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Helping Kids Cope

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A 6-point economic action plan

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Have you lost your job? Think you may lose your job? Watched your 401(k) go down the drain? Afraid to look at your investment statements? Burst into tears when you turn on CNBC?

If you can answer yes to any of these questions, and you have kids, now is the time to take A-C-T-I-O-N with your children. If you don't relate, you are probably stuck on an ice floe in Antarctica. The point is that everyone is affected by this economic disaster.

Here's my 6-point survival guide for helping kids cope:

Acknowledge the crisis and listen to your children's concerns and fears.

What does that mean? Your kids may say, "It's not fair that I can't have the custom-made 105-inch high def. TV for the holidays." Or, "Where are we going to live if we have to sell this apartment?" "Where will I go to school?" They may initially be angry that their way of life may change. Some of it is "spoiled kid-complaining," some of it is very valid -- but to them it's all valid.

They may see you scared, and they are going to be scared, too. Don't whitewash or pooh-pooh their feelings. Their feelings are real, just like yours. Acknowledge those feelings. Say that you are scared, too. But it will be OK, we are going to be a family, no matter where we live. And it's OK to be disappointed that you won't get that gargantuan TV, but this is not a priority for the family, now.

Come clean with your kids.

Sit them down and really discuss what has happened in this market. You are not alone; they are not alone; over 1 miillion people have lost their jobs; everyone lost tons of money in the stock market; lots of people are losing their homes. That's the way it is now. It is not your fault, and there wasn't much you could have done about it. But, you and most people were blind-sided by this, and in a lot of cases, not told the truth… you are not going to do this with them.

Don't scare them to death, but be as honest as you can. Explain that you are trying to figure things out as fast as you can and that you will keep them posted. But there are things that you know will change or need to change. Maybe they will have to go to public school next semester, instead of private school, or maybe you will be selling the vacation home, or summer camp won't happen this summer. Maybe you are going to live in Michigan with Grandma (and not find work in the auto industry).

Be honest with the kids, and you may have to put up with some sobbing, screaming and tantrums. Frankly, at this point, you probably feel like having a tantrum of your own -- that is perfectly acceptable as well. Just try not to do this in public.

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No positions in stocks mentioned.
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