Parents like to give their children a lot of things for Christmas, but according to an American Psychology Association report, youngsters are getting more than toys and candy during this time of year.
The association’s annual Stress in America survey found that 75 percent of adults are feeling moderate to high
stress, and that their children and teenagers are feeling its effects too. At or near the top of that list of worries are family’s finances.
The survey asked more than 1,500 adults over the age of 18 about their stress levels, and, for the first time, the survey included children. More than 1,200 young people ages 8 to 17 were questioned about stress in their lives.
In another survey conducted earlier this year by Harris Interactive, 30 percent of youngsters said they worried about their family’s financial difficulties.
Malcolm Gauld, president of Hyde Schools and co-author with his wife Laura of the parenting book, “The Biggest Job We’ll Ever Have,” said parents usually try to conceal such problems to protect their kids, but the youngsters can sense it anyway. It’s difficult for them not to overhear their parents’ comments about the budget, what bills should be paid next and how much can be spent on what luxuries.
And this is the time of year when that type of stress shows up more than ever, Laura Gauld added in a press release sent to national newspapers.
The Gaulds, who operate a group of schools in the Northeast and lead parenting seminars, said discussing such struggles with children can not only teach them some realities of life, but can also be used as a tool to show by example that happiness is not to be found in personal achievements, material success or society’s image of perfection.
It can be inspiring and liberating to understand that Christmas means more than a big haul under the tree on Dec. 25, and that the same principle holds true in life.
The Gaulds also offered a list of ideas of ways parents can make the most of the time with their children, not only during the Christmas season but also throughout the year. I’ll mention a few of those, although with some other ideas gathered from functional families I have known.
• Use the holiday season to renew, or even to start, family traditions. If your children are young, traditions will create a foundation for them to use years from now in the families of the next generation. If your children are grown, they will remind everyone of happy times when those children were still in the parents’ household.
• Schedule a weekly family meeting. Insist that everyone participate. Share goals, successes and disappointments, and congratulate and support each other verbally.
• Have family dinners. Sometimes, individual schedules seem to make that impossible, but good parenting involves setting priorities and making a commitment to adhere to them.
• Make sure everyone in the family has a job – or a least a chore. Children will learn that certain things must be done to keep the house running, and they don’t happen without preparation and effort. Then, make sure that appreciation is shown when those jobs are performed satisfactorily.
• Discuss – perhaps at those family meetings – opportunities for community service, and include examples of past participation. Perhaps it’s something Dad or Mom did through church or a service club. Or something the children did at school. The notion of giving back is a valuable lesson, and it is best taught by example.
• When children are old enough to understand – and that may be at a younger age than parents realize – plan a family weekend together at a resort or tourist destination. But also schedule a small private meeting room for a few hours of serious talk. There, parents should be prepared to share with their children their personal values and what they individually believe to be their faith. Children can ask questions, respond in the same way – or simply listen. Either way, the next generation will come away not only with an enjoyable weekend holiday, but also with a firm understanding of their parents’ deepest emotions.
Christmas is one of the few times of the year when society joins in a great conspiracy to pull families together – instead of its usual practice of pulling them apart. In the days ahead, we all should do everything we can to make the most of that happy circumstance.
Gene Deason is editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Friday. He may be reached by e-mail at gene.