Don’t try to hide things from the children — your body language is already telling them enough with regard to the financial difficulties you are experiencing.

It’s OK to confide in them that the farm is experiencing tough economic times, according to Donna Andrusyk, family life field specialist for Iowa State University. 

 “You tell the kids what’s going on, but you leave out the grim details if there are grim details,” she told a group that gathered in Nashua, Iowa, on Tuesday to hear strategies for dealing with the current dairy financial crisis. For instance, it is OK to mention that milk prices are down and the family doesn’t have the money to spend that it did a year ago. But, depending on the age of the children, you might want to avoid mentioning that the farm is “x” dollars in debt or that many of the cows may have to be sent to slaughter.  

And, telling the children can be a proactive strategy for the following reasons:

  • It may enlist the kids’ help in cutting back on certain expenses, such as back-to-school items. For instance, the child may agree to use the same backpack that he or she used last year rather than buying a new one.
  • It allows the parent to be a good role model when it comes to dealing with problems. It teaches the child, through the parent’s example, that it is better to be honest and have a dialogue rather than bottling up one’s emotions and perhaps acting out those emotions in a negative, non-verbal way, such as slamming doors.    

This is an opportunity for you to role-model how you express your frustrations, she said.

 Andrusyk offered some additional suggestions:

  • You have to take care of yourself and get your emotions in check before talking to the kids. Just as a flight attendant tells adults to hook up their own oxygen masks (in the event of an emergency) before trying to help others, you are no good to the children if you are not functioning well yourself. “In order to communicate well with kids, you have to get your own life, mind and body in order,” she said.
  • Learn how you deal with stress. Everyone deals with stress differently. If you happen to be someone who gets chest pains when dealing with stress, recognize the symptoms and be proactive in dealing with it. For instance, you might want to take a couple of deep breaths to calm down and disassociate yourself from the stressful situation.
  • ·Reassure the child that everything will be all right. “Reassure them they are still going to be taken care of, no matter what,” Andrusyk said. Some relevant phrases are: “we love you,” “we’re a family,” and “we will get through this, we just have to change a few things along with way.”  
  • Teenagers will talk to you, but often it’s on their terms. A teen might not be ready to talk at the dinner table, but perhaps he or she will be ready to talk later that night.   Try to be perceptive of the teen and when might be the best time for a conversation.
  • Provide simple, honest answers when the kids ask you a question.

A year ago, who would have imagined the agricultural extension service would be holding meetings in towns like Nashua, Iowa, on how to survive the dairy-farm crisis? I attended one of those meetings this week. I listened to suggestions for mediating debt with creditors, filing for bankruptcy — and, yes, how to discuss these issues with children. At the end of the three-hour presentation, the moderator ended on an especially somber note. He told us that if anyone ever threatens to kill himself that we should take that person very seriously and do what we can to help. (He was speaking from personal experience, since a friend of his had committed suicide years earlier.) The steady drumbeat of bad news is taking its toll on all of us. You are not alone. — Tom Quaife, editor