According to the American Psychological Association’s Annual Stress in America survey, 75 percent of adults are feeling moderate to high stress – and children and teens are also feeling the effects of stress, with worries that include the family’s finances.
The survey asked more than 1,500 adults over the age of 18 about their stress levels – and, for the first time, the survey included children, asking more than 1,200 young people ages 8 to 17 about stress in their lives.
In another survey conducted earlier this year by Harris Interactive, 30 percent of kids said they worried about family financial difficulties.
“Parents may try to conceal it to protect their children, but kids sense their parents’ stress,” says Malcolm Gauld, who is president of Hyde Schools and, along with wife Laura, co-author of the parenting book, ‘The Biggest Job We’ll Ever Have’ (Scribner).
“This time of year may bring it out even more,” adds Laura Gauld. “Kids are worrying about the importance of holiday gifts as well as the effect of a challenging economy on their families.”
First, the Gaulds offer advice on parenting during what is both a beautiful and perhaps pressured time of year.
“Try not to hide your challenges and concerns from your kids,” says Laura.
“This may be difficult, and go against the grain of most parents’ idea of strength and a stiff upper lip. But you’re really not hiding anything from your kids. They will know you are struggling, and are likely to worry more if you are not communicating about life’s circumstances.”
“The fact is, as adults we don’t have all of the answers,” says Malcolm.
“And many of us are focused so completely on filling our kids’ needs that we don’t realize when we veer from a healthy attitude toward ourselves, our family and the bigger picture of life. When parents stop focusing solely on their kids and start focusing on their own attitudes, a shift may occur and opportunities for growth present themselves, including a loss of fear. Rather than living in the stress, some communication about our struggles can give families a fresh start at sharing and making meaning – about their values, their plans, their journey, and their future.”
In the end, say the Gaulds, what children need from their parents is inspiration.
And that is not to be found in achievements, material success or the image of perfection.
“Admitting to our limitations as parents allows us to liberate ourselves…and our children…from a societal pressure of perfection and achievement,” adds Laura. “We free ourselves up and, in the process, inspire our children through example. We will not inspire our children with our achievements. We best inspire them when we share our struggles and reach for our best.”
Also, the Gaulds offer tips to help parents and their kids get the most out of their time together during, what is for many families, a time of celebration as well as cutting costs.
1. Use this holiday season to build or renew family traditions. The big picture of raising children is done with the actions, routines, and practices that make up a lifetime of memories, habits, and character. It is never too late to start a family tradition, and often the value of these actions will be seen looking back on one’s upbringing.
2. Have a weekly family meeting. Pick one evening each week when everyone gets together and openly shares what is on their mind – good news, concerns, fears, future plans. All members of the family share.
3. Return to having dinner together. The value of a shared daily meal with family has been proven in studies to combat depression, teen pregnancy, and drug use in high school students. So light the candles and engage in lively conversation. If a shared meal seems an impossible task, remember that an improvement in parenting requires a commitment to priorities – and those priorities need to be made clear.
4. Family Jobs: Make sure that every family member has a job in the home, a contribution to the house and family. There are ways to make this fun and to help children take enormous pride in their work.
5. Community service: During a family meeting, parents and their children talk about the various community service opportunities during the holidays from which they can choose. Everyone gets a vote, and once the decision is made about where the family will do service, everyone participates in helping someone else enjoy the holidays.
“Often the value of actions such as these is realized looking back at one’s upbringing,” Malcolm adds. “As parents we have the opportunity to sow these actions, and what we’ll find is they will strengthen a culture in our homes that supports our best and also creates important memories – memories that will not be dependent on any economic circumstances.”