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Job loss affects the entire family


As the nation's economic situation continues to spiral down, more and more workers are losing their jobs. Nearly 600,000 jobs across the country were lost in January alone, sending the unemployment rate to 7.6 percent. The national unemployment rate is expected to rise to 9 percent over the next six months.

As of December 2008, the state's nonseasonally adjusted jobless rate was 4.8 percent, up from 4.5 percent in November 2008. In Oklahoma, state businesses also have been hit hard in this economic downturn and will cut or eliminate nearly 2,000 workers in the next few months. Out of a workforce of 1.8 million workers, 84,690 Oklahomans are unemployed, up from 79,980 from last November.

January job losses across the country were widespread and affected nearly all major industries.

Losing a job or steady income can seriously affect the adult who is no longer working. However, job loss affects everyone in the household, said Debbie Richardson, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension parenting assistant specialist.

Richardson said that sometimes grown-ups become so preoccupied with their job loss they forget that these tough times have an emotional and financial impact on their children, as well.

"Unemployment is undeniably stressful for adults, but it can be downright scary for children," Richardson said. "Children depend on their parents for emotional security. When parents are tense, upset and inattentive, much of this feeling of security is gone. Communication is key when it comes to telling your children about your job situation and how it's going to affect them."

Suddenly dealing with reduced income can mean lifestyle changes for the entire family. There is less money to spend, so it is important to make decisions about spending what money is available. In some cases, a move to a new community or state may be necessary in order for the parent to find employment.

Unemployment can mean that other family members must find jobs, which can result in less time together as a family. Unemployment also can mean one parent is home more while another one starts a new job or picks up more hours at a current job.

"Whatever changes hard economic times bring to a family, everyone feels the impact. As the changes begin to take place, discussing your feelings and concerns as a family is important," she said. "People who aren't ashamed to express fears, anxieties and sorrows and are willing to seek help from others deal with crisis the most successfully. Children who see their parents exhibit this behavior will be more likely to cope with stress as adults."

Keep in mind that listening is just as important as talking. Everyone needs someone to listen to them, including children. Listening and responding with concern and understanding are vital to getting through a tough situation.

Parents may feel overwhelmed with their own problems when they have lost their jobs, but it is a parent's role to help the children cope with the stress.

The following are some tips that will assist parents in helping their children:

--You can help your children best by helping yourself first. Try to get a handle on your own stress.

--Provide your children with information about the family's situation in a way that is age appropriate. Do not keep the income loss a secret from children, despite the urge to spare them.

--Recognize symptoms of stress that may affect your children, including sleeplessness, diarrhea, withdrawal, headaches or angry outbursts. Parents who do not feel they are effective in helping their children are encouraged to talk to the children's teachers, school psychologist, clergy member or mental health professional.

--Eat balanced meals, get adequate rest and get plenty of exercise to guard against health problems.

--Try to keep other major changes at a minimum. Too many changes at once can be overwhelming. However, some changes, such as a move, may be unavoidable.

--Help your children focus on the positive aspects of their lives.

--Hold a family discussion on how the income loss affects available money for extra activities and allowances. Discuss how each person will help control family spending.

--Spend time together as a family doing low-cost or no-cost activities.

"Family communication and coping skills have a great impact on how your family deals with tough times," Richardson said.

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