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Your family finances just took a hit. How much do kids younger than 12 need to know?

Parent advice:

Keeping secrets from children is a bad idea; they are always smarter and more intuitive than we think. They can pick up that something is wrong, and they may jump to scarier conclusions if they don’t feel they can ask for the truth. That being said, all information must be given in age-appropriate terms so they can understand. Someone who is 4 is not going to understand much; someone who is 8 will. There will be more stress and worry and tension at home, undoubtedly. Perhaps parents will be working more hours. Don’t let the kids’ imaginations run wild and assume they did something wrong, or someone is sick.

– Dodie Hofstetter

One point to consider is that what you tell your child will probably be passed along to friends. That said, this is a chance to build resourcefulness and resilience in your child, and to enlist her help in keeping the budget balanced and priorities in order.

– Wendy Donahue

Expert advice:

“Stress is contagious,” said Kristen Race, author of “Mindful Parenting: Simple and Powerful Solutions for Raising Creative, Engaged, Happy Kids in Today’s Hectic World” (St. Martin’s Griffin). “When kids don’t know exactly what’s causing the stress, they’re going to think the worst.

“The brain’s mirror neurons fire in response to the emotions we witness, so when parents are stressed, kids are actually mirroring the emotional state,” Race said. “Even if parents aren’t talking about it, the kids are still picking up on it.”

So talk about the financial setback, but do so with care.

“It’s really important for parents to be open and honest in a developmentally appropriate way,” she said. “Sit down at a family meeting or at dinner and tell them what this means in concrete terms. Maybe it means we don’t do hockey lessons this season or we don’t take a spring break vacation. Maybe it means no more dinners out on Friday nights. Maybe it means moving to a different house.”

Assure them that you will first and foremost take care of their needs, and encourage them to come to you at any point with questions.

You could even enlist them in some problem-solving.

“Maybe the family decides Friday night dinners out are really important, so you find ways to make that happen,” Race said. “Maybe you clip coupons as a family. Maybe you get rid of cable. Maybe the kids earn some money by mowing lawns … and contribute to the dinner fund.

“Take a team approach to how you can still make things happen that you all decide are important to the family.”

And don’t forget about the valuable lessons that accompany this period.

“This isn’t all bad for kids,” Race said. “It’s through struggle that we learn patience and perseverance and delayed gratification – all character-building life skills that will serve them very well throughout life.”

Have a solution? You’d like to find a therapist for your 9-year-old. Where do you start? Find “The Parent ’Hood” page on Facebook, to post your parenting questions and solutions.