Children start to show signs of recession stress

Teachers, principals and school counselors are starting to report that young children are feeling an effect of the economic stresses of their parents.

Teachers, principals and school counselors are starting to report that young children are feeling an effect of the economic stresses of their parents.

While the financial crisis that is currently dominating world news might be seen to be an adult problem, children as young as five and six are beginning to take on the worries of their parents, and it is effecting their lives at school.

Principal of Discovery Elementary School in Sammamish, Tera Coyle, said last week that signs of the tough times were appearing in students regularly, across all classes.

“You can see the worry,” she said. “Sometimes the children are physically distressed. I am hearing them talk about how Dad is worried he is going to lose his job, or that Mom has already lost her job.”

“Young children are really aware and senstive of what is going on at home — there is only so much you can hide from your kids.”

“We encourage them to talk with their teachers, or with the counselor — that open dialogue is healthy. It is good for the children to be able to get their worries out in a safe environment.”

Coyle said there had been a number of incidents in the playground between children, which seemed to have their roots in stress the students were under.

“I had a fourth-grader say they were worried they were going to lose their home,” she said. “I think these are heartfelt responses. Some of these students have family members who have lost their jobs, and this worry is translating to the kids, who take it to school.”

Coyle’s observations were mirrored by school counsellor Heather Person, who said that as children listened to, and became aware of, the troubles facing their family, they were in many ways disempowered, unable to act upon the situation themselves.

“I am starting to see instances of how this affects kids behavior at school,” she said. “Typically it is when I meet with a student who is having a problem. I talk with them, and delve a little further, and it is then I hear that Dad lost his job, or something like that.”

Person, who is the counselor for the both Discovery Elementary and Sunny Hills Elementary schools, said that this was the first time in her career she had seen economics have such an impact on the behavior of young students. And she suspects that, in this area, we are only seeing the beginning of what might be to come.

Person said that the stress was manifesting itself in students not paying attention in class, and not getting work done on time.

“I think parents need to be careful about allowing their children to imagine the worst case scenario,” she said. “Be cautious about what you say, perhaps hold off until things are more certain. Kids are not always aware that there are other options, and they don’t have any control over the situation.” She echoed Coyle’s sentiments that being open and honest with children was a good policy.

Coyle said that parents too were reacting to the unprecedented economic downturn.

“This year we have been asked for more scholarships, for things like school camps, than ever before,” she said.

Coyle said that she, in turn, has reached out to her school’s PTSA to help out families in need.

“There is some money set aside for things like that,” she said. “But in the past it has been unusual if we have one request for financial aid for going to fifth-grade camp. This year we have had five or six already. And about 25 of the permission slips have not been returned.”

Coyle said the economic downturn meant that parents were looking to save money wherever they could.

“I had one parent call to ask when their child’s immunization shots were due. They weren’t sure if they would be covered by health insurance in the future,” she said. “The other day a student asked me for shoes. I can tell you, she had shoes the next day.”

Coyle said that although such requests were more frequent than ever before, there was money available for students in need.

For some children, all the talk about the economy is sparking an urgent need to give.

“One morning, a young student came up to me and said that they were worried that the food bank was running out of food. She had been listening to news of people going without, and wanted to know if there was anything we could do to help.”

As well as counselling anxious students, the school district is also listening to parents.

A group of elementary school principals in the Issaquah School District is presently figuring out ways to reduce the financial burden on parents of things like camps, supplies, and those extras that can test a family budget.

In the next month or two, all the principals will look over a list of expenses and have a discussion about priorities.