The Truth, Lies, and Everything In Between
Someone asked me recently, how much is too much information for a child when it comes to difficult topics like divorce, death, and bankruptcy. Should we really be honest about these sorts of things? It’s a great question. Obviously, as kids age their need for information and their ability to process this information changes. So while we still need to be sensitive to their needs, we have a different balancing act to perform when talking to teens than when we’re talking to preschoolers.
Some kids have a sixth sense when it comes to knowing when something is going on. Trying to keep a secret from them is a wasted effort. Lying about it or saying nothing’s up sends what I believe to be an unhealthy message about your trustworthiness and honesty. So while it isn’t critical to give your child or adolescent the full details of your financial picture, for example, it is respectful and honest to say something like, “We’re going through a bit of a tight spot with our money right now, so I have a lot on my mind, but we’ve got a plan in place and we’re working it out.” That last part is really important. Kids are extremely egocentric (in case you hadn’t already spotted that for yourself) and instinctively think of how major situations within the family will affect them. So we don’t want them to feel responsible or overly burdened by the situation — we want them to feel confident that you’ve got the matter well in hand…even if you are a bit stressed out about it.
Don’t go further and put forward things that might not actually happen. Saying that if your financial picture doesn’t turn around you might have to withdraw your son from his school or extra-curricular activities is only going to cause him unnecessary worry. We’ve all had times in our lives when we’ve been worried and anxious about situations over which we have no control; we don’t want to put that kind of pressure on our kids.
Analogies can be helpful in situations like this. Some kids are better able to understand a complex situation if it’s put into a context that they can relate to, especially younger kids.
And lastly, don’t push it. Your child may come to you with a question, which you should try to answer as truthfully and factually as appropriate, but that may not mean that he wants to get into a big discussion about it. Follow his lead and give him the space to open up in his own time.
You know what they say: honesty is really is the best policy. Eventually they’ll find out what’s going on, and they’ll be unhappy and angry with you if they’ve been mislead. But at the same time, kids should still be allowed to be kids, and should be sheltered from the stressors you as an adult may be feeling. Find a balance between being guardedly factual and reassuring, and you’ll be on the right path.