Fear. It’s the four-letter word that infiltrates our families, our job market and even our economy. And while few of us enjoy fear, it is actually a very powerful and beneficial emotion. Why? Fear shows us that we need protection and it outlines a coming threat—be it real or imagined. The challenge with fear is knowing when it is necessary to command our attention and what to do when we feel it. Today, the most common fear felt by most married couples probably has something to do with money.
Many parents and families are now facing the consequences of overspending; not just on necessary household items or fun luxuries, but monthly bills. Many people cannot see a way out of their financial mess, and the light at the end of the tunnel looks very dim. So how are these challenging times affecting you and your children?
The Progression of Fear
When I talk about fear and problem-solving with people, I talk about a progression from logic to terror. We can start with thoughtfully processing an issue, but may then move to concern, then to worry, then to fear, then to panic and finally terror. Concern is more of a logical fear that helps us to realize we have some problems to solve. Worry often results in us spinning our wheels and from there, progresses to panic, where we seldom accomplish our goals—let alone anything else. Often, the best strategy we can use to deal with fear is to logically look at our options, and if we can’t see our way out, get some help from someone who can.
In today’s challenging economic times, you may need to consider getting help from experienced friends or professionals to help you work your way out of debt, enhance a resume or explore the job market. Keeping our problems to ourselves seldom helps us succeed or learn. What would you want your kids to do if they were getting a failing grade in school?
Setting the Stage for Life
As a parent, you set the stage for your children, and the manner in which you respond to issues models to them how to address emotion. With our current economy, it is easy to fall into panic mode, spend time talking about bills and pinching pennies, losing your temper with your kids, and feeling tense about everything from the lights being left on to lunch money. All of the worry and panic in the world will not help you do your job better and it will not bring the cost of gas down. Furthermore, the way you respond to these situations with your kids leaves lasting impressions on their still-developing minds.
So what can you do to help your children grow through these financially lean times with you? Educate them about money and its value through a series of teachable moments. Here are some ways to do that.
1. Give them an allowance, even if it is very little, and teach them how to budget their money. If they want things that cost money, they are old enough to earn a little and learn how to spend it.
2. Talk to them about what you have learned about spending and saving. If you spent too much and have to pay back debt, and/or want to teach them about saving and interest, you can explain this with raisins, pennies or other items that they can see and touch. Remember that as a parent you are teaching them to prepare for life and how to navigate through it.
3. Don’t blame or guilt your kids for your stresses and/or financial problems. Let them know that they will have to be careful about spending to be a part of the team and the solution. If they are complaining about what they want or don’t have, then consider what you may have taught them in the past without realizing it.
4. Let your kids know that the economy is cyclical and things will come back around. Explain to them that it will take some work, sacrifice and patience on everyone’s part to work through this period. Learn what you can from this period so it does not have to happen to you or your kids again. Habits are hard to change, so help your kids create healthy ones.
5. Let them know that it is not things that bring us happiness, and sometimes it takes times like these to let us know that. Many parents think that teaching their kids to fear the worst will often keep them from experiencing it. This is not the case. Either they may grow up feeling afraid to live life or they can grow up and deny that hardships are happening because they believe that acknowledging fear is a weakness.
Remember that fear is a healthy emotion, in balance. Finding that balance is tough, but not impossible.
Erik Fisher, PhD, aka Dr. E., is a licensed psychologist and author of two books whose work has been featured on CNN, NBC, CBS, FOX and CNN. Visit him at www.ErikFisher.com. "The Art of Empowered Parenting: The Manual You Wish Your Kids Came With" is his second book and promises to change the way that parents and families look at themselves and each other.