Is there anyone old enough to read newspapers or comprehend news reports who doesn’t know that we are experiencing a painful recession/depression? I doubt it; and what’s more, there are few families who are not in some way affected by the current financial downturn.      

The American Psychological Association reported these interesting results of a 2008 Stress survey: Fifty percent of Americans are experiencing a significant increase in stress; and 8 out of 10 identified financial stress as a serious concern. One third find it difficult to balance work and family life in their unsettled state. Not surprisingly, if the breadwinner in a particular family is jobless with few prospects, a heavy burden of worry is likely to interfere with the ordinary patience required for calm childrearing. An unfortunate consequence of this is that young children are likely to misinterpret any volatile moods from their parents as anger or disappointment directed at the children themselves. The result may be significant changes in the children’s behavior and mood, which of course, affects early childhood educators and their classrooms.      

It’s very difficult for a teacher to figure out what they can possibly do to keep children feeling safe in such uncertain times. An important first step is for teachers to be alert to behavioral and mood changes in young students; also, they must look at their own lives, consider their own states of mind, and any changes in their behavior, mood, or level of patience.  If a child is experiencing instability at home, financial or otherwise, teachers can offer some extra support, nurturing, and calm.  Teachers who know that certain parents are in the regrettable situation of being impacted by this worrisome financial storm are encouraged to offer families extra help. Invitations to meet with career counselors and other behavioral advisors individually or as featured speakers at a parent meeting can be quite helpful.  Sharing concerns might lessen the stress, provide useful leads for families, allow greater optimism, and some relief from worry, freeing parents to focus on their children’s concerns.      

So, you may help children and their families to deal with the stress of troubling financial news in at least two ways: by answering any and all children’s questions directly, and simply enough to make sense to young minds. Keep any discussion with children calming, concrete and specific.  And if you know that a family has been negatively affected by the financial downturn, respect their privacy but offer support.

Teachers need to be alert, but not intrusive. They can be watchful for behavioral changes among certain children, changes that might suggest that there is such tension at home.  If a formerly calm child has become anxious, restless, easily offended, even combative or shows changes in toilet habits, or appetite, has difficulty relaxing at rest times, problems getting along with others, or mood fluctuations, these may be indirect indicators of family financial worry. Provide whatever extra attention and support that you can. Your empathy can go a long way toward easing the strain for children and families.