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Children need truth, not details

Parents can help to minimize trauma of family losing its home

It's not a conversation any parent wants to have with a child. But if the bank's taking the family home, children need to know, area counselors say.

The loss of a home, even the months before the bank takes over, are traumatic for the entire family. And with many economists predicting little relief from the mortgage crisis in the next couple of years, it's an issue more families will continue to face. The best way to do that is openly and honestly, experts say.

Most importantly, tell the truth to your children, said Vicki Santos, a psychologist with Creative Psychology Ltd. in Crystal Lake.

"They don't necessarily have to give all the details, but if they're asked a specific question, they should be truthful about it," she said.

If not, children can find out in other ways. And if they do, they won't see their parents as honest or credible at an already stressful time, Santos said.

The younger the children, the simpler the explanation, she said.

If they're too young to comprehend what foreclosure means, just tell them "the move will be a good decision for us all," Santos said.

"Then play up something positive," she said.

Tell them they'll get to meet new people, make new friends, maybe try a new school. Give them something to look forward to, Santos said.

It's also a good idea to prepare children to talk to others about why the move is needed, said Gwen Ames, a staff therapist and licensed clinical social worker with Meridian Behavioral Health in McHenry.

"It's probably a little bit easier nowadays because so many people are losing their homes," Ames said.

"Normalize it by saying so many people are out of work and the economy is really bad," she suggested.

Experts suggest taking pictures of the home, the family sitting on the porch or a special tree house or carving on a tree that the child can keep. Maybe even invite neighbors, friends and nearby family over so the child can say goodbye. Let younger children keep their favorite things, such as a blanket, stuffed animal or favorite book, close by.

And try to help the child stay connected to old friends perhaps through phone calls or computers, using Skype or Facebook, experts say.

The more loss or grief associated with the move, the more difficult it becomes, Ames said. Younger children might not have the ability to identify their feelings, so they'll act out in other ways, she said.

They might become more argumentative or aggressive.

Keep the lines of communications open, experts say.

"If a child wants to talk about it, and the parent just refuses to talk about it or maybe they can't talk about it without getting really angry, I don't think that's particularly good," Santos said. "If they catch you at a bad moment, it's okay to say, 'Can we talk about this later tonight or tomorrow?' But then always follow up on that."

Sometimes, people think children simply will bounce back. They will follow the lead of adults, Santos said. So if an adult remains calm, that will help them do so as well, she said.

"Kids are pretty resilient, but they have gotten attached to their home or in most cases they have, so this is a big change for them," Santos said. "It may be a big change in different ways than it is for the adults, but don't forget it's a big change for them."

For high school aged children, don't sugarcoat it, Santos said, but do reassure and try to play up the positive.

Tell them, "We're going to get our life back together. We're going to bounce back from this … We're all still here for each other."

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