From Socrates to Camus to Allen Bloom, philosophers continue to debate the definition of life. While all may not agree on the true purpose of man's existence, they would probably concur that our lives are made up of a series of peaks and valleys; good times and bad; struggles and triumphs.
Many will agree that these are tough times. But when families encounter a major crisis, such as unemployment, divorce, or serious illness, added to the burden of the situation is its effect on each family member--especially the children.
Helping children understand the ups and downs of life is critical to their development as healthy, whole beings. Some parents may feel it is better to shield a child from the darker days, yet psychologists and counselors say it is important to inform children of family crises.
Therapist Marcia Andre, LCSW, makes the point that a layoff, illness or other traumatic event is a family problem. "It is not happening just to an individual; it happens to the whole family."
Many experts suggest gathering the family together for a frank discussion of what has occurred and how it will affect them all. "It is helpful for families to share information openly and honestly," says Andre. "Tell them as much as you know. Try to draw the family together through the difficulty."
Some parents may be concerned that younger children will not understand what has taken place, but as Andre explains, "Each child will process at his or her own level."
How a child reacts to a family trauma depends on the child's age and sex. Statistically, boys are hit harder than girls. "Boys tend to deny their emotions, while girls process theirs," says Andre.
Child Psychologist Carolyn Newberger describes how children at different ages deal with family crises: "Children younger than three will not comprehend what is going on. These children are egocentric -- the world revolves around them."
"While toddlers may be unable to understand what is going on," Andre adds, "they can sense family stress. They may cry more. They may regress, become more dependent or passive. Try to keep their regular routines intact and they may never realize something has happened."