Helping Children Cope

Losing a job or income affects all members of the family. Adults frequently become so preoccupied they forget that tough times have an emotional, as well as a financial, impact on their children. Children depend on their parents for emotional security. When parents are tense, upset and inattentive, much of this security is gone.

Reduced income can mean sudden lifestyle changes for the entire family. There’s less money to spend, so decisions must be made on how to spend what’s there. It may mean other family members must find jobs. There may be less family time.

Unemployment can mean a parent is home more, which might call for adjusting schedules and space. It may involve a move for the family.

Whatever changes tough times bring, all family members feel the impact. Discussing these feelings and concerns, as a family, is important.

Family Communication

Communication has two parts — talking and listening. Each must occur for communication to be successful.

As families undergo changes in their lives, they need to talk about them. This includes adults and children. According to Gerald Kaplan, Harvard psychologist, people who are not ashamed to express fears, anxieties and sorrows and to seek help from others, deal with crisis the most successfully. Children who learn this at a young age will be more likely to cope with stress as adults.

Being able to discuss and vent angry feelings can help keep those feelings from creating more severe problems, such as emotional difficulties, family violence or alcohol abuse.

Listening is as important as talking. Everyone needs someone to listen to them -- someone who supports them and allows them to openly express feelings. Sometimes a person can find a solution or discover the sources of stress through talking. The listener should not feel obligated to advise, analyze or have all the answers. Listening and responding with concern and understanding may be all the help that is needed.

Open communication within the family is vital to good relationships. During stressful times we frequently need people outside the family willing to listen when we need to vent our feelings. In some families, listening without judging is difficult because we want to help, but have strong feelings and opinions. Also, family members are sometimes too busy or preoccupied to be good listeners. Taking the extra effort to actively listen is important.

For more information see Communicating Under Pressure.

Tips for Helping Children Cope

Even though you feel overwhelmed with your own problems, as a parent you can help your children cope with stress. Here is a list of tips for helping children cope:

If older children can find jobs to supplement family income, decide as a family how their money will be used. Decide whether it will cover their clothing and recreation expenses or whether they will contribute to food, shelter and other expenses. For more information see Deciding If Teens Should Work.

Family communication and coping skills have a great impact on how your family deals with tough times.