It isn’t just kids who struggle during tough times. Here are some coping techniques that will work for the whole family:
- Remember those less fortunate
When times are rough or you’re without work, it can be one of the best times to consider volunteering for a cause in your community. The benefits of this are multifold. Not only will it help you and your family feel better by helping others, but it can provide perspective on the situation (we’re not the only ones who struggle) that will help ease the burden of the situation. By helping others, it also gives your children reassurance in the idea that others are there to help them in their time of need. Moreover, it can be a great way to develop contacts which could lead to work or other opportunities down the road.
- Find ways to be proactive
Take power over what you can control. “You can’t control the size of your paycheck or the security of your job,” says Phyllis Anastasio, Ph.D., a psychologist at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. “But you can take charge of your finances by cutting coupons or renting a movie instead of going to the movie theater.” (Graves, 2010) Look for everyday ways to have fun that don’t cost any money.
- Keep moving forward, especially when you find yourself stuck in a rut
Don’t stand idly by, something that’s all too easy to do because stress has a way of paralyzing us. Use this time to take up a hobby or learn a new skill. Go to the library and read up on a subject that interests you, whether it’s computer coding or learning how to work on cars. Learn a new language. Find areas where you can become self-sufficient. Not only will these things help you in the future (maybe even helping you land a job) but they’ll also help you keep your sanity. You can never go wrong by bettering yourself. Don’t wait for an invitation from the outside world – get started on your own.
- Getting past the blame
When money problems emerge, blame is one of the first things to follow. Not only do people blame themselves, but parents often get caught up in a game of blaming each other. This is counterproductive and only adds to the family’s stress.
So don’t go beating yourself up (or your partner). “The basics of personal finance are not widely taught,” points out financial specialist Manish Thakor. “Millions of people made the mistake of biting off more than they could chew.” (Simons & Nelson, 2011) During the recent financial crisis, even financial institutions themselves were caught with their pants down so to speak, stuck in an insolvent position. (Though unlike you, they had the government there to bail them out.) It just goes to show that even institutions packed to the brim with accountants and financial experts can still run into problems.
The key is to learn from your mistakes and engage in wiser and smarter behavior from this point forward. Saddling yourself (or your partner) with guilt doesn’t help things. Productive change requires positive attitudes, not backwards-leaning blame.
Also understand that blame emerges whenever people feel insecure, and has more to do with them than you. So if some blame does get thrown around, try not to take it too personally. Here’s the formula for blame:
- I’m unhappy and/or insecure.
- I don’t want to feel this way, so it must be someone else’s fault. Who can I blame?
Recognize this dynamic at work between you. Understand that the urge to blame is a result of insecurity, and there doesn’t need to be anyone to blame. Neither of you set out to wreck the family’s finances, so focus your energy on fixing things.
- Schedule your worries
If you find you are spending too much time discussing finances or arguing over money problems, try scheduling a 20 minute period each day to discuss these issues then leave it alone the rest of the time. If you think of something you want to discuss, write it down and talk it over the next day. It’s very easy to ruminate too much. This technique can help you keep your sanity.
- Take some “me” time
Stress tends to disrupt our normal routines, which can make our anxiety even worse. So try to make time for your normal habits. Get exercise and eat well, two things that can have a big impact on mental health. Take a brisk walk at the end of the day to unwind, or try meditating.
- Maintain family rituals (or create all new ones)
Do your best to maintain family rituals. These are often a source of comfort for children during difficult times, and kids may be extra sensitive to any changes that occur in this area. If you are forced to abandon some for financial reasons, try to create new free or low-cost ones in their place.
If you haven’t ever really had family rituals, now can be a perfect time to start. Here are some simple, low- or no-cost rituals that will add comfort and enjoyment to your children’s life:
A) PB & J in the park: Make a lunch of sandwiches and take a walk to the park for a picnic and some play.
B) Prediction letters: Once a week sit down as a family and write “prediction letters” about where each of you think you will be in the future. It could be next week or 20 years from now–each of you gets to decide. It’s a positive, forward-leaning exercise that will help keep spirits up.
C) Family camp out night: Pick one night a week to make a campfire and have dinner by the firelight, then sleep outside (if you’d like). Hot dogs can be skewered over a stick and cooked over the fire for a cheap meal. You can take a walk with the kids to hunt for firewood earlier in the day. You will often find discarded or dead wood along roadways or trails. (Have each child carry their own bag for smaller sticks, you can lug the heavier stuff.)