Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Family Anxiety and the Economy

Current research points to the important fact that finances are a huge source of family stress. Dr. Malcom Smith, Family Life Specialist with the University of New Hampshire Extension Service says, “If the stress resulting from financial worries and struggles isn’t carefully handled, it can result in serious emotional turmoil in the family. This is a good time to have a good sit-down family meeting about the economy.”

If you have children, they have probably picked up on cues from you, the media, friends or other family members that there’s a lot of worry about the economy. Real fears about mortgages, bank failures, retirement-savings depletion, company layoffs and closings, raises and benefits being over-turned have us all worrying. Children are sensitive to their parents’ worries.

Here are some tips for talking to your family about the tough economy:

• Open up lines of communication. This is not the time to just hold a “stiff upper lip” and keep everything bottled up inside. The more information you share with your children, the better they will be able to be resilient to economic stress.

• Be straight but age-appropriate. Children are very sensitive to offhand comments, like “there goes our savings” or “I don’t know how we’re going to make it.” Instead, have a realistic discussion with each member of the family that’s geared towards their particular age and situation. What a young child needs to know is that you have a plan, that they are going to be cared for and that although things are different, they are going to be OK. Let teenagers know how they can help.

• Be sensitive to signs of distress. When family members aren’t sleeping or eating properly, when your children are having nightmares or look worried, it may be time for some old-fashioned family time. Turn off the TV and share some time doing inexpensive, fun things.

• Be deliberate, make a plan, and share it with everyone. Careful planning is the best way to beat tough economic times. Try to be proactive about what might lie ahead for you. Share the plan with your family and look for opportunities for them to contribute to the plan.

• This is a great time to instill good financial values in your children. Talk to them about saving, about how to pitch in. Teach them about how finances work, so they will feel both included and in control.

• Be optimistic for your family’s sake. Don’t create more stress on your family. Once you have a plan, spread the hope. The lesson of the Great Depression is that we did recover because of the resilience and ingenuity of the American family.

• Get help if you need it. Monitor your own stress levels. Marital problems, depression and emotional turmoil are often side effects of economic stress. If your employer has an employee assistance program, this may be a good time to use it.

One thing historical research tells us is that hard times pass. However, your personal recovery program will depend at least in part on the strength and resilience of your most important asset, your family!

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