• Parenting in a Tough Economy


    Nurturing Your Family - Changes & Transitions

    Almostevery parent has been affected by the current economic conditions,whether you have lost your job or are worrying about money you putaside for your childrens college education. Although you may not wantto share your financial concerns with your children, chances are theyalready know that times are tough, just from listening to others aroundthem. Children are stronger than we think, and being honest willreassure them and may also make things less stressful for you. Howevertough these times may be, it is easier to get through them with thesupport of your family.

    Tips for getting your family through these tough times

    Put things in perspective.
    Evenif your family has not been directly affected by the economic climate,it's likely that your child has friends whose parents have lost theirjobs or who are having some financial trouble. Children generally knowmore than we think they do, and since they can't always make sense ofthe information they are taking in, they may make up a story in theirheads about what is going on that is often worse than the reality. So,listen carefully to what your child is saying and try to be as honestas possible/. If you tell child that nothing bad will happen and thensomething unexpectedly does, it will be much harder for you to reassureher in the future. Constantly remind your child that no matter what thesituation is, you will always take care of her and love her.

    Give age-appropriate information.Ultimately, you know your child best so use your judgment in decidinghow and what to tell him. However, here is some guidance depending onthe age of your child:

    Younger children. Childrenunder the age of 9 may not need too many details unless their routinewill be disrupted by something like having to move or not going tochild care as a result of a parent being laid off. If your youngerchild does ask, for example, if you are poor, let her know that thefamily does not have as much money this year, so certain things may nothappen, like a family vacation or ballet lessons. Do reassure her thatthings will get better, although it may take some time. Remind her ofthings that will not change, such as her school and friends.

    Older Children. Yourteen will likely understand the situation better than a younger childand will want to know what he can do. If you've had to cut back onchild care for a younger child, ask your teen to help out with asibling. If you've had to take on an extra job, have your teen to takeon a few extra chores. While it's important not to put the burden offinancial obligations on your child, you may have to cut back onallowance, so help your teen think about getting a job to pay for extraclothes or outing with friends that the family budget cannot support.Encourage him to have a friend over instead of going to the movies.

    Keep up with rules and routines.Children need structure, so try to maintain a normal family schedule.Just because things may have changed, it doesn't mean the family ruleschange. Keep homework and bed time consistent. If you've lost your joband cut back on an after-school program or extracurricular activity foryour child, she may be upset at first at the thought of not seeingteachers, coaches, and friends. Try to find ways to help her socialize,like going to the playground instead or setting up a regular play datewith a friend. Remind her that while you are unemployed, you and shecan do many things that you couldn't while working. Avoid filling freetime with extra television or computer privileges.

    Make time for family time. Whilesome traditions may have to be put on hold, think of new things to dothat are less expensive but just as fun. For example, eating out onFriday nights could be replaced by making pizza at home and renting amovie. An annual Memorial Day Weekend trip could be replaced by campingin the backyard or organizing a neighborhood barbeque. Look for freeactivities through local organizations. Some of these might even becomenew annual traditions! Also look for free, local activities. Some townshave free concerts during the summer that you and your family mightenjoy. Libraries also have some free activities that you and your childmay now have time to take advantage of.

    Think outside the box. Thereare creative and inexpensive ways to cut expenses but still continue todo fun things. For example, birthday gifts can add up, so have youryounger child make a book with artwork and his own story, or have yourolder child create a scrapbook of favorite photos. If your child has abirthday coming up, a party at the local playground for youngerchildren or a sleepover at home for your teen can be just as fun ashaving a party somewhere else. If you have family and friends who giveyour child a gift, ask them for things your child needs that you maynot be able to afford right now, such as clothes. If you don't haveenough money for a gift, give your child the promise of a specialouting together.

    Share your wealth. Evenif money isn't tight for your family, there are many other families whoare struggling right now. Ask your child to consider donating some ofher things to children who could use them. Think of something you bothcan do together to help local families in need. In addition to teachingyour child a valuable lesson, this is a wonderful way to spend somequality time together.

    Look out for signs of stress. Whenchildren see their parents upset, they can also become upset and mayblame themselves. If you find yourself being more irritable around yourchildren then you used to, take a deep breath and count to ten beforesaying something you don't mean that will upset them. Pay attention toany changes in your child's behavior or emotions, including sleep andappetite changes, nightmares, separation anxiety, acting out, or a slipin academic performance. Remember that most public schools have schoolcounselors whom you can talk to about your child and have your childtalk to, as well.

    Take care of yourself.Being a parent is one tough job, even in the best of circumstances. Tryto take some time for yourself, even just to go for a walk or read amagazine. Ask a trusted friend or family member to stay with your childonce in a while so you can do these things or simply go groceryshopping in peace. To save on a babysitter, take care of your friends'children one night so they can go out, and then have them do the samefor you the following weekend. Find out about parenting groups in yourcommunity, or create one of your own through your church, school, orneighborhood. If you need assistance with basic necessities like foodor clothing, there are local organizations that can help. Your town mayhave a food pantry where you can get some basic groceries. Explore anygovernment benefits, like food stamps or health insurance, for whichyou and/or your children may be eligible.

    Thisinformation was compiled by Sunindia Bhalla, One Tough Job Manager, andreviewed by the Program Staff of the Massachusetts Childrens TrustFund.