Parents who have been laid off during the pandemic should approach talking to their children about job loss when parent and child are both feeling emotionally calm, cool and collected, according to Tom Ollendick, an expert in child psychology and director of the Virginia Tech Child Study Center.

Unemployment in the U.S continues to grow, topping 30 million at the end of April.   

For parents, explaining to their child the loss of a job is an undeniably difficult task. Ollendick, lead editor of the recent Oxford Handbook of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, has several suggestions in best ways to have this conversation.

First, take care of yourself. “One of the most important things for parents is to be mindful that they have to deal with their own emotions first, and how they are experiencing this because if they are coming across as angry or jealous of someone who has still a job, then that’s not going to settle well with the child,” Ollendick advised.

Second, respect the child’s reaction. “Parents need to be mindful that their children can get upset at times like this because they don’t know what’s going on,” said Ollendick. “It’s important for when the parent has this discussion, that they not go into it when they are upset or when the child is upset. I know that’s not always easy to do, but it’s an important dimension we need to be aware of, there’s no easy answer to that.”

Ollendick adds that parents should allow time and space for the child to emotionally breathe. “Do it in a compassionate way, an empathic way, an honest way, a sincere way, and an understanding way, and make sure there is time for the child to react and not just to be told this is what’s happening, but let the information be processed by the child.”

For teens, Ollendick said to continue to be empathic and understanding but to carry out the conversation in a more adult-to-adult-like manner. “Sometimes parents have to just be brutally honest with their teens. You should tell them you’re going to do whatever you can to make sure that’s it’s going to be okay for them.  Sometimes we just have to deal with what we’re dealt, and we need to make the best of it.  We can do it!”


Ollendick is a University Distinguished Professor in clinical psychology with the Department of Psychology in the Virginia Tech College of Science, and is director of the Virginia Tech Child Study Center. He is the author or co-author of 350-plus research publications, more than 100 book chapters, and 38 books. Among his most recent books is the Oxford Handbook of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, a textbook that will be used worldwide by academics and practitioners of child psychology and psychiatry. Among his many honors is the 2019 Academy of Cognitive Therapy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Schedule an interview

To set up an interview with Tom Ollendick, email Bill Foy in the Media Relations office, or call 540-998-0288.

Our studio
Finding reliable experts for media interviews is especially important during this difficult time. Virginia Tech's television and radio studios can broadcast live HD audio and video to networks, news outlets, and affiliates interviewing Virginia Tech faculty and staff. The university does not charge for use of its studios. Video is transmitted by LTN Global Communications; Skype, FaceTime, or similar products; or file sharing (Dropbox, Google Drive, We-Transfer, etc.). Radio interviews can be transmitted by ISDN, Comrex, phone, smartphone recording, or file sharing.  

Share this story