Parenting in a Tough Economy

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economyNurturing Your Family - Changes & Transitions

Almost every parent has been affected by the current economic conditions, whether you have lost your job or are worrying about money you put aside for your children’s college education. Although you may not want to share your financial concerns with your children, chances are they already know that times are tough, just from listening to others around them. Children are stronger than we think, and being honest will reassure them and may also make things less stressful for you. However tough these times may be, it is easier to get through them with the support of your family.

Tips for getting your family through these tough times

Put things in perspective. Even if your family has not been directly affected by the economic climate, it's likely that your child has friends whose parents have lost their jobs or who are having some financial trouble. Children generally know more than we think they do, and since they can't always make sense of the information they are taking in, they may make up a ”story” in their heads 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 honest as possible/. If you tell child that nothing bad will happen and then something unexpectedly does, it will be much harder for you to reassure her in the future. Constantly remind your child that no matter what the situation 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 deciding how and what to tell him. However, here is some guidance depending on the age of your child:

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

Older Children. Your teen will likely understand the situation better than a younger child and will want to know what he can do. If you've had to cut back on child care for a younger child, ask your teen to help out with a sibling. If you've had to take on an extra job, have your teen to take on a few extra chores. While it's important not to put the burden of financial obligations on your child, you may have to cut back on allowance, so help your teen think about getting a job to pay for extra clothes 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 rules change. Keep homework and bed time consistent. If you've lost your job and cut back on an after-school program or extracurricular activity for your child, she may be upset at first at the thought of not seeing teachers, coaches, and friends. Try to find ways to help her socialize, like going to the playground instead or setting up a regular play date with a friend. Remind her that while you are unemployed, you and she can do many things that you couldn't while working. Avoid filling free time with extra television or computer privileges.

Make time for family time.
While some traditions may have to be put on hold, think of new things to do that are less expensive but just as fun. For example, eating out on Friday nights could be replaced by making pizza at home and renting a movie. An annual Memorial Day Weekend trip could be replaced by camping in the backyard or organizing a neighborhood barbeque. Look for free activities through local organizations. Some of these might even become new annual traditions! Also look for free, local activities. Some towns have free concerts during the summer that you and your family might enjoy. Libraries also have some free activities that you and your child may now have time to take advantage of.

Think outside the box. There are creative and inexpensive ways to cut expenses but still continue to do fun things. For example, birthday gifts can add up, so have your younger child make a book with artwork and his own story, or have your older child create a scrapbook of favorite photos. If your child has a birthday coming up, a party at the local playground for younger children or a sleepover at home for your teen can be just as fun as having a party somewhere else. If you have family and friends who give your child a gift, ask them for things your child needs that you may not be able to afford right now, such as clothes. If you don't have enough money for a gift, give your child the promise of a special outing together.

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

Look out for signs of stress. When children see their parents upset, they can also become upset and may blame themselves. If you find yourself being more irritable around your children then you used to, take a deep breath and count to ten before saying something you don't mean that will upset them. Pay attention to any changes in your child's behavior or emotions, including sleep and appetite changes, nightmares, separation anxiety, acting out, or a slip in academic performance. Remember that most public schools have school counselors whom you can talk to about your child and have your child talk to, as well.

Take care of yourself. Being a parent is one tough job, even in the best of circumstances. Try to take some time for yourself, even just to go for a walk or read a magazine. Ask a trusted friend or family member to stay with your child once in a while so you can do these things or simply go grocery shopping 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 same for you the following weekend. Find out about parenting groups in your community, or create one of your own through your church, school, or neighborhood. If you need assistance with basic necessities like food or clothing, there are local organizations that can help. Your town may have a food pantry where you can get some basic groceries. Explore any government benefits, like food stamps or health insurance, for which you and/or your children may be eligible.

This information was compiled by Sunindia Bhalla, One Tough Job Manager, and reviewed by the Program Staff of the Massachusetts Children’s Trust Fund.

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