This post is part of our “Big Talks” series—a guide to helping parents navigate the most important conversations they’ll have with their kids. Read more here.
Losing your job unexpectedly, and without an immediate plan to replace that income, is stressful at best and terrifying at worst. Even if you happen to have enough savings to stay afloat for several months, there are often health insurance concerns to worry about, in addition to the sudden need to launch a job search. On top of all that, it can be tricky to know whether—or how—to broach the topic of job loss with your kids. You don’t want to burden or worry them, but chances are good they already know something is wrong.
But there are ways you can talk to kid about job loss that are honest and candid without being alarming.
Why you shouldn’t try to hide job loss from your kids
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Unless they’re very young, if you previously worked outside of the home and you’re no longer leaving for work at 8 a.m. sharp every morning, they’re going to notice that something is up. And even if you worked from home, you’re likely not spending eight straight hours in front of the computer anymore, and they’re going to notice that, too.
But even if you’ve managed to lie away the changes in your schedule, kids are adept at picking up on the emotional temperature of the room—so if you’re stressed out, there’s a good chance they already know you’re stressed out. And if they don’t know why you’re stressed, kids also have a tendency to invent their own scenarios; and in lieu of another explanation, they often assume that they are the underlying cause.
You don’t want to lay your adult burden on their little shoulders, but you do want to acknowledge that although you’re going through a difficult time, you have a plan and the family will be OK.
Talk to them with “hopeful realism”
If you have a partner, sit down with them first to discuss how you’ll talk to the kids about your job loss, as you’ll need to be on the same page. You should also choose a time to talk to the kids when you are feeling calm—not immediately after you receive the news or before you’ve had a chance to process what happened.
They will largely take their cue on how to react from your demeanor, so try to talk to them in a way that is “hopefully realistic,” as psychotherapist Amy Morin has written for Very Well Family:
Your first instinct might be to sugarcoat the situation so it doesn’t sound so bad, but minimizing the seriousness of the situation too much is a mistake.
You don’t want to go overboard with the dramatics. So, find a good middle ground by being hopefully realistic about what the job loss means for your family.
Your tone really is the most important thing; the actual words you use will depend on your family’s financial situation and your child’s age. If your family is financially secure and you can weather several weeks or months without your income, tell them that. If this means things are tight and some extras they’re used to, like the weekly pizza delivery, need to be paused while you look for a new job, you can tell them that, too. And make sure to point out all the supportive people in your lives, such as their grandparents or other loved ones, who will help if needed.
Elementary-aged kids probably won’t need too many details. You can tell them the reason for the job loss, but keep it simple—the company shut down or they don’t need as many employees now as they did before because they’re not as busy. They’ll probably want to know how it will directly impact them. (Will they still be able to attend summer camp? Is that trip next month still going to happen?)
Tweens and teens may want to dig a little deeper and better understand the family’s financial picture. Talk about your plans going forward, whether it’s looking for a new job, doing some freelance work or side jobs, or going back to school for a career change. You can’t know that everything will happen according to plan, but it will be comforting for them to know next steps are in the works.
You may also want to talk about how private you want the family to be about the job loss, particularly with kids who are on social media. Just be careful not to imply that there is any shame in your situation; this isn’t a secret, but it may be something you prefer to keep private within the family or within your immediate social circle.
Allow room for their reactions
Depending on your child’s age or temperament, they may display any number of emotional reactions to your news: indifference, anger, sadness, confusion, anxiety. And don’t be surprised if their main reaction is about how the job loss may directly affect their lifestyle.
Give them space to ask questions and answer them as calmly and candidly as you can. And remember, they need time to process this, just like you did. This shouldn’t be a one-time conversation; like all big parenting talks, this is something you can—and should—discuss from time to time as you check in with how they’re feeling or update them with any new developments.
(This article was originally published in 2020; it was updated on June 26, 2023.)