Explaining Losing a Home to Kids

Since the economic crisis in 2008, more than 2 million children have lost their homes to foreclosures. If your family is facing this situation, these tips will help you break the news of a home loss to your child.

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As much as you hope to keep your child protected, news of a foreclosure is not something you want to drop on your child a week before you have to be out of the home. Children can tell when there is tension in the household, so it's best to come clean. "You don't want the stress monster to start walking the halls of your home while you're still there because children will conjure up scary scenarios about what could be wrong," says Jayne Pearl, author of Kids and Money Guide to Resilient Children: Teaching Kids to Thrive in Any Economic Environment. If foreclosure is inevitable, it's time to talk to your kids about losing your home. You don't have to tell them everything, but letting children know what's to come can make the move easier for the whole family.

Keep it Age-Appropriate

Don't worry about explaining the foreclosure process to kids who are school-age or younger. A brief explanation should do: "We're going to be moving to a new place that costs less money." Preteens and older kids may have heard about the shaky economy, job losses, and foreclosures, or they may have friends who have had to move because of finances, so it's okay to provide more details. "We have to start looking for a new home or an apartment because we can't afford this house anymore." You don't have to mention the word foreclosure if you don't want to, and you shouldn't bombard your kid with information. "Give the basics and then invite their questions," Pearl says.

Control Your Emotions

Your child's response to the upcoming move will depend a lot on your own. "If you're very unhappy, angry, or upset about it, your child is going to pick up on that emotional tone and he or she will have the same reaction to it," says Rochelle Harris, Ph.D., a pediatric clinical psychologist at Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, Missouri. That doesn't mean you can't be honest about your feelings. You can say, "I'm disappointed to leave this home too. We've had a lot of fun here, but sometimes we have to make changes we're not wild about, and we need to make the best of it," Dr. Harris says.

Offer Reassurance

When you mention moving to a different home, especially when there's talk of the current place being too costly, children will begin to worry about being homeless, Dr. Harris says. Put those fears to rest by letting your child know that the family will have a place to live and you will be able to meet her basic needs. Explain to her that although you will be leaving the soon-to-be old home, what's most important in any home is the family inside. Then remind her that you love her and are doing the best you can.

Tell Them What to Expect

Even with your comforting words, your child will wonder what will happen. Where will you live? Will he have to change schools? How will he keep in contact with friends? Does the move mean he will no longer be able to take karate classes? The more (age-appropriate) information you can give about what's going to be the same and what's going to change in the child's life, the better, Dr. Harris says. If you already have a new place to live or you know you'll be moving in with relatives, share the information with your child. You can even take him to the new neighborhood so he can explore and become familiar with it before the move. You should also let him in on changes that aren't directly related to the new home. For instance, will the family have to cut back on spending? Will you or Dad have to work more or less hours? Keep your child in the loop by providing the date of the move (write the date on the family calendar for young kids). This gives him time to say goodbye to friends and make other preparations before moving day.

Live as Normal

Losing a home is already a stressful situation. Allowing it to wreak havoc on your family's daily life will make matters worse. As much as you can, keep things as they are. Mealtimes, bedtimes, and other routines should go on as usual. If Fridays are normally family game night, continue to whip out the board game each Friday. Keeping your family's schedule the same before and after the move will help make the transition easier.

Watch for Signs

Immediately after a move, it's normal for kids to show some signs of stress. Your child might seem moody, frustrated or overly whiny. There may also be some temporary regression, such as wanting to sleep in your bed, thumb-sucking, bedwetting, or wanting to be carried. Dr. Harris says these behaviors are normal during the time when things are up in the air -- you're not unpacked; your child is still getting used to her new school environment, and so forth. Don't react negatively to the backslide. Instead, give your kiddo extra hugs and cuddles without showing too much attention to the babyish behavior. Praise her when she does something mature, like dressing herself or sleeping in her own bed, and remind her of the perks of being a big boy. This phase will likely end once she's settled in, Dr. Harris says. If the regression lasts for longer than a few weeks, however, or if your child seems withdrawn, refuses to go outside, or doesn't seem to enjoy the things she once did, Dr, Harris recommends speaking with your pediatrician.

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