Poverty was on the increase before Covid-19 and now we are living in what has been called “the deepest recession since records began”. The Trussell Trust has said that despite unprecedented demand for charity food since lockdown (with 100,000 people using food banks for the first time between April and June), ending furlough in October is likely trigger a rise in food bank use of at least 61% (equivalent to a year-on-year increase of 300,000 parcels).
ONS data shows that redundancy and unemployment levels have increased during the pandemic, and much of the economic pain is, in fact, still to come as the Job Retention Scheme phases out and universal credit covers only 53% of previous earnings. More and more families are likely to find themselves facing financial hardship (to a greater or lesser degree) as pandemic life takes hold of our nation.
With poverty an extreme end to the story if Covid-19, many parents might yet feel anxious about the future, with job losses and the possibility of unemployment a stressful reality.
Dr Hamilton McBrien, Medical Director and Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Roehampton, explains how this time can be difficult for children:
Financial problems can be a cause of stress for children and young people. Family financial stress can contribute to poor physical and mental health for children, just as much as it can for parents. Money is an inescapable fact of life, and when parents need to cut costs, children can feel frightened or unable to understand, and may have difficulty expressing or labeling their feelings.
No parent wants their child to feel the added burden of financial pressure but chances are that if we are worried, they will know. In which case, what can we do to support our children who may be starting to worry, too?
Here are five top tips suggested by Dr McBrien:
- Children will need reassurance that although money may be tight, this doesn’t change the love and care that they will receive from you. Explain how the material items that money buys are not the only sources of happiness, and that spending time together and having fun can be absolutely free. If major changes are required, such as a house move, give your children a lot of reassurance that this will not change your love for them. If the world at large feels chaotic or scary, your little ones will take comfort in the security of their relationship with you, and other beloved friends and family members.
- If your child does experience anxiety and stress as a result of money pressures, talk to them about their anxiety; what is happening in their body and why it happens. Many children and young people don’t know what they are feeling when they are anxious, and it can be very frightening. Tell your child it will be okay, and the anxiety will pass.
- Support your children in the development of more positive thinking by asking what they are really frightened about in terms of financial worry, and then reassuring them (when you can) about any worst case scenarios they might have; thinking through together how you will continue to provide for them and remain there for them. (Remember that there are support services in your community and even if you are struggling financially, you are still providing for your child by visiting a food bank or accepting a cooked meal from a friendly neighbour!)
- Also remember the basics to any good mental health in terms of maintaining a healthy lifestyle; with regular exercise, good sleeping habits, calm bedtime routines, limited screen or computer time in the evening, and a healthy diet. If you feel your child’s anxiety is not getting any better or is getting worse, and your efforts have not worked, contact your GP to get professional support.
- Parents should also ensure that they do not overshare financial worries with their children, but instead talk about money availability in a transparent but not alarming way. Serious concerns about money should be shared with partners, friends or professional advisors, not children.
Increased pressures on parents (financial or other) narrows our bandwidth to deal with difficult child behaviour – behaviour that may have already been tough to manage before Covid-19. This means the behaviour is likely to get worse as children are very dependent on us to provide a loving, safe environment and to manage their daily life. If you are struggling to deal with pressure at home, do reach out to a friend, family member or professional support services. We’re all working through this pandemic together and it’s important that we keep talking!
Kids Matter is a programme that engages with families and young children before crisis point – it strengthens families by giving mums and dads the tools to be competent, confident parents or caregivers. To get involved, as a volunteer or by financially supporting our programme, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org