Family financial crisis RX: Talk, listen

April 03, 2009|By LYNN LITTLE / Special to The Herald-Mail

Losing a job or income affects all members of the family. Parents 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.

Talk about financial impacts

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 might mean other family members must find jobs. There might be less family time.

Unemployment can mean a parent is home more, which might call for adjusting schedules and space. It might 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.

Here is a list of tips for helping children cope:

Hold a family discussion about family spending priorities. Talk about how the income loss affects money available for extra activities and allowances. Discuss how each person will help control family spending.

Spend family time together doing low-cost or no-cost activities that family members enjoy.

Provide your children with information about your family's situation in a way that is within the child's understanding. Don't keep the income loss a secret from children and other family members, despite the urge to spare them or "save face."

Help kids deal with change

As families undergo changes in their lives, they need to talk about them. 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.

As a parent, even though you may feel overwhelmed, it is important that you try to help your children cope with the emotional and financial stress. Here are tips for boosting family emotional health:

You can help your children best by helping yourself first. Try to gain control of your own stress; then you are ready to help your children.

Recognize symptoms of stress that might affect your children: sleeplessness, diarrhea, withdrawal, headaches or angry outbursts. Encourage the child to share feelings and fears. If you feel ineffective in helping your children manage stress, talk to their teachers, school psychologist, clergy member or mental health professional.

Promote a balanced diet and get adequate rest and plenty of exercise to guard against health problems.

Try to keep other major changes to a minimum. Too many changes at once can be overwhelming for anyone. However, some changes, such as a move, might be unavoidable, so try to keep them in perspective.

Help your children focus on the positive aspects of their lives. Look at family and personal strengths and draw on talents and contributions of all family members. Recognize these contributions, no matter how small.

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

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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