Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Helping Children Cope in Trying Times: How Parents and Schools Can Work Together

By: Rachel Sleeth, M.Ed., Ed.S

In this time of economic recession, many adults are suffering with significant financial worries, poverty, depression, and anxiety. Although we may think we are doing a good job of shielding children from the “adult” problem of the economic crisis, some young people may be very aware of the current state of affairs, both in the world and within their own family. This can be very unsettling. Fears of financial poverty can be transferred to children, resulting in feelings of anxiety, sadness, and vulnerability. Teachers and other school staff can work together with parents by talking with children about the facts of the current economy, how they might be impacted, and what they can do to cope in these trying times.

The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) has compiled a list of ideas that school staff and/or parents can do to help:
  • Identify and closely monitor those children who are most vulnerable (those whose families are in financial crisis, those living in communities that have been seriously impacted, those with mental health needs, etc)
  • Be reassuring that it is likely that you and your child will be OK, even through trying times.
  • Acknowledge and normalize their feelings by listening to them and assuring them they are not alone.
  • As adults, we must take care of our own needs- it’s the only way to help our children. Seek out assistance from supportive and trusted adults and take care of your physical health.
  • Maintain a normal routine to ensure proper sleep, regular meals, and exercise.
  • Spend quality time as a family.
  • Be optimistic and emphasize resilience. Fishfulthinking.com is a great resource for ideas about how to build optimism and resilience in your children.
  • Turn off or monitor the television. Children may have a hard time distinguishing between news reports and their family’s own reality.
  • Prepare your child for any anticipated family changes such as moving or changes in spending patterns. Involve children in decision-making as much as possible.
  • Discuss events in age-appropriate terms and stick to the facts. Don’t speculate about what could happen.
  • Help children explore and express their opinions respectfully.
  • Keep open lines of communication between home and school by establishing positive teacher/parent relationships and alerting one another to any changes in behavior and/or academic performance.
  • Do something positive with your children to help others in need.
  • Know potential child/adolescent stress reactions. While most children will probably be able to cope, some children may have extreme responses to crises. Symptoms will vary depending on personal circumstance and age, but could include bedwetting, separation anxiety, sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, irritability, nightmares, school avoidance, poor concentration, physical complaints, and delinquent behavior.

Rachel Sleeth lives in Williamsburg and works as a school psychologist with Newport News Public Schools.  She earned her M.Ed. and Ed.S. in school psychology from the College of William and Mary.  As a school psychologist, Rachel is active in the assessment of and educational planning for students with disabilities.  She also works with school counselors, teachers, and administrators to encourage academic, behavioral and emotional success in all students.

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