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How to talk to children about money during the cost of living crisis

How do you support your kids’ wellbeing through the cost of living crisis? We asked educational psychologist Gavin Morgan and the co-manager of YoungMinds’ parent helpline Stevie Goulding for their top tips. 

Families across the country are feeling the pinch amid the cost of living crisis – and it’s affecting our kids. 

A recent survey by Beano Brain and YoungMinds revealed the cost of living is the leading cause of anxiety in children and young people. Just over half (51 per cent) of 11- to 25-year-olds said they had felt angry, unhappy, stressed or anxious over money in the last three months.

So how do you support your kids’ wellbeing through the cost of living crisis? We asked educational psychologist Gavin Morgan and the co-manager of YoungMinds’ parent helpline Stevie Goulding for their top tips. 

Be honest (especially if your kids are asking questions)

Morgan says it’s important to be truthful with your kids about difficult topics like the cost of living crisis, especially if they start asking questions. They might have noticed you’re more stressed about money than usual or you’re starting to cut back on treats. Their friends might be talking about money more than usual. 

“It’s important to respond honestly,” Morgan says. “There’s no point airbrushing things or deceiving children by saying: ‘It’s fine’ when things aren’t, especially if your family is struggling or you anticipate you may struggle.”

Goulding agrees, adding: “So many parents don’t want to say the wrong thing or make things worse, but actually having that conversation is so much better than avoiding it.

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“With things like the cost of living, children are really in tune and very receptive. They’re going to be talking with friends and family about these kinds of issues. Parents shouldn’t shy away from the conversation.”

The YoungMinds helpline manager explains that the cost of living crisis directly impacts children. Your family might have to cut back on things and your kids might miss out on opportunities like family days out or holidays. 

“It’s important to have that conversation ahead of the game,” she says. “As a parent, you can give them the facts. You can respond to their questions and help them understand.”

By being open and honest, Goulding suggests that you’re giving your children permission to do the same. It might help your kids realise that they can come to you or another family member and talk about their worries. 

Stay upbeat and positive

“We can actually have a really positive chat about it and it’s important for them to be aware of it,” Goulding says. The experts agreed that while it’s important to be having that conversation, you need to make sure your child still feels secure. The way to do that is by keeping upbeat.

Morgan explains: “It’s important that parents provide a level of security for their children. Parents may have to say: ‘Look, it’s going to be difficult for us. We’re going to have to make tough decisions. But you are our priority above all else.’ 

“Children need to feel secure about the kinds of difficulties that families may be experiencing, but I think parents and families have to be honest, especially if they’re asking questions.”

Keep it age appropriate

Morgan notes that a five-year-old will react very differently to a 15-year-old. But a good basic rule is to relate the conversation to how it will impact their everyday life.

“Give examples of what money is and how money is used and what money is used for,” Morgan says. “Older kids will relate it to things that they value, like mobile phone contracts and Spotify accounts. It may be harder for younger children to grasp those kind of concepts of the economy. 

“But I think relating it to everyday issues and making it real is the best way to try to explain the difficulties that they’re going through. It’s saying: ‘Everything we have in this house needs to be paid for, whether it’s the food on the table, and we may have to make difficult decisions.’”

Get help from other resources

There are resources out there to help families who are struggling. If you are worried about your child’s mental health and wellbeing, you can contact YoungMinds’ parents helpline for detailed advice, emotional support and signposting about a child or young person up to the age of 25. 

Goulding says if a parent is having worries about money, she will often signpost them to organisations like Turn2Us. The charity helps people to access charitable grants and support services if they’re in financial difficulty. If you contact them, they’ll check what’s available to you, or you can use Turn2Us’ grant search.

If you need help explaining the cost of living crisis or anything tricky in the news, resources like Newsround can be fantastic for kids to keep them updated on what’s going on in the world without overwhelming them. 

Goulding also suggests checking out your local authority’s website and Facebook pages. You can find out what support your council offers through End Furniture Poverty’s local welfare assistance finder. Local councils may be able to give you debt advice, help you get hold of furniture, and support you through food and fuel poverty. 

Be mindful of the conversations you have at home

Both Morgan and Goulding note that financial issues naturally create tension, but it’s important to be mindful of any conversations you are having when your children are around. 

“Every family is different,” Morgan says. “Every situation is different, but kids are insightful and they will pick up on things. They can tell if their mum is unhappy, or if there’s tension between parents. Children do notice these things.”

“We are all human and finances make a lot of conflict,” Goulding adds, “maybe in relationships between parents as well. It’s just being mindful of the conversations they are having in earshot of other children and trying to avoid engaging in those kind of conflicts and hostility at home.”

Look after your own wellbeing

Parents, it’s so important to look after yourself. “We often use the analogy of the oxygen mask on an aeroplane,” Goulding says. “They always tell you to put your own oxygen mask on before helping anyone else. That brilliantly demonstrates why you need to look after yourself. 

“Parents can put an awful lot of pressure on themselves, but if you’re not looking after yourself, how are you expected to support your child in the way that you want to? You might not have the emotional capacity to take on the worry, stress or strain that a child is going through. If you’re already at your limit, you’re not going to have much room left.”

Goulding adds that parents and carers are role models for children. If you’re not reaching out and you’re struggling on, you’re setting an example for your child. How do you expect them to open up and get support if you’re not doing the same for yourself? She says it’s about being a healthy role model for your child. Perhaps that means going to your GP or a counsellor for help, or being open about your own struggles with your friends and family. 

Morgan agrees, commenting: “It’s really important that we value parental mental health, as well as the mental health of children. We can’t do one without the other.”

Goulding adds: “With the cost of living, we’re only at the very start. Things are expected to get a lot worse. It’s a long-term problem. It’s so important that parents don’t sacrifice their own wellbeing. I can understand why a parent wants to put their child first – but looking after themselves is in the interests of their child.”

And here’s our Summer Survival Guide, which we will update regularly with new articles and tips on making sure your kids have a fun summer without breaking the bank

Get involved with the conversation on social media and share all your tips and advice for families using the #SummerSurvivalGuide

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