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Health Tips for Parents

2009 Issues

How do I talk to my child about money?


With families facing everything from tightening budgets to foreclosures, how can parents help children adjust to a new financial situation while managing their child’s fears?

Child and MoneyChanges in Spending at Home Children may be disappointed when they cannot buy certain clothes, toys or treats, but they can better understand if you give examples about how the family is adjusting to a new financial situation. According to UCLA pediatric psychologist Brenda Bursch, Ph.D., “Show your children how you are making changes in what you buy to help them better understand that the whole family needs to make some purchasing adjustments.”

Also, involve children in making budget decisions. For example, allowing your child to choose between violin lessons or dance lessons may give her a better sense of control than if a parent decides for her.

Dennis Woo, M.D., chair of the Department of Pediatrics at UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica, suggests that parents treat their financial challenges as an opportunity to reshape their child’s priorities.

“Use the financial crisis in a positive manner,” he says. “Children really want nothing more than a parent’s time and this might be a good opportunity to do fun things that emphasize family togetherness without spending money.”

Managing Money Stress Just because children do not pay the mortgage or watch their portfolios drop on a daily basis, does not mean that they don’t feel stressed by bad economic news. Children pick up on their parent’s anxieties.

“Ask questions to try to get at their underlying fears and then listen,” Dr. Woo says. “They might imagine the worst and could be reluctant to share their fears with a parent who is already stressed out enough.”

Both Drs. Bursch and Woo agree that even if the news is particularly grim, such as an impending move, the number one concern for children is the reassurance that the security of the family unit remains intact.

Reassuring Your Children

Parent and Child count coinsClear up any misconceptions your children may have about your money situation and walk them through the realistic changes that will be necessary in a way that is age appropriate. “Parents must be careful about how they share the news with their children,” Dr. Bursch says. “Children don’t need to know the potentially frightening details, but rather, they need to hear the facts in a concrete and calm manner.”

Warning Signs

Broken Piggy BankChildren may be reluctant to talk to parents about their fears. Some warning signs that a child is feeling anxious include:

  • Internalizing feelings
  • Change in behavior
  • Withdrawing in school or socially
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleeplessness


This information is provided courtesy of the pediatricians at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA. UCLA Health pediatricians are conveniently located in your neighborhood. In addition to our Children’s Health Center in Westwood, we have offices in Brentwood, Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica and West Los Angeles. All health and health-related information contained in this publication is intended to be general in nature and should not be used as a substitute for a visit with a healthcare professional.

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