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Children sense and share parents’ stress

November 22, 2009
By CATHY BROWNFIELD, Family Recovery Center

Mary sat at the table rubbing her forehead as she tried to figure out which bills should be paid.

She'd sent the children to bed so they wouldn't see her worrying. There was no such thing as overtime for John. Now there were rumors that the plant was going to shut down permanently. It seemed that many families were going through the same thing. If the business closed its doors, and John lost his job, what would they live on? What if Joe couldn't find another job? What would they do? Already they had too many bills left at the end of their money. And so many home foreclosures were happening around them.

What about the children? Mary was hiding the worst from them. She felt that they should know the reality of their immediate future, but she wasn't sure how much she should tell them. She kept thinking that she and John needed to present a united front; that they should teach the children how to cope when hard times came along. It wasn't fair to keep from them the reality of their situation.

They must have some inkling, though. The family had begun downsizing some time ago when the economic downturn hit, explaining to the children that money was tight but they would be OK. Now, though, she didn't know where to begin to get things under control. She and John should decide together what to tell the children without causing them to worry, or worse, think they were to blame or owned some part of the adult responsibilities of the household. Kids had enough to worry about just coping with the issues of growing up.

The American Psychological Association advices ( if parents are stressed out but not talking to their kids, the kids may search for answers and come up with worse scenarios than the situation that actually exists. It might be better to tell them what they can understand. Essentially, Mom and Dad set the benchmarks their children will use all through their lives. Parents are their children's roadmaps.

"The pressure we place on ourselves can be most significant because there is often a discrepancy between what we think we ought to be doing and what we're actually doing in our lives." ( That applies to children and adults.

There are numerous sources of child stress:

- Separation anxiety

- Academic and social pressures

- Too busy to relax or play creatively

- Extra-curricular activities

- Parents' job worries

- Relative's illness

- World news

- Divorce, illness, death in the family

How do you know if your child is stressed? They might complain of headaches or stomachaches, have trouble concentrating or completing schoolwork. They might become withdrawn or spend too much time alone. There are many possible behaviors that can come up. Communication with your children is important, especially during a family's difficult, most challenging times, but also when times are good. Any time is a good time for quality time.

Some stress is normal. It's OK to feel the feelings, the emotions one has, and to share them with trusted others.

When kids were surveyed, they said they "were stressed out the most by grades, school and homework (36 percent); family (32 percent), and friends, peers, gossip and teasing (21 percent).

Their coping strategies included playing or doing something active, listening to music, watching TV or playing video games, talk to a friend, try not to think about it, try to work things out, eat something, lose their temper, or talk to a parent. About 25 percent said, when they are stressed, they inflict pain on themselves. (

These are stressful times for many families. Stress can be managed. But if you can't cope on your own, there is help available. Contact us at Family Recovery Center for more information about our education, prevention and treatment programs at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468; or email, The agency promotes the well being of individuals, families and communities.



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