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Recent economic hardships have brought the pain of home foreclosure to millions of families. Even when times are good, financial calamity can strike at any moment and lead a family into foreclosure. Losing your home can be a monumental event for all who experience it, children especially. So if you find yourself in this situation, it’s important to have some idea of how children are affected by home foreclosure so that you can better help them through it.

Home Foreclosure & Its Effects On Children

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Home is where the heart is.” It’s more than just a catchy phrase. A home is a repository of memories and it can hold a tremendous amount of symbolic meaning

Children form attachments to inanimate objects just as they do their caregivers, and a child’s home environment is a powerful source of attachment. Next to a child’s loved ones themselves, a home is the most significant source of stability, comfort, and closeness that a child has. The familiar setting, the neighborhood (and its other inhabitants), the yard, the park – all of these things can hold an emotional attachment.

Losing this attachment can be extremely stressful, and children may respond to it just like they respond to any other lost attachment. You may see behavioral changes such as increased irritability, clinginess, or acting out. Children might also experience psychosomatic symptoms such as bedwetting or stomach aches. They might experience nightmares or have trouble sleeping. These symptoms usually abate within a few months, but may extend much longer, depending on the importance of the attachments that have been broken.

Foreclosure means a significant family transition, and this transition is likely to elevate stress and anxiety. Not only do children have their own issues to cope with, but there is also palpable tension in the family. Children will feed off of this emotional environment and feel stressed and depressed themselves.

Feelings of powerlessness or a loss of control frequently accompany home foreclosure. A child’s life is changing and becoming more insecure, and there is nothing they can do about it. Feelings of powerlessness can be extremely destructive psychologically, so it’s important for parents to do all they can to combat this.

“It’s hard,” says one parent, speaking about what their kids went through. “I think they see things very differently now. My son asked me how much money I have, and I told him not to worry about it. We had to give away our lab and our bird dog (because it seemed unfair to keep them in such a small apartment). That killed my son. That tore him apart, big time.” (Armour, 2008)

There’s also the social implications of foreclosure. Children in this situation may face a variety of taunts for being homeless, and you don’t have to be living out of your car for children to be teased. Even if kids aren’t teased directly, they may pick up stigmatizing ideas from hearing the things others say, either in person or on television. Family is an important part of every child’s identity, and so they can be hurt vicariously by any shame that is directed at their parents or family situation in general.

Helping Children Cope With Home Foreclosure

Here are some tips that will make this transition a little bit smoother for them.

How to talk to kids about home foreclosure

  1. Don’t sugarcoat things or try to downplay the issue. This will only make things worse. Losing one’s home is tough, and children don’t want to hear speeches about how all is fine and dandy. They want empathy and understanding as they embark on this transition.
  1. Discuss the details of when this will happen and what they can expect. How will this impact your life going forward? Make sure they understand that you’ll find other living arrangements and won’t be living on the street.
  1. Talk about the home you’ll make as a family wherever you go. Give them the example of an Indian tribe. Indians would pack up their teepee and move it somewhere else all the time. They knew that it wasn’t the structure itself but the people in it that makes a home. Likewise, emphasize the fact that you’ll be a family no matter where you go.

Making the transition easier for kids

  1. A home is a sentimental thing. Therefore losing it can evoke a sense of grief and nostalgia, just like that created by losing a loved one. Many parents will try to gloss over these feelings, usually because it makes them feel guilty to hear their children talk about how much they’ll miss the place. But this isn’t the best approach.

In fact, you should go out of your way to encourage this reflection. Ask them what their best memories are and what they’re going to miss most. Then use these conversations to talk about all the new memories they’ll make going forward. Grief is never resolved by bottling up one’s emotions. Get these feelings out in the open so that you can work through them.

  1. Allow them to take pictures to remember your home by. Give them the camera so that they can take pictures themselves, because what they find special is bound to be different than what you find special. You might also take a few mementos to remember it by, such as a few rocks or some pressed plants.
  1. Take some of the furnishings with you if possible. The old familiar items will give them a sense of comfort in your new place. Also look for ways to give them small choices in your new environment, such as painting their room in the color of their choice.
  1. If you have to give up pets, try to do so on a temporary basis, and to people who will allow your kids to visit them. We realize this may not be easy, but it’s one less blow during this stressful time. To many children, pets are like family members, and they’ll want to know they are loved and cared for. The last thing kids need to feel during this time is the idea that family members can be given away whenever things get too difficult. Even though a child may rationally understand that you can’t easily do the same with them, there will always be that nagging “what if” thought in the back of their mind (after all, isn’t that how orphans come about?), and so it does deal a blow to their overall sense of security in life.
  1. Entertain REALISTIC fantasies about what your next home might be like. It doesn’t matter if this is something several years down the road. Imagining it is a forward-focused activity that can help ease the blow when things get tough.

Here are some tips that will make this transition a little bit smoother for them.

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