, when people inevitably act like people (instead of charming and appreciative angels), or the almost guaranteed surprises happen (i.e., as in the saying “people make plans and God chuckles”), parents suffering from CGS often get pretty upset and have their holiday moments ruined. Better to leave CGS to amusing movie characters.

burnout:balance sign#4. Try to keep the overdoing to a manageable amount. I used to counsel “avoid overdoing,” but that isn’t realistic. We all overdo, blogging psychologists included. But, the more we can try to cap spending and overextending ourselves, the better. I love the line in one of the Dirty Harry movies: “A man has got to know his limitations.” (I just wish I could snarl and say it like Clint Eastwood in the mirror each morning.)

#5. Enhance mindfulness. Here’s a cognitive trick. When you’re in a holiday moment with your family imagine that you’ve died. However, you’ve asked God, before transporting you to the next place, if you could be allowed, for a mere few hours, to enjoy your family one last time in this place. God then responds by smiling warmly and transporting you to this moment. Savor deeply. Appreciate calmly. And stay in the moment, noticing the grandeur around you, including the misfires, but especially the loving ambiance (not perfect but loving).

#6. Give yourself credit. I was working on my laptop at a Starbucks this week christmas snowman sign for blogwhen I heard a man lament to the barista: “Look at my jacket! See this small hole here?! I haven’t bought a new jacket or a suit for myself in years, but my daughter has three new pairs of Ugg boats in her closet!” A few moments later he continued: “EVERY year we say we’re going to keep our spending to X on our kids!! But EVERY year we go way over that!! Why do we do that?!” I smiled to myself as most of us have these kinds of thoughts. But, here’s my point: we all deserve a standing ovation for our selfless efforts. Sure, we drop the ball a lot. We say and do a lot of dumb things. We also parent reactively, instead of with intention, more than we like. But, those elements are as much a part of effective parenting as dust mites are a part of a clean and well kept home. Not every home with dust mites is clean and well kept, but every clean and well kept home has dust mites. So too it is with parenting. Therefore, my fellow parent-lunatic, spend some time giving yourself kudos. …oh, and throw a few kudos out there to other parent-lunatics from time-to-time as we all could use a little air under our wings during the holidays 😉

10 Tips for Surviving Your Kid’s Graduation

Your kid’s graduation, be it from high school or college, is a major family event. This entry includes my top 10 suggestions for getting the most out of the experience.

#1 Determine a figure that you plan on spending and stick to it unless you have a compelling reason to do otherwise. If there are other adults contributing it’s a good idea to partner with him, her or them in this decision. (If you don’t get along with the other person or persons arrange for a neutral party, that everyone trusts, to join the discussion.) It is so easy to spend an amount of money that is toxic for you, which is no favor to your graduate (i.e., in the months following the graduation she’ll benefit more from having a relationship with a well parent than from a stressed out parent). If your graduate gets pushy about celebrating his graduation in a way that exceeds your budget ask him what his plan is for coming up with the extra cash.

#2 Partner with your graduate in deciding how the money will be spent. For instance, your graduate may prioritize putting together a down payment on a car over having a party.

#3 Collaborate with your graduate on who will be invited to share in the celebration. You would want to have an important reason for overriding your graduate’s wishes along these lines.

#4 If you fund a party for your graduate’s friends make sure that it is chaperoned well enough to keep everyone safe and legal (e.g., not allowing underage drinking).

#5 Realize that celebrations hardly ever go off as planned. It is almost inevitable that one or more people, the weather, mechanical things, food or something else. will disappoint. Keep in mind that something like this is almost always bound to happen, that it is really only as hampering as you decides it needs to be and that what really matters is the graduation itself; such insights can keep a speed bump from causing a major crash.

#6 Include a present that has an emotional impact; this is the sort of gift that stands to keep on giving much longer than material presents. For instance, you might write a gratitude letter for your graduate (see my blog entry on this method), create a photo slideshow, with music, of your graduate from infancy up to the point of graduation, write a poem that expresses your thoughts and feelings about your graduate, and so forth. In getting in the mood for creating this gift imagine what it will feel like to watch your baby walk across that stage and take a diploma in hand.

#7 Assuming you are not hiring a professional for this purpose, ask a responsible friend or family member to do the picture taking and video recording. If you assign this task to yourself you will not only be in fewer of the images but you will be one step removed from taking part in the celebration.

