Children Can Still Prosper Emotionally/Socially When Families Face Financial Challenges
Family Relations can be negatively affected by difficult economic times
When mom and dad are worried about rising costs, mortgage payments or income loss, children are often aware of parents’ increased stress. This alone can create anxieties in children not previously observed. For example, Alicia was a nine year old girl who would often hear her parents argue about bills and debt. Alicia then internalized her fears about this and began having stomach aches and difficulty focusing at school.
Parents are also more likely to use harsher methods of discipline and/or engage in non-effective parenting.This could mean more yelling at the children or ignoring some behavior that would have previously been addressed.
Children have an increased likelihood of facing certain vulnerabilities as a result of economic setbacks
Families are often forced to make lifestyle changes when money gets tight. This can include cutting back on groceries purchased, by skipping meals or buying cheaper food. Unfortunately, junk food is less expensive than unprocessed food. This alone can lead to an increased rate of obesity.
These lifestyle changes can also lead to relocating the family and school changes. Studies show school changes can negatively affect a child’s work and behavior in the school setting. This can be manifested in failing grades, difficulty with peers or conduct issues. Frequent moves can also lead to increased dropout rates.
Tips on helping families with children cope with uncertain times
It is okay to let your children know that some things may be changing (for example: family spending) but emphasize there is nothing that your family can’t handle. Try not to talk about your financial woes in front of your children. Remember, this is not their burden to bear.
Encourage your children to talk about anything that may be bothering them. Remain open yourself, don’t get pulled into guilt or shame. You are showing integrity right now as a parent by talking to them. Always allow for an open discussion of feelings.
Mom: Beth, I think you are old enough to know that your dad is being laid off from work and we will have to be on a tighter budget until he is able to find another job.
Beth: Does this mean we will have to move. When Jill’s mom lost her job they had to move in with her grandma, will we have to move in with grandma? Where will I sleep?
Mom: I don’t want you to worry about any of those things. These are things that your father and I will deal with. We are strong enough to handle this worry all by ourselves. We are hoping that we don’t have to move but we will let you know about any changes that could affect you. Remember that we love you and we are a strong family that can handle anything that comes our way.
Some children may not talk about fears, even when asked. This may be due to feelings of wanting to protect their parents. Even if the child says they are fine, keep your eyes open for a change in personality or behavior, such as changes in eating habits and/or sleeping habits.
Finally, stay connected with yourself and your community through school, church and any other venue you feel comfortable in. These are great locations to gather information on resources and places where valuable support can be found during trying times.
Maggie Classen, LCSW