|

Family Stresses

by William R. Beardslee, MD and Susan Linn, EdD

All families go through hard times. As parents, we may struggle to cope with stresses ranging from money worries and job changes to marital difficulties and illness. Talking with our children about these problems may seem like an insurmountable hurdle, but keeping silent may inadvertently cause them harm.

Children -- even very young children -- are acutely sensitive to the nuances of their parents' tension and well-being. Family silence around stress can cause children to shoulder unnecessary burdens of shame and guilt. Talking with them is an important first step toward helping them gain important coping skills.

Even when families are faced with the most overwhelming life stress, parents can help children. Try these approaches:

  • Acknowledge the stress. It's helpful for children, as well as adults, to be reassured that what they are experiencing is real.

  • Depending on their ages, conversations with children can range from talking generally about the source of stress, such as worries about work, or going into more detail about it. How much we share with our children will depend on their age, their interests and our own needs for privacy. In general, young children probably need less detail than older children.

  • Leave the door open for ongoing conversation. Children understand events differently over time, and their capacity for grasping complicated issues develops as they mature. As they grow and change, we and our children will probably revisit crises such as death, illness, or divorce several times as they grow and change.

  • Be as concrete and specific as possible about events they have witnessed. Have we or our spouse been unusually preoccupied, irritable or even absent recently? "You've probably noticed that Daddy and I were arguing last night," or "You've probably noticed that I've been sad recently," are good ways to begin.

  • Prevent unnecessary guilt by making sure children know that our irritability or preoccupation is because of something going on in our life, not because of them.

  • Encourage relationships with other trusted adults and friends. A favorite aunt, teacher, babysitter or neighbor can be a great source of comfort and support for a child whose parents are temporarily unavailable.

  • Be open with children about the ways we seek, and obtain, assistance for our problems, including going to a therapist. In doing so, we model an important coping strategy -- recognizing the need for help and obtaining it.
|


highlights

Vote Now for the Children's & Teen Choice Book Awards
Voting is open now through May 3 for the Children's and Teen Choice Book Awards — the only national book awards program where the winning author, illustrator, and books of the year are selected by young readers. Encourage your child to vote for his favorites today!

Find Today's Newest & Best Children's Books!
Looking for newly released books for your child? Try our new Book Finder tool to search for new books by age, type, and theme, and create reading lists for kids!

8 Products to Help Your Family Go Plastic-Free
How can you minimize your family's exposure to harmful chemicals and lessen your impact on the environment? Try swapping out some of your everyday plastic products with these non-plastic alternatives.

Registered for Kindergarten — Now What?
Wondering what to do now that you've signed your child up for kindergarten? Try our award-winning Kindergarten Readiness app! This easy-to-use checklist comes with games and activities to help your child build essential skills for kindergarten. Download the Kindergarten Readiness app today!

stay connected

Sign up for our free email newsletters and receive the latest advice and information on all things parenting.

Enter your email address to sign up or manage your account.

Facebook icon Facebook icon Follow Us on Pinterest

editor’s picks