#8 Respect the value of a good night’s sleep. While graduations are festive, they are also stressful. Stress plus a weary body can facilitate an assortment of unpleasant outcomes (e.g., irritability, compromised decision making, diminished concentration and impairing fatigue).

#9 Form a plan with your graduate, in advance, for how she will thank any who gave her presents or participated in the celebration (i.e., the method and the date by which it will be completed). This makes it less likely that you’ll be cast in the role of hound afterwards. (For less mature graduates you may need to form a contract stipulating that access to a privilege you provide–e.g., usage of a car–will only happen after the thank you cards are mailed.)

#10 Take at least a few moments to pat yourself on the back for all that you did to get your graduate to this place in life. Parenting is tough work that we all stink at it sometimes, but our efforts and intentions are selfless and beautiful and deserve to be recognized. In the instance of a graduation it is clear that your parenting was at least good enough to facilitate your kid successfully finishing a major educational hurdle. So, take an existential moment or two and enjoy that about yourself!

College Trips with Your Teen

diverse happy woman on floorHaving a Junior or Senior in high school prompts a daunting enterprise: finding a college. If ever there was a project that can take all the time you have to give, and more, it’s this one. There are so, so many (too many?) sources of information available regarding tactics. So, I won’t be discussing those strategies. Instead, I’d like to focus on some relationship issues I’ve seen as folks plan college visits.

• Try to develop some scoring rubric in advance of your trip. Divide 100 points up among those factors that matter to you and your teen: cost, distance, academic reputation, college atmosphere, student to faculty ration, etc. Then, as you do your trip do your independent ratings, comparing them after the trip is over.

• Try to surrender the concept of one perfect, or just right school. There are about 1,400 four year colleges in the U.S. So, there are likely more “just right” schools than you could ever have time to visit or seriously consider.

• Schedule an official tour (these will often answer many of your questions). Thenconfused graduate character develop your list of questions that you’d like to see addressed during the tour. The better of these will likely hit all the high points (e.g., dorms, library, classrooms, gym, cafeteria, study abroad options, internships, student center) but, if not, ask.

• Consider this to be a unique bonding opportunity with you and your teen. Take occasion to do some sightseeing or to create some special moments and momentoes. Who knows how much one-on-one time is in your near future with your teen; so, this time (even the commute) can be precious.

woman overwhelmed by books• Always ask for your teens opinion before giving yours. When you disagree with some analysis your teen has rendered, offer empathy for it and try to use questions to make your points. For example, if your teen, upon seeing a work of art at the entrance to the library, notes “Ewww. I could never come to a school that has such terrible art in front of its library!” You could first give empathy for that visceral reaction, pause (and maybe listen more), then ask, “what percent of the average students week here do you think he or she spends looking at that?”

• Try to schedule a visit to see a lecture in a discipline that is of some interest to your teen. Many universities, with a couple of weeks notice, are happy to help with this. (Don’t worry if your teen doesn’t have a major picked out yet. That’s common.)

• Make sure to take your own tour of the department where your teen may have a major. Don’t hesitate to knock on any doors where you see a faculty member and ask if s/he has 5-10 minutes for questions. (Make sure to have some ready.) The worse thing that happens is that s/he doesn’t have the time. The best thing that happens is that a faculty member, where your child ends up going to school, starts to develop a positive connection with your child.

• Try to make the time to look around the community surrounding the campus, leadershipfiguring out what various practicalities might be at play. (Many campuses are self-contained in terms of the range of services and entertainment available but sometimes it will be nice to break out to the surrounding area.) This can also give you a sense for the range of internships that might be available.

• Set up a timeline for yourselves. Your teen’s guidance counselor, or the myriad of other resources available to assist (e.g., websites, e-books), can guide you about what should go on your timeline. This can help you to feel some sense of control over what can be an incredibly daunting prospect.

man stressing to pursue money• Begin having discussions with your teen about financing as soon as you can in the process: what you can do and what you can’t do, or what you’re prepared to do and what you’re not prepared to do. This can be an important factor in helping your teen to be realistic about which schools s/he seriously targets and reduce the odds that s/he will fall in love with a school that isn’t a possibility. (Your guidance counselor can help you to rough estimate what adjustment down from the sticker price your child might hope to get from the school given the strength of his or her application.)

 • Begin reflecting on your teen’s capacity to manage himself or herself at various institutions. Is Becky ready to be 8 hours away on an urban campus with 10,000 students? Is Jaden prepared to do well in a lecture hall with several hundred students? In other words: what’s the nature of this pond and how well or poorly might your progeny swim there?
• Lastly, try to be patient with the process. We parent-lunatics are at risk to black man walingover-worry, to over-control and to get freaked out at all of the uncertainty. Somehow, someway, somewhere, s/he will likely land at some institution of higher learning and avoid a life of crime and/or homelessness.

