Anxiety is at an all-time high right now and it’s not just adults who are suffering. Kids big and small have a knack for knowing when something is wrong, even when it’s something they don’t fully understand, like money. Hear from psychologist Dr. Kristin Davin on how to help your kids stop worrying about those money problems when they don’t need to.
-The Worthy Staff
Struggling with financial problems in families is very common. People struggle to pay bills, put food on the table, and provide for their family which puts added stress and pressure on the relationship. So it should come as no surprise that financial issues are a leading cause of divorce. When people divorce, the money they had is now cut in half but their expenses double. How they will learn to live on the money, adjust their lifestyle, and manage their stress now becomes that much more complicated. An even more stressful situation is where the couple who is divorcing have children because the effects of financial stress on children can, and often do, have lasting and negative consequences if not managed properly.
But, before one can learn how to manage their financial stress, we have to understand our relationship with money because that is where our decisions, thoughts, and feelings, emanate from. To begin, we all have a relationship with money which begins with our first family – the parents or caregivers who raised us and taught us how to manage our money (or not) and the value of money. Our values around the concept of money consider not only how we were raised, but if you had money or not, if your family was able to pay the bills, how they view debt, what to do with your disposable income (if there was any), to how you budget and the financial choices.
In a Stress in America survey, conducted by the American Psychological Association, in which children were asked about their stress levels, one third of the 1,206 children ages 8 to 17 said they were more stressed now than a year ago. Topping that out, thirty percent of children said they worried about their family’s financial problems, but only 18 percent of the parents thought this was a source of stress for the child. Although the children’s stress wasn’t specific to divorce, it does magnify the extent to which children are stressed and worried about money problems.
And just because your child isn’t saying anything, don’t think you are off the hook because silence doesn’t mean that they are not feeling stress and anxiety. Kids are perceptive. And even when they appear to be busy, distracted, and quiet, they are often still listening. A child still will hold their ear up to the door, eavesdrop on conversations, and listen at the top of the stairs for any piece of information, even with a parent’s best intentions for a private conversation. And because they do not have all the information or the ability to put what they are hearing in context, they worry. They pick up on their parent’s stress and often internalize (stomach aches, headaches, backaches) or externalize (acting out, doing poorly in school) their stress because they don’t know how to express their feelings.
If a child doesn’t know what’s going on, they’re likely to assume a worst-case scenario or make a problem bigger than it is. This is because they do not have all the information or the ability to put what they are hearing in context.
Realize that children who tend to internalize problems rather than act out are more at risk of becoming depressed and anxious because of stress. So spending time with them helps them feel safe and encourages them to open up about their feelings. These are the moments that both parents and children can continue to bond and decrease their worry because they have a safe place to share how they feel. This also provides a window into how your child is coping – or not.
So, as a parent, if you find yourself struggling financially and want to make sure your money problems are not stressing your children, there are strategies to help you do just that.
What is your relationship with money and how is it stressing you out? We all have one. Figuring out what that is and what that means is key and an integral first step to making concrete, strategic and lasting financial changes. Do you need to make changes with your finances? Our relationship with money starts with our first family because that is where our decisions, thoughts and feelings, emanate from. Learning how to be honest with yourself first (the good, the bad, and the ugly) helps you feel more comfortable sharing some information with your children, allowing for appropriate and open communication.
For example, sharing with them that right now money is tight but you are working on getting things back on track often eases their mind. It provides more information so they don’t have to guess and decrease their anxiety. This is a skill that focuses on the strengths of the family and helps manage the ups and downs of divorce together in healthy ways as lifestyles change.
There is simply no better way to get on track by creating a budget and sticking to it. This helps with accountability to yourself. It also provides tangible information in real-time as to where your money is going. This is important because life has a way of feeling like we are being ‘nickeled and dimed.’ Getting on top of our finances and our money helps us both in the short and long term. And if needed, take the time to consult with a financial advisor. In addition, there are many inexpensive and free resources to help you manage your money and set a realistic budget so you can get back on track should that be required.
Family and friends play pivotal roles and can help you see the ‘trees beyond the forest.’ They help you manage your emotions but most importantly they provide your own space to simply vent and talk about your feelings and your fears. Look into community resources as well.
Set healthy boundaries around money when it comes to purchasing items and share with your children that there will be limitations to what you can purchase. Start thinking about what you can cut out and do without. Ask yourself, is this a need or a want? There is a big difference. Choose wisely. And remember, making solid financial goals for yourself will help your children for their future. That is key.
If your child comes to you and is anxious about the financial situation, listen to them and validate their feelings. Let them know you are there for them. You don’t have to give them more information, but just be emotionally available. Reassurance not necessarily more information goes a long way. Children engage in social referencing as they move through the stages of development. They look to their parents to help them figure out how to feel and interpret situations. So, if you look and act stressed all the time, so will they. They will pick up on your body language and the cues because they are seeking information.
The take-home message? By understanding your relationship with money, taking strategic steps to manage your stress and address your feelings about money, and providing a safe platform for your children to talk about how they feel, will put you and your family on a path of a healthy and secure financial future together.
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