The current “economic hard times” are affecting everyone’s lives. You may be unemployed, know some one who is unemployed or just be aware from all the news and media around you that this is a time of financial hardship for many. The sense of confusion and uncertainty experienced by many of us as fathers (as well as mothers) can be transmitted to our children. Children may feel the tension between parents as they deal with household finances and they may be confused or anxious that their family is at financial risk. We as Dads need to help children feel in control, even if we feel vulnerable or angry ourselves.
The Nation Association of School Psychologists have published a paper offering some “guidelines” to help children cope with unsettling times. I am listing a few highlights and have included a link to the online PDF file at the end of this post.
Parents need to assess what level of support their children need. Many will not find the current economic crisis personally stressful. However, following general suggestions may help vulnerable or sensitive children cope.
Be reassuring. Children will take their cues from you, especially young children. Acknowledge that the potential economic challenges and uncertainty are unnerving but the likelihood is that you and your children or students will be okay. There is difference between the possibility of serious risk and the probability of it affecting them personally.
Acknowledge and normalize their feelings. Allow children to discuss their feelings and concerns and encourage any questions they may have regarding current events. Being an empathetic listener is very important. Let them know that others, including many adults, are feeling the same way and that their reactions are normal and expected.
Maintain a normal routine. Keeping to a regular schedule can be reassuring and promote physical health. Ensure that children get plenty of sleep, regular meals, and exercise. Encourage them to keep up with their schoolwork and extracurricular activities but don’t push them if they seem overwhelmed.
Spend family time. Doing enjoyable activities with you reinforces your children’s sense of stability and normalcy. Try to do things together, such as eat meals, read, play sports or games, go for walks or bike rides, or watch non-violent, non-stressful TV. When stressed, young children may also want more physical contact (e.g., hugs, holding hands, sitting on your lap, etc.). You know your children best, and your love and support are the most important factors to their sense of security.
Turn off or monitor the television. It is important to stay informed, but watching endless news programs referring to “the economy is in crisis” or “another depression” is likely to heighten anxiety. Young children in particular are often unable to distinguish between news reports and their family’s reality. Older children may want to watch the news, but be available to discuss what they hear and help put it into perspective.
Take care of your own needs. Take time for yourself and try to deal with your own reactions to the situation as fully as possible. You will be better able to help your children if you are coping well. If you are anxious or upset, your children are more likely to be so as well. Talk to other adults such as family, friends, faith leaders, or a counselor. It is important not to dwell on your worries by yourself. Sharing feelings with others often makes us feel more connected and secure. Take care of your physical health. Make time, however small, to do things you enjoy. Avoid using drugs or alcohol to feel better.