I love it when children get excited! In the midst of the seriousness of our world today, their joy is a breath of fresh air. It was my privilege to visit some of our schools recently to congratulate teachers who were this year’s recipients of grants awarded by the Humble ISD Education Foundation to fund projects they want to bring to our students. It was fun to watch the children’s excitement and hear their cheers as we surprised their teachers. Those smiling young faces lingered in my mind as I thought about how children are being impacted by today’s life challenges. While they probably don’t care much about 401Ks or economic forecasts, they do look into the faces of their parents and overhear conversations about fears and losses. We assume our children live carefree lives but that’s not always the case, especially in these challenging days. If you’re a parent with money worries, life can be pretty tough. You might need time to earn extra money, work on your finances or just unwind from a draining, demanding day. But your kids still need your attention, and they may have worries of their own. How can you parent well when times are tough? A special day has been set during May for National Children’s Mental Health Awareness. A reminder of the importance of giving attention to the emotional needs of our children. Consider these steps offered by Mental Health America to help you and your children during these tough economic times. (1) Limit kids’ exposure to worries. Try not to talk about your own fears when the kids are listening, and consider turning off the TV news. You may think your 5-year-old tunes out adult topics, but he may hear just enough to spark his active imagination. (2) Share honestly but appropriately. Secrets can be scary. You certainly don’t want to overwhelm your child with information, but it’s probably best to share some of your family’s financial situation. Take a reassuring approach by pointing out areas you know are stable, such as staying in the same school despite any other changes. (3) Economize in a way that’s clear and fair. If you need to scale back on your children’s after-school activities, letting them pick from a few options may decrease their disappointment. You might also consider less-expensive options at local community centers and libraries, too. And don’t forget to show kids that you’re cutting back on some of your own “extras” as well. (4) Keep predictability high. Kids like routine. Make sure your child’s activities include exercise to burn off energy, soothing nighttime activities and, above all, some special time with you. Children crave attention, and if they’re not getting it in positive ways they may get it by acting out. (5) Let kids contribute. Even little kids can help around the house. They also can donate old clothes or toys to a local shelter. Helping out builds self-esteem and a child’s sense of effectiveness in the world. (6) Take a breather. Let’s face it: raising kids can be a ton of work. If you feel your stress is affecting your ability to be kind and gentle, go off somewhere to regain your composure. Don’t let your kids feel it’s their fault you’re having a bad moment. (7) Set aside “me” time. You’re probably working hard both at work and at home. If you don’t refuel somehow, you’re going to run out of steam. Get enough rest, squeeze in a little fun, and maybe take just 10 minutes to connect with friends. (8) Get professional help if you need it. If you’re having trouble parenting or dealing with any of your other day-to-day responsibilities, a mental health professional can help you learn new coping skills. If your child is showing signs of stress like trouble sleeping, headaches, or acting sullen or angry, you also can talk with a school counselor. God has charged us with the responsibility of caring for our children, so let’s do our best to help them grow up to be emotionally healthy adults. If you want more information on how to care for a child’s mental health needs, contact Mental Health America or one of our local mental health professionals. Nancy Williams, LPC is a licensed professional counselor with a counseling, coaching and consulting practice in Kingwood. Send questions or comments to her at www.nancywilliams.net. Please note this column is not intended to serve as professional advice.

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