Impact of Financial Problems
Even the youngest children can pick up on the stress parents or caregivers feel as a result of the economy and personal financial anxiety. Our experts recommend using simple, clear terms to explain the situation in a sensitive manner.
Signs that Children are Struggling with Excessive Stress
Parents and caregivers should be alert to these warning signs that children are struggling with the stress of the family financial situation: changes in eating patterns; changes in sleeping patterns; increased clinginess or whining; regression, or a return to behavior characteristic of a younger child; increased fear of separation from parent; appearance of new fears; increased aggression; decreased cooperativeness; increased irritability, fussiness; decreased frustration tolerance; withdrawal/subdued or sober mood; and increased behaviors parents/caregivers view as “attention-seeking”.
Talking to Children about Financial Stress
Younger children may benefit from simple, clear words to explain what already is or is reasonably sure to occur. They are often reassured by descriptions of the concrete details of what will happen to their belongings and with their routines (e.g. where their bed will be, who will make their dinner, the fact that their special bear is certainly coming along). Young children look to trusted adults in order to draw conclusions about whether they are safe or need to be worried or fearful. They operate according to the principle, “I’m okay if you’re okay.”
Children at about six years and up can be increasingly engaged in discussions that anticipate adversity and that can effectively serve their intended function of preparing them. One useful lesson that children can learn from difficult circumstances is that families pull together – although parents need to clearly convey that they are ultimately responsible for managing the situation and that they are figuring out how to do that.
All children benefit from opportunities to express their feelings through words and/or play, from patience in the face of their negative emotions, and from the feeling that they are understood. Research shows that steady, responsive, sensitive parent-child relationships can buffer children from the effects of excessive stress and can promote children’s own sense of competence and effectiveness.
Decreasing Household Stress
Using words to label children’s feelings can help them feel more organized, and parents’ empathy can help them settle (“I know you are disappointed,” “I can see that you are really mad right now!”) Parents should also maintain everyday routines as much as possible. Some sense of predictability, even in the midst of great change, helps all of us across the lifespan retain a feeling of security.
Include other people who spend time with your child in your circle of support. This includes, perhaps especially, child care providers and teachers. Think with them about how they can support your child during this period when your family is struggling. Tell them to expect some regression or challenging behavior. Let them in on what you know and have noticed about your child’s behavior and needs, what they may see that indicates that your child needs some extra support, and what you do at home that seems to help.
Taking Care of Yourself
It is important that parents do what they can to take care of themselves when they are under stress, so that they are in a better position to recognize and meet the needs of their children.
Some suggestions for taking care of yourself are:
- Reach out to family and friends for support
- Eat well
- Get sufficient sleep
- Practice relaxation techniques (yoga, walking, relaxation breathing, etc.)
- Keep a diary
- Keep your sense of humor
- Keep your perspective: there are no perfect parents, and fortunately children do not require perfect parents