When Tough Times Weigh on the Kids

Sue Shellenbarger:

At a little under three years of age, Bailey Haag can’t understand the turmoil on Wall Street. But last week, the little girl’s brow furrowed and her face grew sad as she overheard her mother on the phone, reacting to a ripple effect of the nation’s economic problems — her father’s layoff.
Although her mother, Claire Crawford Haag, had hoped to shield Bailey from stress, the child knew from her mother’s voice that “it was not a good conversation,” Ms. Haag says. Noticing her daughter’s face crumple, Ms. Haag began fashioning in her head an explanation a small child could understand.
Amid fallout from the nation’s worsening financial picture, many parents are trying to protect their children from worries about layoffs and financial hardship. But children are actually silent carriers of family financial stress, research shows. They’re not only keenly aware of it, but it makes them more likely to behave badly or develop emotional problems. To help kids cope, psychologists and researchers say, parents need to communicate in ways they can understand, keep family relationships on track, and give children a role in helping solve family problems.