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Honesty Is Best Policy in Helping Children Cope

FAMILIES who deal most successfully with downsizing often exhibit common traits that make unemployment easier, according to Barry Glassner, a professor of sociology at the University of Southern California and author of ``Career Crash: The New Crisis - and Who Survives'' (Simon & Schuster, 1994).

``It's very important for various family members to be brought in in an honest way, so that everybody is working as a team,'' Dr. Glassner says in an interview.

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Problems are more likely to arise, he finds, when parents avoid telling children directly that they've been laid off.

``Usually parents do this thinking they are protecting the child, when really what they are doing is keeping them in the dark,'' he says.

In successful families, ``children are informed early on, and they're told in language they can understand.''

To help younger children understand why their parents lost their job, he suggests finding a story about the company's downsizing in the local newspaper and saying, ``See, they're laying off 1,000 people, and Mommy is one of them.'' That way, Glassner says, ``children don't feel so deprived if the family has to move or if they can't buy certain things they were able to buy before.''

Even with such explanations, he continues, it's important for adults to understand that the situation may create major disruption for the children. ``They may have to change schools, or their friends may not be understanding,'' Glassner says. ``Instead of being more critical of the children or being short with them, parents need to work with them to help them, rather than seeing the children's responses as yet another problem.''

Then there is the blame game among adults. Sometimes, Glassner says, ``the spouse of the person laid off will blame the partner, either explicitly or indirectly, for having lost his or her job. They might say, `If you had worked harder or been more careful or had a better relationship with the boss, you wouldn't have been laid off.' Or the person who was laid off will blame his or her anger on someone in the family, like a spouse: `If you would just go out and make more money, or take a second job or a first job, or be more understanding, then everything would be OK.' ''

In the ideal situation, he adds, ``the spouse tries to help the person who was laid off deal with anger or depression. Everyone is cooperating and understands everyone's legitimate feelings.''

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