How Our Worries and Stress Can Negatively Affect Children

Even when we try to shield them, they often pick up on our emotions.

Posted Jun 26, 2020

Well-meaning adults often try to shield children from hearing about upsetting situations in the family. They tell them to leave the room, or they whisper among themselves. Adults believe they can protect children from the stress and anxiety that they themselves may be feeling. Whether it’s from financial concerns or perhaps the illness of a relative, children tend to pick up on what is happening. They often recognize the upsets in the family, and by trying to protect them, we can potentially make their stress levels worse.   

Right now, there is a lot of fear and upset in the world. Whether it‘s the uncertainty of the COVID-19 virus or the divisive political atmosphere in the country, people are scared, they often feel uneasy, and this can lead to feeling a lot of pressure. Millions of families have jobs that have been lost or are in jeopardy. Many families face uncertainty and don’t know what the future is going to bring.  Children pick up on this. They can feel your concerns and worries. It’s important that someone talks to them to let them know that they are going to be safe. They need to be informed, in child-appropriate language, that even though things in the world are uncertain, their families are secure. They need to be reassured that they don’t have to worry; they are going to be cared for.    

When I was 7 years old, my family was struggling financially. We lived in a small apartment and one day, I overheard my parents discussing that their rent was due. They said they didn’t know how they were going to pay it and were worried about whether or not they could keep the apartment.  As a 7-year-old, this scared me a great deal. This was my home. This was the place where all of my belongings were and I became worried about what the future was going to bring. Fortunately, my parents were able to secure the funds to pay the rent and we continued to live in the apartment. However, as a small child, I was overwhelmed because I didn’t know that at the time. I was scared that I would have to leave my home because of my family’s financial difficulties. 

That moment has stuck with me my whole life. The fear and worry I felt that day was very unsettling. I had no ability to have any control in the situation and felt my home was at risk. I thought we might have to move and I had no idea where we might go. This created a lot of fear about my finances as I grew older. I was often scared I would not have enough and it caused me a lot of anxiety over the years.

If you have children in your home, don’t shut them out when the family is going through difficult times. Share with them in child-appropriate language what is going on. Let them know that no matter what difficulties may be happening in the family, they are going to be safe. This doesn’t mean giving them details that might be above their ability to grasp or might scare them. It means reassuring them that, even if times are difficult, they will be cared for. 

When stress is present in a household, more often than not, children feel it. They need an adult to reassure them that things will be all right, that they are not at great risk, and that the adults in their lives are going to handle the situation and keep them safe. In this way, children can grow up secure in the knowledge that their families have shared with them what is going on in their family so that they don’t feel overwhelmed by the emotional stress that may be present in the household.