The economic crisis is affecting the pocket book of many a family and as such, I’m starting to get questions as to how people can best cope. Here then are a few tips on parenting in difficult times.
1. Admit to your position. Children over three can deal with some explanation as to your changing financial circumstances but keep it simple and age appropriate. Be careful not to scare them. They can understand the fact that finances are tight but they still need to know that you can take care of them.
2. Be engaged. It’s easy when you’re under stress to disengage from your family because you’re constantly worried. From your child’s point of view, this is like pressing an elevator button for an elevator that never arrives. The elevator is you. By not being engaged you will cause your child to feel uncomfortable and ramp up their behavior to get your attention by banging on your buttons. When I say ‘be engaged’, I don’t mean that you make your child the focus of your constant attention. What you want your child to feel is included and safe, not idolized.
3. Get enough sleep. It’s hard to get enough sleep with children at the best of times but it’s also critical in terms of your ability to cope. You are more likely to stave off behavior problems and deal with the stress, if you are rested. If you are married, take turns to give each other extra rest. If you aren’t and you’re at home with the kids, try swapping play dates with people who have children the same age as yours and have a nap on the days when they aren’t with you. Ask your neighbors for help. We are going to need them a lot more in the future, so start getting to know them now.
4. For most of us, holidays are a stressful time and they’re even more difficult when you feel you can’t give your children what others have. In order to help reduce your child’s expectations, you have to get them thinking about other things. During Christmas, place emphasis on being together and having traditions that you can do from year to year, that don’t cost much money. Decorating a tree, making a snowman together if the weather co-operates or having a winter picnic with a roaring fire. Consider IOU’s for fun family activities as presents.
5. Start getting your children to help. As we enter tough times, it’s even more important that members of your family learn to pitch in. At two years and up, children can start helping out. It’s a great way for them to earn your positive attention and in the long run, it will make things a lot easier for you. Start small with little simple tasks like sweeping the floor. Initially, your children won’t be much help but getting them involved is more about teaching how a family helps each other, than about the task itself.
6. Eat together. I can’t tell you how important this is and I’ve no doubt you’ve heard that old favorite, ‘a family that eats together, stays together’. Turn off the TV and ask lots of questions. Really listen to the responses. Everybody should get a turn to talk and eating meals together will do a lot for the strength of your family unit.
7. Christmas will be over soon but the realities will remain. You may be in a situation where many of the sports you relied on to keep your children occupied are no longer available to them. How can you help them deal with that reality? If your budget has previously allowed tons of sports and activities but now you can’t afford as much, ask them to scale it down to one. Let them choose that one and explain that they can swap to another activity after that particular course/club season is finished. Make sure you explain any additional parameters before they choose. If you can’t afford to get them there, don’t put that sport on the table, unless your child can share the ride with a friend.
8. Consider how your family works and prepare. What is your level of emotional preparedness? Do you have a back-up plan for how you will find a job if you lose yours. Do you have any money/other assets set aside at all? Have you made any other preparations? Don’t stick all of these issues under the rug. Discuss them with any other adults in the house. Note that I said adults and remember little pots have big ears, so discuss these issues away from the children.
9. Keep your child’s routine going strong and if you don’t have a routine yet for your children, start one. Children need two physical activity periods a day to get rid of all that excess energy. They also need a predictable schedule and a calming bedtime routine. Start your bedtime routine with plenty of time. Include stories, teeth brush and bath or calming wash.
10. Examine your parenting approach. Do you try and negotiate with your two year old? If you do, consider that even learning how to phrase things to a two year old can make your life very much easier. Instead of saying ‘Do you want to go to the park” say instead, “Let’s go to the park”. So why is the latter better? Well, because there is no choice offered. Learning to choose is an important skill but asking children to make a choice they are not equipped to handle, makes them confused and unhappy. Do I like the park? Did I like it last time? You are the parent, yet it seems odd to them that you do not know what you want to do. It’s fine to teach children how to choose but keep it simple. With a two year old, offer two pieces of fruit and ask them which one they want to eat first? They can change their mind sixty-six times if they please, coming to terms with the concept of choice but without the inherent loss of either option.