Tuesday, February 10, 2009

How to Raise Successful Kids When You're Between Jobs

These are different times, certainly. But you and I have both seen enough catastrophizing parallels with the Great Depression to wonder if maybe there are some personal lessons we can draw from our parents or grandparents who lived through tougher times than these. It’s certainly hard to feel in control during an economic storm. But how we react to this time will affect future generations who are watching us and taking their own lessons from our example. This article is about what to do with the kids so they continue to grow up hopeful, ambitious, confident, and optimistic.

There has been a lot of recent research into what creates a flourishing life founded on an emotionally empowered outlook. Positive psychology. Happiness. Learned optimism. Emotional intelligence. I think it’s very interesting that right before the proverbial matter hit the proverbial fan, there was an upsurge in research around these topics. It was almost as though our antennae were up for the wintery days ahead of us. Now it’s time for us to put that research to good use – especially for the sake of the children.

Watch how you talk about being laid off. First of all, don’t lie to the kids. They already know something is up – little pitchers have big radars these days. So if you lie to them, they’re going to come to their own conclusions or grow up learning not to trust their intuition. Both. Bad. In an age-appropriate way, tell them that you might be home more than before while you look for your next wonderful opportunity. In the meantime, everyone has to watch their pennies more carefully. And that means them, too.

In a related matter, be mindful of the vocabulary you use around the topic of money. In a recent TV news segment advising parents on how to talk to their children about money, a mother said, “I told my daughter it’s my job to worry about money.” Worry about money? Oh my gosh! Like a dog who only hears the words “Rover” and “food,” a child immediately parses out the words “worry” and “money.” And puts those two together for the rest of her life.

Money is not something to worry about. It’s a resource that we can control. We can make it when we need it (or want it), it helps us live the lives we want to live and if we take care of it, it will take care of us when we’re older. Money is a good thing.

Tell empowering stories. Whether the stories are from your past, your day, or the daily newspaper, talk about times when good things happened -- especially as a result of someone taking initiative or acted in a generous way. Talk about the meaning behind the work you do (or did) in an upbeat way that shows children how their efforts really can result in making the world a better place. And how somehow it all works out in the end.

Give the kids an appropriate role in the current situation. Right now the culture message out there is that everything is out of our control. Even when we think we’re being prudent and have millions in the bank, suddenly we don’t. Where’s the control? Where’s the payoff in self-restraint? Answer: In the little moments of every day when we go out of our way to help others, show kindnesses, taken on a project and see it from start to finish. Whether it’s picking up the toys, doing the dishes or helping with a Habitat for Humanity house project, there’s something that every children can do to make the world a better place and see immediate results.

Have a good time! It’s so important to remember that a parent’s job is to teach their children to be joyful. And joy isn’t job-dependent! It’s as free as an afternoon in the park. And there’s huge ROI associated with joy. Harvard researchers have shown that people are much more creative and innovative the day after playing than they were keeping their nose to the grindstone. So, in case you’re so Type A that you need this little extra rationale: Fun is good for the career.

Keep those dreams coming. It’s tempting to focus only on the terrible headlines, how one more friend is out of work, another house in foreclosure, etc. And, yes, it’s also important to share the realities of real life (in an age appropriate way, of course). At the same time, dreaming of a happy future is an essential survival skill, especially when you brainstorm with your children about how to put feet to those dreams and actually achieve milestones toward making them happen. It costs nothing to dream. And maybe as you brainstorm as a family about what practical steps to take to make dreams come true, everyone (even you) will be more and more inspired to greet the future with a hopeful heart.

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