Dear Mr. Dad: Because of the current economic situation, my wife and I have decided to sell our home and downsize to a smaller, more affordable one. We’re both comfortable with this decision, but we want to be sure that when we talk to our children (3rd and 5th graders), we don’t panic them. Depending on where we move, the kids may need to change schools. Any suggestions?

A: The fact that you and your wife have thought through your decision and are on the same page puts you way ahead of other families who are in similar situations.

For you, the first step is to sit down and talk with them in a way they can understand. Unless they’ve spent the past year on another planet, they’ve probably heard about the recession and may have even talked about it at school. But you’ll need to find out how much of what they’ve heard actually sank in. The problem is that they may understand just enough to be scared, so it’s important that you reassure them that despite the current state of the economy, they and your family will be OK.

Explain how you and your wife came to your decision and that although it may seem scary, downsizing is actually a way to ensure that your family will remain fiscally safe and will have a home to live in for a long time.

Once you’re sure the kids get the reasons behind your decision, talk about how the move will affect them, particularly if they’ll be changing schools. For example, if they’re involved in things like sports, music, and drama, they need to know that they’ll be able to continue those activities in their new home just as before. Find out as much as you can about the new school and, if possible, arrange for your kids to spend a day there so it will seem at least a little familiar when the big day comes.

While you’ll definitely want to emphasize that they’ll be making new friends, it’s important that you talk through some ways your kids can keep in touch with their friends from their old neighborhood. Encourage them to think about what their next birthday party might be like, with a mix of old and new friends.
Be honest with your children about the disappointments of downsizing. If they may end up sharing a room, or there will no longer be a huge backyard or family room to play in, they need to know now. Talking this through and letting the kids express their disappointment and fears will help a lot. Once they’ve done this, try to emphasize the positive aspects of the new home. There are benefits to sharing a bedroom with a sibling. Plus, they might end up with a room full of new furniture, which you’ll allow them to have a vote in selecting. And don’t forget to tell them how you’ll be affected. You may have to move your home office into the laundry room, or you’ll have to get rid of one of your cars.

It’s okay to bring the kids along on your house-hunting trips, to talk over the pros and cons, and get their input. But make sure they know that the final decision rests with the adults.

Overall, be honest and straightforward with the children and don’t try to sugarcoat the news—that’ll only backfire. Let them express their feelings about the move and be patient: you’re starting a long process. But eventually, the kids—and you—will get used to the new home and the new life.