FINANCIAL STRIFE … grief and loss … mental or physical health challenges … All families face difficulties over the years, and everything one family member goes through affects the rest of the family, too. Our first instinct as parents, grandparents, and caregivers might be to shield the children from our struggles as much as we can – but that’s not always possible, and neither is it always helpful.
Here are a few tips for helping support kids through difficult times. We hope they’ll be helpful for your family the next time you’re facing challenges.
GIVE ’EM THE FACTS
“Children need to be given information they can understand in ‘bite-sized’ pieces: Tell them what has happened; Explain what will happen next; Leave them with thoughts and feelings of hope that even though they are upset now, there will be better times.” – www.cancer.org.nz
Kids are more switched on than we give them credit for. When we pretend that something’s not happening – whether it’s illness, addiction, or anything else – children will notice the tension, but they’re left guessing as to the reason for it … and what they come up with may be more harmful than helpful! Give your kids age-appropriate information and keep up the conversation over time so that you can address new questions and concerns as they come up.
DE-‘FAULT’ THE SITUATION
“Don’t let your children blame themselves … This is quite a common problem, and it’s important to reassure your child, regardless of their age, that they are not the cause of the situation and that sometimes things change … but you love them no matter what.” – Sue Atkins, parenting coach
Children can easily leap to the mistaken conclusion that they’re somehow at fault for whatever their family’s going through: divorce, a parent’s depression, the household having trouble making ends meet … We need to be clear that they’re NOT to blame for what’s happening and they’re NOT responsible for fixing things.
OFFER COMFORT AND PERSPECTIVE
“Children might notice differences between what their parents can afford compared to their peers’ parents; for example, if their friends are always getting new toys. It’s important to acknowledge and not try to diminish their emotional reaction. However, you can then try to provide them with a wider context and a framework for comparison.
“Together, look up how your child’s lifestyle, education and resources differ from that of a child in a developing country and use this to discuss what they are thankful for. There’s a lot of work around gratitude and acceptance and its positive impact on mental health. This is how children learn that there is always somebody in a better situation and a worse position.” – child psychologist Dr Elizabeth Kilbey, from natwest.mymoneysense.com
Invite your kids to share their fears, frustrations, and other emotions about the difficulty you’re all facing, and listen without judgment. You don’t want to leap straight into a comparison game, but looking at the joys and blessings you do enjoy is a good way to offer valuable perspective. Families struggling with money might yet enjoy good health or strong connections; those dealing with illness or disability might feel grateful for the medical help and resources available to support them.
An attitude of gratitude helps people stay buoyant through the storms of life.
ENCOURAGE AND EMPOWER
“Your child is more likely to feel positive if he or she can see that difficult times are a part of life, that they’ll pass, and that things will get better. You might be able to help your child with this by talking about how you, people you know, or even famous people have gone through difficult times.
“Encourage a ‘have a go’ attitude by listening and validating children’s concerns while encouraging problem-solving and help-seeking when necessary.
“Encourage children to connect to community through simple things like participating in community events, working bees, etc.” – from ‘Building Resilience in Children’ by beyondblue.org.au
It’s easy for anyone – old or young – to struggle with losing a sense of control when times are tough, and this can lead to anxiety and/or a sense of hopelessness. Encouraging kids to try new things, to find ways of making a small difference in the lives of themselves or others, or to set small but achievable goals can be tremendously empowering and can help them build resilience through the struggle instead of feeling diminished or defeated by it.
Struggle is inevitable. And sometimes, it feels insurmountable. But no matter how ill-equipped and overwhelmed you feel, you possess something valuable: the ability to support and nurture your family through difficult times. And you don’t have to do it alone. So reach out, and reach inwards, and find the strength you need to help your kids navigate tough times.
“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” – Helen Keller