Childhood Stress During Difficult Economic Times
Dear Dr. LeCrone:
During the last year my wife and I have suffered a lot of stress and strain due to the negative economy. She lost her job, my hours were cut and we have neither been able to replace our lost income. Our three children have been negatively affected and are showing signs of stress too. Can you please discus childhood stress?
-A reader in Michigan
Health care professionals are seeing the harmful ripple effect of the economic downturn on children’s health with greater frequency.
Several common reactions are seen when a child is experiencing stress.
A child under stress may change from a mild-mannered, easy-going youngster to one who is oppositional and argumentative. Or, a child who has never been prone to fighting with others may suddenly become aggressive and a perhaps a bully.
A child under stress may also show signs of withdrawal. A youngster who previously displayed a healthy level of interaction with others may passively refuse to participate in routine activities. For example, he may continually rest his head on the desk at school and choose not to participate or complete assignments.
A drop in child’s school performance and/or problematic behavior at school can also signal problems.
Headaches and stomachaches may be signals of psychological distress. Changes in eating or sleeping, or lack of interest in favorite pastimes, may also signal the onset of stress in the child’s life.
Persistence of these problems may indicate the need for professional evaluation and possible psychological intervention.
Don’t hide the fact that the family is experiencing the need to make changes in order to deal with the negative impact of lost income. However, try to talk about the changes in a manner that conveys hope and optimism rather than defeat and futility.
Make family discussions a joint problem-solving effort that emphasizes strategies to deal with the new challenges facing the family. Look for and share with each other stories of how other people and families cope with change and deal with adversity.
Seek spiritual support, wisdom of other family members and friends, and community services.
Many of us remember the stories of how our parents and grandparents gained character and strength during the Great Depression. This heritage in turn has helped many of us during difficult times and can be passed on to our children to help them deal with present-day challenges.
Harold H. LeCrone, Jr., Ph.D. Copyright © 2009