Effects of Unemployment on Preschoolers

5 Tips YOU Can Use To Help Families

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The U.S. unemployment rate varies.  We have seen it as high as 10.08% to 5.5%.  Regardless of the percentage, approximately 12% of that number represents families according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Here are some things you can do as a teacher to help your preschool students and families during this time.

Behavioral changes due to the stress caused by unemployment and other family life changes in the home can be seen at school as well as at home.  Below you will find information, ideas and resources addressing how we, as teachers, can help the children in our care and their families.

The Effects of Unemployment on Preschoolers

We can only imagine the day to day stress in the home that affects the entire family.  Many times, the preschool teacher may not be aware of this situation. The families may be worried about how to pay the preschool tuition in addition to paying other bills and, therefore, not share this information with you.  

This jobless situation may cause the family to need to withdraw their child from care for the obvious financial reasons. Many families try to keep their children enrolled not only to give them time to job search, but also to give their child continuity during this uncertain time.

Preschool children’s lives are based on daily routines and it is how they “tell time”. They may not be aware of the job loss at home or what it means, but they do know that something is different.

Mom or Dad is, for example, wearing blue jeans while dropping them off to school today and Mom or Dad only wear blue jeans on "their day off". Preschool children may react by having sudden separation issues from their parent (they want to take the day off with them!).

This is only one example of a small, but significant to the preschooler, routine that is different for them. Changes in routines at this age cause confusion and may show itself in behavioral issues not typical for this child.

Some effects of a job loss in the home on young children can include:

  • Behavioral changes such as sudden or renewed separation anxiety.
  • Hitting, biting or other uncharacteristic increase in aggressive behavior. This can be from confusion due to changed routines, lack of sleep or perhaps even hunger.
  • Decreased concentration and memory (from lack of sleep, poor nutrition and/or chronic stress).

5 Things Teachers Can Do To Help

  1. Stick with routines; maintain consistency. 

    Families should try their best to keep their daily routines (such as morning routines, bedtimes and daily chores) as consistent as possible.  

    Teachers should, as discussed above, keep routines the same. The consistency and predictability will help the preschooler feel more secure.

  2. Communicate often and always.  

    Families: Communication is key. It is important to have a good raport with families from the beginning. Remind them that together, you are a team looking out for the best interest of their child.  

    Teachers: This is obvious, but let's revisit!  Listen, listen and listen some more-to the families and to the children. You will learn much by setting up your day in a way that there is much time for the teachers to sit and interact with the children.

3.       Keep kids (and families) involved in healthy habits.

Children (and adults!) tend to have more restless energy when stressed. Preschoolers need strategies to help burn that off!  

Encourage the parent to include their preschooler on a daily walk to burn off any stress or anxiety together and for some nice together time.  

Teachers: If you notice that this preschooler has a lot of energy at a certain time of day, they probably need to burn it off! Consider adding a music and movement, gross motor or outside time to your day for all the children during this time.

4.      Adopt a good behavior plan from the beginning of the school year.

Families should make every effort to keep the same behavior expectations and consequences in place. This is easier said than done when we are not the ones unemployed. Parents may need your help figuring out with "battles to fight".  

Teachers: As discussed above, it is so important to keep your routines and expectations the same. Do not allow inappropriate behaviors to “slide” because you know where it’s coming from. It’s still not o.k. to hurt our friends or throw our toys. Be consistent with these expectations and redirect the child acting out. Let them know you understand that they are angry, however you cannot let them _________ (throw toys, push others, etc.).  

5.      Demonstrate and verbalize your love.  

Families: The old adage is true! “Hug long, hard and often!” The amount of stress, fear and anxiety the family is under during unemployment is tremendous. Their thoughts are in 19 different directions. Much of the thoughts are fearful ones: Will we be able to pay the rent/mortgage? Is there enough to pay the utilities? What about food? What if I don't find a job soon? Remind them to take a break and just be-read a story with their kids and take time for an extra hug! 

Teachers: Reach out to families. Offer books or book lists to help with this time of separation for their children. Also, occasionaly send home a thinking of you card or a joke to make them laugh. Remind them that you are thinking of them!

Being unemployed or underemployed can become long-term in this economy, therefore so can be the stress and affects on the children. Be aware of changes in behavior and keep the communication with parents open and constant!

Book List Suggestions Regarding Unemployment for Children

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn

Mommy Works, Daddy Works by Marika Pedersen

My Dad Takes Care of Me by Patricia Quinlan

No-Job Dad by James Malone

Book List Suggestions Regarding Unemployment for Adults

Effects of Job Loss on Family (Focus on Family Matters) by Michele Alpern

Little Victories: Conquering Unemployment by Tom Brophy

Unemployment: The Shocking Truth of Its Causes, Its Outrageous Consequences And What Can Be Done About It by Jack Stone and Joe McCraw

Other Resources Regarding Unemployment

State by State Unemployment Resources

Go to Family Life Events Main Page

Go to Preschool Plan It's Home Page

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