Ignoring Kids’ Mental Health Needs is Expensive

With most of the Affordable Care act being upheld this week by the Supreme Court, it seems like an apt time to review an example of how costs rise when kids’ mental health needs are not sufficiently addressed.

A few months ago The American Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry published a national study regarding the cost of pediatric (age ≤ 18) usage of emergency room visits in the U.S. from 2001 to 2008. (As many know, ER and hospital care is usually much more expensive than outpatient care. Moreover, mental health problems are more likely to be treated in this more expensive setting when a youth’s outpatient needs for care have not been adequately attended to.) The abstract can be found here. Some high points:

• Of the 73,105 visits, 1,476 were for mental health issues. When appropriate statistical adjustments were made, it was estimated that there are 480,700 emergency department visits for mental health issues in the US each year.

• 21.8% of the mental health contacts arrived by ambulance compared to 6.3% of other kinds of contacts; they also stayed longer  (median 169 minutes vs. 108 minutes) and had a higher rate of admission into the hospital (16.4% vs. 7.6%).

• The rate of usage was not significantly different across gender and between Caucasian and African-American kids; however, the usage rates for Hispanics was lower than non-Hispanics.

• Quoting the authors: “Depressive disorders were the most common principal diagnoses, followed by anxiety and disruptive behavioral disorders or ADHD.”

• Following appropriate statistical adjustments, the researchers determined that 1/3rd of the mental health related visits to hospitals result in a hospitalization.

• Additional collateral costs (e.g., the need to have security personnel monitor the youth, the fact that many arrived with escorts that had a professional role in the child’s life) were also noted.

• Quoting the authors: “Probability of extended stays for mental health visits rose over the period that we studied. By 2008, the odds of an extended stay (> 4 hours) was almost twice that in 2001, and we did not observe comparable growth in the duration of non-mental health visits.”

The authors also acknowledge that their rates may represent underestimates of usage as they used stricter criteria for defining a mental health visit than have other investigators that have examined this area.

For me this study place another brick in the wall that demonstrates the tremendous costs–financial only being one of them–that accrue when we neglect the mental health needs of our children and teenagers. If you’d like to read more about this, please see Chapter 10 of my book Working Parents, Thriving Families, or any of the blog entries below:

Signs That a Kid Needs Mental Health Services

Seven Common Myths About Counseling

Affording Mental Health Care

Affording Mental Health Care

This entry reviews the cost issues affiliated with mental health care.  While paying a provider for counseling can be expensive, it need not be. Some thoughts to help:

• Many health insurance policies cover some portion of the cost. Often a client is left with only a small copay. Moreover, with the signing into law of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, many policies have expanded their coverage of mental health services.

• Monies spent on counseling are usually considered a medical expense and so may be deductible from your taxes..

• If you have a university in your region with a graduate program in the mental health professions (e.g., clinical psychology, psychiatry, etc.), they may have an outpatient training clinic that offers services at a very low cost. In these clinics those working towards advanced degrees often provide the care under the supervision of experienced faculty. For instance, I direct such a clinic and our most common fee is $10/visit.

• Most people do not live far from a community mental health center. These centers receive public funding to support their charter. Therefore, many of them will offer services on a sliding scale or otherwise arrange for flexible payment plans. If you’re unsure where the one by you is, call up any psychologist in the yellow pages and ask.

• There are a number of charitable organizations that sponsor mental health services on a sliding or a reduced fee scale (e.g., Catholic Charities, Jewish Social Services, etc.). In all of the instances that I know of, one need not belong to the sponsoring religious group in order to get care.

• If you or a loved one suffer from a chronic medical or psychiatric problem you may qualify for support from social security. To find out more be in touch with an attorney that specializes in disability applications, your local community mental health center or your state’s mental health or disability offices.  Other programs may also be available if you cannot afford health insurance.

• Many providers may be willing to reduce their fee if you can show cause. I would not ask for this up front. But, after the evaluation is concluded, and the provider has come to know you and your circumstances, it never hurts to ask. The large majority of the thousands of mental health professionals I’ve met over the years are a mission-driven lot who care deeply about what they do. To find such a person near you, click here.

