Reduce Family Stress During Times of Crises

Posted: April 27, 2013

Today's families face many kinds of crises – divorce, unemployment, family illness, and alcohol and drug abuse...

It’s a challenge to keep families together and to provide a stable environment for children when these types of situations arise.

Below are some strategies from Utah State University to help reduce family stress levels and keep families on track during tough times.

  • Be flexible. Times of extreme change can cause disruptions in routines and expectations. Try to listen to what your children need and follow their lead if possible.
  • Slow it down. Family time is important, but so is "down time", or time with nothing particular to do. It is important for both parents and children to have time to relax and reduce stress.
  • Invest time in family activities. Strong families have fun together so take time to ride bikes, play a family game or watch a movie together.
  • Make meal time family time. Try planning a meal at least a few times a week when everyone can be present.
  • Be honest with your children in order to build trust. If a stressful event arises, tell them the facts of the situation. Remember to keep the discussion at the developmental level of your child. A three-year-old may need a very simple explanation, while a teenager may need more details than you want to share. It's important to ask them if they have any questions and to check back with them in a few days to see if new questions have arisen.
  • Keep your interactions warm and positive. Parents under stress will sometimes pull away from their children due to depression, anger, or other psychological barriers. Be conscious of the verbal and non-verbal messages you are sending. Also give more hugs and acknowledge their accomplishments.
  • Keep your discipline style firm but supportive. Allow children choices when possible, but make your expectations known.
  • Be optimistic about your family's future. Let your children know that all families have challenges and that you will work together as a family to resolve this problem.
  • Allow others into your family life. Children often benefit from relationships with other trustworthy adults in addition to good parent-child relationships. Let family, friends, clergy, or health professionals know that your family could use some help.
  • It’s important to note that these techniques are also useful for maintaining closeness when there is not an immediate family crisis. Families who spend time together, communicate on a regular basis, and problem solve together will be healthier and better prepared to handle the challenges of life.

     Penn State is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity and the diversity of its workforce.

Karen Thomas is a family and consumer sciences educator for Penn State Extension in Lackawanna County.