Today’s unstable economic environment has meant lifestyle changes, problems and increased stress for many families. Parents, however, sometimes forget that their problems, financial or otherwise, can also mean increased levels of anxiety and fear for their children.
Whatever a family’s problems, children, even at very young ages, are usually aware that things are no longer “right.” While young children won’t fully understand what is wrong, and older children may fake a “so what,” non-caring attitude, the reality is that major family problems cause stress and anxieties for our children that can manifest themselves in a variety of negative ways.
While problems don’t just magically disappear, we can offer a few simple tips you can use to reduce your children’s stress levels and help them better understand and deal with the emotions they’re facing:
• Listen to your child. Ask young children what’s the biggest, baddest thing that’s worrying them. Older kids will need more work to be coaxed into discussing their emotions. Be ready to explain and reassure them about your plans for handling the problems.
• Respond to questions honestly, in an age-appropriate manner. Hiding the truth won’t make your kids feel better, but can cause more serious problems later.
• Discuss difficult issues, including your own worries, but don’t overwhelm your children. Let them express their feelings so you can help them put the situation in perspective.
• Stick to factual information. Don’t project your fears onto your child. It’s okay to talk honestly about how serious the situation is, but don’t increase your child’s fears of what is happening.
• Accept that any major family issue is going to bring reactions your children can’t control. It might be nightmares, behavior changes, emotional outbursts or anger. Don’t blame your children for such reactions, but instead offer comfort and support, and help them understand what is happening.
• Look for signs your child is being overwhelmed by the situation. Strong emotional changes or disturbing behavioral changes may be signs their emotional reaction is out of control and that professional help is needed.
• Most importantly, be loving and reassuring. Your children need to know that even when major problems face a family that you’re still there to love and care for them. Give plenty of hugs and verbal reassurances that they’re still loved.
Family crises are never easy to weather and can be especially difficult for children. Take the time to give your children the attention they deserve and need in such situations.
“The Counseling Corner” is provided as a public service by the American Counseling Association, the nation’s largest organization of counseling professionals. Learn more at www.counseling.org.