In factoring cost issues please also consider what it would be worth to be free of the problems that are having you consider getting care. What would it be worth to be free of depression, to have your child stop acting defiantly or be free of anxiety, to have your marriage healed, etc.? Imagine life with troubling mental health burdens either eliminated or controlled; then ask yourself what that would be worth?

For my post about common myths about counseling click here.

Communicating with Kids About Financial Stress

In today’s economy families commonly need to cut back or make significant changes in how they live. Many parents find themselves wondering how to discuss these changes with their children. Experienced child psychologists know that once you’ve seen one family you’ve seen one family. For this reason, there is no counsel or set of  procedures that can be universally applied. However, it is possible to provide some general guidelines to address common questions.

Is it possible to hide our financial stress from our kids?

Probably not. Most of us tend to show our vulnerabilities more when we’re stressed; smokers tend to smoke more; people in troubled marriages argue more; people inclined towards impatience yell more, etc. A young child, sensing these changes, can become fairly upset and believe that he is at fault unless a parent provides some degree of clarity.

Should I lie to my child about what is going on in order to protect her?

We parents love our kids so much that it can make us crazy (i.e., we’re parent-lunatics—my post on this topic can be found here). So, the motivation to give false assurances is certainly understandable. However, it would generally be a mistake to assert something we do not believe. While doing this in the short run can seem humane, it can damage our credibility in the long run. And, as is the case in adult relationships, credibility can be a difficult thing to recapture. Moreover, kids can usually tell when something is wrong.

What should I tell my child about what is going on?

The younger or the more psychologically vulnerable the child, the more selective I might be in what I share. The older the child, and the more that he is thriving, the more open I might be. A central parental goal is to help my child to learn how to cope well with stress. It’s useful for kids, through the course of development, and in doses that they can handle, to be exposed to a wide variety of stresses so that they can learn how to cope effectively. Yet we parent-lunatics, because we can’t bear to see our kids hurting, sometimes deprive them of such valuable learning opportunities. Then, when they’re on their own, they may experience a diminished ability to respond to multiple kinds of stress and challenges (e.g., many freshmen arrive on college campuses with a compromised capacity to make effective decisions when stressed).

Can you give me an example of what I might say to a younger or a more vulnerable child regarding the significant financial pressures we’re facing?

Let’s say that you’ve been downsized and you’re going to have to move out of your house if you can’t land a new job in three months. I probably would not tell an eight year old that the mortgage is in danger. I would, however, tell that child about the job change, because Dad is going to be home more, or someone else might let it slip. It’s like sex education: you want as much information coming from you as possible. However, a child is like a bridge that’s still being built. How much weight he can handle changes over time (i.e., we don’t want to take a caravan of heavy trucks across a bridge that’s not completed if we can avoid it). If there are serious issues that would significantly stress or frighten a young child, I’m probably would not share that information until I have to.

What would you say to a healthy, older teenager about that same situation?

I might say to the teen, “I need to tell you something troubling. I got laid off. I’m not quite sure what’s going to happen and what kinds of changes we might have to go through together. I’m somewhat worried and sad about all of this, but I’m also confident in my abilities and our abilities as a family. I just thought that you’re old enough to hear about this straight up.” Such disclosures can promote closeness with a teen and affirm that you recognize her growing maturity. Then, there is the follow up opportunity to model how to cope well with stress. I can’t tell you the number of times, in my practice, that a teen has expressed surprise to learn that her parent was previously dumped by a significant other (this happens in the context of the teen being devastated by such a loss in his or her own life). We’re often not used to telling our kids about our vulnerabilities and failings, even though doing so can help them in many ways (for my humorous blog entry on this topic click here).

What do I do about the shame and guilt that I feel that I’m not able to give my kids as many things, and as many experiences, as I could in the past?

I’d suggest trying to redirect the mental energy you are putting into guilt and shame into thinking through the following formula: crisis = pain + opportunity; a related corollary is that as the pain rises so too usually does the opportunity. Maybe we can’t go to the shore this year. But, maybe we can spend more time hanging out at a neighborhood pool together. Maybe I can’t buy the top-of-the-line sneakers, but I can start to collaboratively consider whether chasing expensive corporate branding is good for us.

In closing I can share that our research makes it clear that one of the most important things our kids need from us is undivided and positive attention. The things we purchase sometimes own us more than we own them, so reduced questing for material possessions may actually  be offering us the opportunity to create deeper and better bonds with our kids. Required is love, creativity, flexibility, presence and persistence. Not required is money and Ralph Lauren (well, except in his family).

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