Parenting is a tough job. Challenges and sacrifices abound for parents who devote their best efforts from the moment they lift their heads in the morning until they lay down exhausted at the end of the day.
And then it got tougher. Today, more than 800,000 government workers are feeling an emotional and financial pinch. Around 420,000 federal employees are working without pay, and 380,000 have been furloughed. Countless contractors, nannies, restaurants and other ancillary nongovernment workers are impacted as well. The losses for many are profound and life changing.
Children have no political affiliation and no say in adult matters, but the potential distress to them is significant as well. How parents respond to the crisis of today can positively influence the ability of their children to cope with future uncertain times.
Following are eleven points for parents to consider during and following the conclusion of the federal government shutdown:
1. Set aside time to talk with your children about what is happening.
Sometimes parents don’t want to talk with their children about ‘adult matters,’ preferring to shield them from unnecessary worry. Keep in mind that children are typically aware that something bad has occurred in the household. They observe changes in spending habits, hushed conversation between parents, worried expressions, and increased tension. If they don’t have accurate information, their imagination may go wild with much worse conclusions.
2. Select a time to talk when you have their attention.
Don’t compete with electronic devises, or when they are wrestling one another. Avoid initiating conversations before bedtime. Children are tired, may not process the information well, and experience sleep disturbances.
3. Speak to the child’s developmental level.
Think ahead of time what the children need to know, and explain it in age suitable terms. Children under the age of five have limited attention spans, which will inhibit their ability to think of anything beyond how it affects them. Around the age of eight or nine, children are less egocentric and are aware of parental concerns.
4. Start with their concerns.
Ask them what they have heard about the government shutdown, and their thoughts about it. After all, they overhear parents talking about their concerns, hear the news, and talk with friends at school.
5. Listen well.
Listen for the children’s unspoken concerns. Reassure them that some problems are adult problems, and that as parents you are invested in getting beyond this current situation and taking care of the family. Observe body language for signs of issues that need to be addressed.
6. Don’t be afraid of not having the answers.
It is better to say “I don’t know” rather than to give a dishonest response for the purpose of reducing a child’s concern. During uncertain times, it is important that children know they can trust their parents to be truthful with them.
7. Curb the repetitive watching of news coverage on television.
A little news awareness of the government shutdown can be helpful, but too much can create toxic feelings of feeling overwhelmed and powerlessness. An alternative to television can be playing music, or creating new traditions such as getting outside more frequently for evening walks, or setting up game night.
8. Maintain previously established routines.
Predictable schedules provide a sense of structure and stability. This includes bathing, reading, homework, chores and bedtime.
9. Normalize the full range of feelings.
During discussions about the shutdown, parents can label their own feelings, modeling the normalcy of having positive as well as negative feelings. Children can be gently encouraged to identify how they are feeling, teaching them that all feelings are valid.
10. Identify past obstacles that were successfully overcome.
Help children learn to look for situations in their lives on television, in bedtime stories, in the school classroom and in current events, in which they or others have successfully faced challenges. This can remind children that even though the path they are going down isn’t easy, the future can be better than what they are experiencing today.
11. Incorporate spiritual support.
Spirituality can provide children a buffer between the problems of today and the challenging days ahead. Spirituality is especially helpful for people when struggling to deal with something they don’t understand. Some family traditions may include attending formal religious places of worship. Others may find spirituality by going for a walk in nature. Other families meditate together.
The impact of the federal government shutdown is severe and far-reaching for families. Parents have no control over this. However, out of difficult times, parents can find the unintended gift in this adversity. Parents have the opportunity to help their children learn tools that will enable them to become more resilient and able to cope with life’s challenges throughout their lives.