When bills start piling up at the start of the school year, stress levels also rise. There may be anger, or feelings of deprivation as favorite extracurricular activities are cut. But there are ways for the family to adjust and grow stronger.
“We can teach our children what is really important in life,”says Patricia Young, a licensed mental health counselor in Lakeland. “I do not believe it is healthy for our children to know all of the financial issues that are adult concerns. This can tend to add more stress” to an already stressful school year.
It’s important for the parents to model appropriate behavior. “I find that students, particularly young age students, are fairly resilient as long as their families can deal with their stressors,”adds Madonna Wise, a district-wide specialist for guidance services with Polk County’s elementary schools.
Despite the added financial pressures, parents should remain optimistic and positive. “We need to exhibit honesty, a willingness to ask for help from others, strengthening of our spiritual resources, exercising, and doing something enjoyable with our families every day,” Young explains.
Guard against comparing your family with others. “This is a vital time to talk about your family values and how they may differ from your child’s friends and classmates,” she says.
It’s also a good time to discuss the importance of avoiding busyness.“You will be demonstrating the importance of the family bonding, teaching your children to be resourceful by finding ways to earn extra money, encouraging better communication skills, and teaching the valuable economic lesson of needs and wants,” Young says.
Start family rituals, such as walks or Sunday night dinner together, instead of expensive activities.
If parents have to limit their children’s after-school programs for budgetary reasons, choose one that the child really wants rather than half a dozen. A child may become more skilled by having one sport or musical instrument to focus on.
Share money-management strategies so your children become savvy savers and spenders,says Janet C. Benavente, extension agent, family and consumer science, Colorado State University Extension, Brighton, Colo.
Cook together, find coupons for a supermarket trip or plan a museum visit during a no-fee day. This is an opportunity to appreciate the valuable characteristics you and your children can develop. “You’re learning about your children, your family and yourself,” saysSamuel T. Gladding, PhD, professor of counseling, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, N.C.“Personal fortitude, resolve are important lessons that have lifetime value that you don’t necessarily get when the economy is thriving.”
Parents should get help if they feel emotionally battered by family finances this school year, Benavente says. Otherwise children may suffer.
“How well we tell children what we can or can’t afford goes back to our emotional state,” adds Benavente. Parents will want children to know that “not everything is horrible, horrible,” she continues.
They can often find the support needed through other families. “Get involved in groups that offer support for special needs or interests. If you have a child with a special need, get together with others in the same situation,” Benavente says.
The YMCA is one group that offers reduced rates for those financially in need.“Our motto is no one is turned away for their inability to pay,”says Theresa Sessions, executive director of the Lakeland and Winter Haven YMCAs. “There might be times our scale has to be adjusted.”
School social workers and counselors provide assistance to families as well, including referrals to counseling agencies, Wise adds. “Many of our schools have a Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and have family experiences, such as spaghetti dinners. They can be real positive for those who are feeling economic stressors,” Wise says, “School functions for everyone can replace other events.” Wise also recommends that families should check to see if there are free after hours programs at their school.
story by Cheryl Rogers and Bev Bennett