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Parenting In Tough Economic Times - By Chris Gearing

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Parenting Tools In Tough Economic Times

February 12, 2009

Dr. Sylvia Gearing

As Congress approves yet another stimulus package, North Texans continue to experience more layoffs, downsizing and financial shortfalls. And as we all know, as families struggle to stay afloat financially, tempers can flare and kids can suffer.

What are the top challenges for parents during these difficult economic times?

Your Own Fear: Parents are facing their own sense of powerlessness and loss of control in this economy. Even if your job is not in jeopardy, you are bound to know some one who faces a potential financial hurdle. As the recession continues, people are going to have increasing difficulty calming down and retaining perspective.

Avoid Becoming the Super-Parent: Parents often try to overcompensate for their fear by becoming super-parents and hiding all negativity from the kids. As a result, they tend to dismiss their child’s pain. This avoidance prevents the child from learning how to handle adversity effectively. This dismissive style is disingenuous especially with kids since they generally sense what you feel anyway.

Remind yourself that your child most likely knows that something is wrong especially if one of the parents has lost a job or money has become especially tight. The older the child, the greater the awareness but even very young children can sense tension in their parents. A child’s worry flourishes in an atmosphere of uncertainty and he begins to feel helpless. His uncertainty combined with a difficult outcome imposes definite health risks including infections, agitation, and aggression toward others.

Anger and frustration are a part of life but remember that is okay to express displeasure with your child if he misbehaves. Avoid sarcasm, ridicule, and contempt and maintain an evenhanded approach even if you are angry.

By appropriately expressing your anger, you are teaching your child two things:

1.) Angry Emotions are a part of a close relationship and these emotions such as anger and frustration can be handled appropriately.

2.) Kids need limits and they need to know that you care enough to be involved. The child is reassured that you are in control of the family and they will feel safer as a result.

Emotional neglect is the biggest risk factor.

Worried parents may be present in body, but not in mind -- unintentional emotional neglect can occur without parents realizing it. According to research, people who are prone to depression are at least twice as likely to have mental problems in the face of economic stressors. Emotional neglect is difficult to measure since there are no bruises or cuts. How can you definitively prove that a child is not being loved enough? But in certain extreme cases, neglect can be more harmful than outright acts of cruelty such as child physical and sexual abuse. We do know that the trauma of neglect can predispose a child to a host of emotional problems as he grows up.

As families go through tough times, these behaviors may occur:

Tensions Flare: Families often enter a complex, downward spiral as finances tighten and spirits fall. Increased irritability, anxiety and outright rage become more frequent as the parents become more helpless.

Parents Become Emotionally Absent: Mothers become less patient and fathers become more withdrawn. Marital spats and bickering over money and daily living become commonplace and a tense silence often invades a once happy home.

Lost Children: Kids begin to react negatively outside of the home. Socially, academically and psychologically, they begin to struggle and are marginalized to a lower social and academic achievement level. The lack of parental support leads to chronic academic underachievement. They are ill prepared to enter a competitive job market.

Financial adversity offers a mother lode of teachable moments.

In fact, the baby boomers have been remiss in not allowing their kids to experience enough negative events and consequences. We have spent too much effort sheltering our kids from the inevitable adversities of life. Now we have a twentysomething generation that is struggling with a sense of entitlement and confusion and lacking the necessary skills to deal with failure successfully. Adversity teaches coping skills as parents model effective reactions and then teach their kids how to deal directly with challenge. Such strategies literally inoculate your children against severe depression, which strikes a full decade earlier than it did a generation ago.

The secrets to keeping families strong during these tough economic times?

Family Team: When parents put family first and continue to communicate with the kids, everyone does better. Do not let the adversity define your parenting strategy. By fortifying your kids with activities, games and long talks, you are preventing a feeling of isolation and helplessness to grow. There is no substitute for the time you invest in a child.

Avoid Dismissive Parenting: Many parents are concerned that negative emotions are unhealthy for their child. Some parents see their child’s distress as an impossible demand and they insist that the child “not feel unhappy.” Instead, they react with humor and reassurance without really hearing what the child is saying. Listen to your child and then help him deal with the anxiety.

Loss of Parent’s Focus: Children are much less affected by the loss of possessions than they are by the loss of a parent’s focus. Don’t worry that your child lacks the latest fashions or toys. He needs your emotional presence more than a video game.

Community Counts: Increase your attendance in religious, school and civic activities when times are tough. Being with other people reassures your child that the community is stable, predictable and supportive. Familiar faces of loving, concerned adults are the antidote to a family’s tough times.

Resources for Readers:

"Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child" by Dr. John Gottman

"The Optimistic Child" by Martin Seligman, Ph.D.


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