If you are one of the many Americans currently facing a downward turn in your lifestyle, you may be concerned about the impact on your children. Whether the changes are due to the high costs of living, a job or business loss or an unsustainable mortgage, your life and therefore your children’s lives will be changing. Recent research in the field of behavioral economics tells us that losses are twice as painful as gains are pleasurable. Learning how to cope with loss is a major life skill and challenge and your children will be watching to see how you handle it. This is how they will learn to confront losses in their lives since they will be modeling after you if they are 6 or older.
It is important to make room for the initial feelings of loss especially sadness and disappointment. If your child has to give up a summer camp or activity or a home and room that they loved, they can be encouraged to be sad along with you. It is important to move on from this initial response into a period of coping and resilience. This is the most important thing that you can give them, an example of facing and weathering the challenges of life with courage and integrity. How do you show this? By talking in the family about things that we can do together to get through this. Children age 6 and up want to contribute to the family as well and will develop a sense of being a valued member of the family if they are allowed to help. How can they help? The can contribute by being willing to go on a picnic instead of out to eat; by paying attention to reducing the use of heat, AC and power if utility bills are high or by helping with a moving or garage sale. There are many ways they can be included in the changes of the family.
One of the benefits of being allowed to help is to develop a greater sense of control over family problems, instead of feeling helpless. When they are told there is nothing they or anyone can do, they get a message of helplessness. Perhaps the problem is the loss of your home. In that case they can help by packing their things and being willing to make new friends in the new place. This gives the child a place to focus instead of just acting up over the changes and creates the beginning of a feeling of efficacy in the face of stress.