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Archive for May, 2009

Caring for Children’s Emotional Needs

I love it when children get excited! In the midst of the seriousness of our world today, their joy is a breath of fresh air. It was my privilege to visit some of our schools recently to congratulate teachers who were this year’s recipients of grants awarded by the Humble ISD Education Foundation to fund projects they want to bring to our students. It was fun to watch the children’s excitement and hear their cheers as we surprised their teachers.

Those smiling young faces lingered in my mind as I thought about how children are being impacted by today’s life challenges. While they probably don’t care much about 401Ks or economic forecasts, they do look into the faces of their parents and overhear conversations about fears and losses. We assume our children live carefree lives but that’s not always the case, especially in these challenging days. If you’re a parent with money worries, life can be pretty tough. You might need time to earn extra money, work on your finances or just unwind from a draining, demanding day. But your kids still need your attention, and they may have worries of their own. How can you parent well when times are tough?

A special day has been set during May for National Children’s Mental Health Awareness. A reminder of the importance of giving attention to the emotional needs of our children. Consider these steps offered by Mental Health America to help you and your children during these tough economic times.

(1) Limit kids’ exposure to worries. Try not to talk about your own fears when the kids are listening, and consider turning off the TV news. You may think your 5-year-old tunes out adult topics, but he may hear just enough to spark his active imagination.

(2) Share honestly but appropriately. Secrets can be scary. You certainly don’t want to overwhelm your child with information, but it’s probably best to share some of your family’s financial situation. Take a reassuring approach by pointing out areas you know are stable, such as staying in the same school despite any other changes.

(3) Economize in a way that’s clear and fair. If you need to scale back on your children’s after-school activities, letting them pick from a few options may decrease their disappointment. You might also consider less-expensive options at local community centers and libraries, too. And don’t forget to show kids that you’re cutting back on some of your own “extras” as well.

(4) Keep predictability high. Kids like routine. Make sure your child’s activities include exercise to burn off energy, soothing nighttime activities and, above all, some special time with you. Children crave attention, and if they’re not getting it in positive ways they may get it by acting out.

(5) Let kids contribute. Even little kids can help around the house. They also can donate old clothes or toys to a local shelter. Helping out builds self-esteem and a child’s sense of effectiveness in the world.

(6) Take a breather. Let’s face it: raising kids can be a ton of work. If you feel your stress is affecting your ability to be kind and gentle, go off somewhere to regain your composure. Don’t let your kids feel it’s their fault you’re having a bad moment.

(7) Set aside “me” time. You’re probably working hard both at work and at home. If you don’t refuel somehow, you’re going to run out of steam. Get enough rest, squeeze in a little fun, and maybe take just 10 minutes to connect with friends.

(8) Get professional help if you need it. If you’re having trouble parenting or dealing with any of your other day-to-day responsibilities, a mental health professional can help you learn new coping skills. If your child is showing signs of stress like trouble sleeping, headaches, or acting sullen or angry, you also can talk with a school counselor.

God has charged us with the responsibility of caring for our children, so let’s do our best to help them grow up to be emotionally healthy adults. If you want more information on how to care for a child’s mental health needs, contact Mental Health America or one of our local mental health professionals.

Managing Stress in Tough Economic Times

Life can certainly be challenging at times. True? Multiple stressors abound in our personal and professional lives, creating various levels of stress as we determine how to cope. Money and work are two of the top sources of stress for almost 75 percent of Americans, according to the American Psychological Association’s 2007 Stress in America Survey. In these tough economic times, with increased unemployment, rising consumer debt, and declining retail sales, more and more Americans feel additional stress and anxiety about their financial future. Our area of the country may not be struggling as much as others, yet many of us are feeling the increased stress as we watch and pray for economic recovery.

While I don’t want to sound like I’m preaching doom and gloom, I do want to encourage you to consider how you are managing financial concerns because this type of stress affects our health significantly. The APA conducted their survey in 2007 and followed up in 2008 to study the effects of stress on our health in tough economic times and the coping behaviors we turn to.

The survey found that in June 2008, more people reported physical and emotional symptoms due to stress than they did in 2007, and nearly half (47 percent) of adults reported that their stress increased in the past year. More people reported fatigue (53 percent compared to 51 percent in 2007), feelings of irritability or anger (60 percent compared to 50 percent in 2007) and lying awake at night (52 percent compared to 48 percent in 2007) as a result of stress, in addition to other symptoms including lack of interest or motivation, feeling depressed or sad, headaches and muscular tension. Women were more likely than men to report physical symptoms of stress like fatigue (57 percent compared to 49 percent), irritability (65 percent compared to 55 percent), headaches (56 percent compared to 36 percent) and feeling depressed or sad (56 percent compared to 39 percent).

The report stated that almost half of Americans surveyed reported overeating or eating unhealthy foods to manage stress, while one in four skipped a meal during the prior month because of stress. Women were more likely than men to report unhealthy behaviors to manage stress like eating poorly (56 versus 40 percent), shopping (25 versus 11 percent), or napping (43 versus 32 percent). Almost one-fifth of Americans reported drinking alcohol to manage their stress, and 16 percent reported smoking.

“With the deteriorating economy dominating the headlines, it’s easy to worry more about your finances than your health, but stress over money and the economy is taking an emotional and physical toll on America,” says psychologist Katherine Nordal, PhD, APA’s executive director for professional practice. “Many say they are handling their stress well. Yet, people report more physical and emotional symptoms. If Americans continue to experience these high levels of stress for prolonged periods of time, they are at risk for developing serious illnesses.”

OK. We’ve heard the warnings, so what can we do to effectively manage this stress? The APA offers some tips to consider (www.apahelpcenter.org):

1. Pause and don’t panic. Pay attention to the economy but avoid getting caught up in anxiety that can lead to bad decision-making. Remain calm. Breathe. Focus. Then make careful choices.

2. Identify your financial stressors and make a plan. Write down ways you and your family can manage your finances. Then commit to the plan, review it regularly and adjust as necessary.

3. Recognize how you deal with stress regarding money. Take an honest personal assessment of your coping behaviors. If you find cause for concern, seek help before the problem worsens.

4. Turn these challenging times into opportunities for growth and change as you think outside the box and try new ways of managing your life.

5. Seek professional support if needed.

It’s a challenging time and a temporary time; so we must do all we can to take care of ourselves as we press through it, trusting God to guide our steps, provide for our needs, and see us through. Good news: He promises that as we draw close and place our trust in Him, He faithfully does just that!