should we tell the kids?

Managing family finances can be difficult, even at the best of times. But should children be included in budget discussions?

According to parent counseling experts, the short answer is yes.

You may have an impulse to hide family financial problems from your children, either because you don’t want to scare them or because you’re not sure they understand what’s happening.

After all, it’s hard enough for us to pin down exactly why the cost-of-living crisis is so extreme.

But experts say it’s best to be open with your kids about why some things aren’t on the menu for now.

Don’t be alarmed

There are a number of environmental, economic and geopolitical factors putting pressure on people everywhere.

Businesses are facing rising rental and energy costs, with many forced to close due to the pressure.

Families in Shetland could face five-figure energy bills this winter, and many families in other parts of the North are deciding if they can afford to turn on the heating.

All of this means families need to rethink how they spend their money and time.

Talking openly and honestly with children about your family situation is one way to deal with fears and expectations during difficult times.

Kirsty-Louise Hunt, Senior Policy and Public Affairs Lead for Barnardo’s Scotland, spoke to frontline staff at the organization about family allowance issues.

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“One of the things that mostly comes through is that so many of the families we support are struggling with poverty or lack of income. And that really exacerbates the problems they may face in their daily lives.”

The cat is probably already out of the bag

She said if there’s one piece of advice for parents when it comes to bringing up difficult issues like money problems, it’s to not shy away from what’s happening. Chances are your child already senses that something is different.

“In terms of approaching an issue like this life, our frontline workers say all of the families they work with are pretty honest with their children. But in a way that’s age appropriate.

“All children, depending on their age, will be aware of things that are going on to varying degrees. They will see things on the news or they will be at school and hear their classmates discussing.

“Although they are young and may not understand the details, they will know what is going on. So we try to model a consistent and open approach.”

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It’s an approach Barnardo’s parents encourage when it comes to topics or conversations that might trigger anxiety.

Offer alternatives instead of rejections

Luxuries like excursions or special treats are among the first things families with money problems cut back on.

But these are also things kids look forward to, and some might be little family traditions or rewards kids don’t want to miss out on.

Use conversations about money as a learning opportunity for your children. Instead of just saying you can’t afford to do what they love, offer them some alternatives and ask which ones they would prefer.

Getting outside and being active as a family is a fun and free way to pass time. Image by Scott Baxter.

This shifts the focus away from the negative – which they can’t – and towards a more positive attitude that gives them a little control.

Ms. Hunt said one of the important aspects of her family services is directing parents to free or low-cost events in her community.

“I think there’s a societal pressure to go to things like the cinema, which can be quite expensive. But there are other things like going to the park and using nature.”

This summer we’ve compiled a list of free things to do in the North and Northeast, and many of these activities, from museums to outdoor parks, are available to parents year-round.

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Preparation for the winter months

Ms Hunt said family support staff at Barnardo are concerned the cost of living crisis could hit some families as hard as the Covid-19 pandemic this winter.

Talking to your children about how you will deal with money problems as a family could be important in curbing their anxiety.

They are more empathetic than we give credit for, and most likely they can sense when things have changed. Speaking up before the interview can prevent them from being startled or confused when you have to make difficult decisions or changes.

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