When talking to kids, less is more
Explaining Wall Street to kids is a lot like explaining where babies come from. They need to know how it happens, but too much too soon can really freak them out.
My daughter is a huge American Girl fan, so when she came home from school a few days after the Wall Street capital markets began to melt down and asked, “Are we going to wind up like Kit Kittredge in the Great Depression?,” I was both awed and dismayed. On the one hand, there is the brilliant creative and historical team at American Girl who takes great pains to educate doll owners about significant events in history. Each doll character comes with her own story and no doll is ever sold without a book. Educating kids one doll at a time. On the other hand is rampant and unabashed hysteria on the playground.
It turns out kids are announcing (in droves, I might add) they can never go out for dinner again, their dads might lose their jobs and their family plans to move in with Grandma because of the financial crisis. I’m not talking about those hardest hit by the economic policies which have failed us all “those who’ve already lost a job or a fortune and who have every right to be a little fretful. I’m talking about a kind of dreamy retelling of those stories by children who don’t quite understand and think it might be a little bit cool to be like Kit.
I’m all for allowing kids to share in the family business, and I’m certainly in favor of allowing them to hear our take on world events, but a six-year-old can only digest so much. A ten-year-old can understand more, but not as much as a fifteen-year-old.
And … you get the point.
My grandmother died of Alzheimer’s disease, a terrible brain-ravaging thing and I’ve been told the really encouraging news that it may run in families, but skips a generation (lucky me). Now, that’s hideous news at any age, but I can’t imagine sharing that in detail with an elementary schooler. How would they wrap their precious brain around information like that? However, having an understanding of what Alzheimer’s is and how we care for those we love is a conversation worthy at any age. Whether we’re talking about Alzheimer’s or Wall Street, how we present the information ” what level of hysteria we choose to impart ” is what matters to kids.
Ditto cancer, the Iraq war, and Sarah Palin’s pregnant teenager.
At our house we have Table Talk. Table Talk is when the adults (or anyone for that matter) talk about personal matters; sensitive information of either a financial, work or social nature and the idea is what we discuss goes no further than the table (or couch or bedroom or what have you). Kind of the family equivalent of “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”
In this way, kids are given opportunities to share in family decisions and struggles but are not given carte blanche to reveal it to the entire third grade. My kids are getting old enough that a recent discussion between the three of them about who liked whom ended with my teenage son saying, “OK, guys, this is table talk, right?” It creates a closeness; like a secret family bond.
The roller coaster that is Wall Street is no secret. And valuable lessons are already taking shape: families cutting back on excess spending; couples looking for ways to downsize; moms discovering discount shopping for (gasp!) the first time.
These lessons will not be lost on our kids even with (nay, especially with) a minimum of hysteria. If we handle this right, they learn the best lesson of all: how to live responsibly ” and happily ” in an uncertain world.
Charla Belinski is a parenting educator for YouthZone and writes about family life. Her columns appear every other week in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. Contact her at Belinskis@comcast.net.
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