Although many life changes don’t happen overnight, some crises seem to occur in the blink of an eye. When a family crisis happens, communication often breaks down, and everyone in the family is affected. Children are not immune to the negative repercussions of a crisis, and they often deal with anxiety, stress, and sorrow when a crisis occurs. The following are five common family crises that, when appropriately handled, can rebuild or even prevent a breakdown in communication and negative emotions from overpowering reason and compassion.
1. A Serious Illness or Sudden Death
If someone in the family develops a chronic illness or suddenly passes away, family members (especially children) might have a hard time processing these major changes. Our grief over major changes in health or losses of loved ones can sometimes cause us to withdraw from others and not openly express our feelings. No one grieves the exact same way, although there are, according to the theory proposed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, five often non-sequential and sometimes co-occurring stages of grief.
When something like this happens, it is important to maintain a sense of normalcy (such as keeping routines like eating dinner at a specific time) and encourage everyone to express their emotions. Children do not need to be kept out of the loop, so it is up to us adults to find ways to speak with children about these issues in ways that they can understand. If someone passes away, it is important to remind everyone that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. If emotions become difficult to manage, it’s okay to reach out to a grief counselor for help.
2. Separation or Divorce
A marital separation or divorce can be more than just a crisis, it can be a traumatic event that stays with someone for the rest of their life. For children, this is a long-term event in which they will have to adjust to very profound changes.
Parents who are separating or divorcing are under a lot of emotional duress but need to remember to remain civil. This reinforces positive behavioral responses to difficult situations for children. Also, co-parenting doesn’t stop with the finalization of a divorce. Children’s questions should be answered as honestly as possible by both parents.
3. Moving to a New Home or School District
Moving to a new house or changing schools can be difficult for families. Children who have always lived in one home or who have always gone to one school might struggle with the changes at first. Their old homes and schools were places they knew to be secure, and, at their schools, they likely had friends and teachers whom they enjoyed interacting with.
Children should be prepared to move or change schools as far in advance as possible. Parents can also encourage their children to help with decision-making during the move, which allows children to feel more empowered and less like they have no say in the matter.
4. The Addition of a New Child
The birth or adoption of a new child is supposed to be a joyous time, but, for some families, it can cause some stress. If a new child was not planned for, the birth of a new baby might cause a financial or emotional crisis for the family. For older children, a new child can be seen as an invader who is taking over their territory.
Parents can make their older children feel more comfortable with a new child by preparing them in advance and listening to their feelings. Parents can expect some frustration and jealousy. Parents, if you are an older sibling, you can relate your feelings of welcoming your younger sibling(s) to your child.
5. Sudden or Unexpected Financial Loss
Sudden or unexpected financial losses can put huge strains on all family members. Financial burdens can cause relationships between parents and even their children to sour. Major financial losses can bring about feelings of anxiety and hopelessness.
Get your family involved in some creative financial planning. Whether you take out a loan, create a GoFundMe to raise money, or hold a spur-of-the-moment garage sale, the entire family can get involved. Keeping the line of communication open and honest is crucial for getting through financial difficulties.
Family crises happen. No family is immune to them. What matters is how we deal with crises when they arise. Working together as a team will get a family much further than letting negative thoughts and feelings fester and communication crumble.