According to research from mental health charity, Young Minds, the cost of living crisis is having a profound impact on young people today.
In fact, cost of living was reported as the major worry for over half (56%) of young people – which is a rise of 50% compared to May 2022. In terms of how cost of living impacts their mental health, young people reported that the general disruption it has on their daily life impacts their diet and sleep.
It’s not just older children who are worrying about the cost of living. Among 11-year-olds, 21% reported that money worries had caused feelings of stress, anxiety, unhappiness, or anger.
In addition to Young Minds, Action for Children has also surveyed young people about the cost of living crisis. According to their research, an estimated one-third of all children in the UK are worried about their family having enough money to live comfortably.
How Worry Impacts a Child’s Mental Health
So how does worrying impact a child’s well-being, and what might that look like?
It’s important to remember that just like for adults, worrying about money or experiencing poverty can impact a child’s mental health. They could experience a range of symptoms including:
- Anxiety, particularly around money, food, heating or lighting.
- Sleep problems including difficulties with falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing nightmares.
- Feelings or fear, shame, guilt about spending or being overwhelmed.
- Feelings of stress that may cause them to withdraw socially or academically.
For further resources on anxiety, worry, and stress among children, please visit our dedicated resource for parents.
What Can Adults Do to Help Children?
The Action for Children report told us that when it comes to worries like this, nearly six in ten children admitted to hiding a worry from their parents – so it is really important that children feel safe enough to open up about their worries.
Additionally, since the cost of living impacts a whole family, it’s likely that a child will be worried about their family or their responsible adults, too, and not want to worry them!
As a parent or caretaker, you can help to enable them to feel safe and open up to you by:
- Making sure that the lines of communication are open. It’s important that the child in your care is certain they can talk to you about their worries without overwhelming you.
- Acknowledge how the child is feeling. Your child might be embarrassed about having less money than their peers or about the cost-cutting that you may need to do as a household. It is so important to give them that space to say those things and let them know that you hear them and understand them.
When a child does share their worries or anxieties, there are a few things we can do to help:
If a child is struggling with anxiety or stress, it’s usually because a situation feels out of control to them. What you can do is help them by talking through the scenarios they are worried about so they become less abstract and then help them focus on the things they can control.
Something I recommend is having a list of activities that always help a child feel more in control, hobbies or activities that put them in a good mood, like drawing or playing outside or going for a run. Then, once you’ve had a discussion with your child about their worries, recommend something on the list that’s going to give them a mental health boost.
Bonus conversation tips from parenting expert, Brandy Browne
The cost of living crisis is not just impacting our families here in the UK, it’s also impacting families worldwide. To get another perspective, we asked our parenting and childhood development expert, Brandy Browne, to weigh in on the topic.
“In the United States, eggs are ringing up at almost ten dollars per dozen, a far cry from this time last year when eggs were between two and three dollars per dozen. In my house in particular, my husband and I recently did an audit of our finances because we could not figure out how we were going through our income so quickly. Though we noticed a few minor changes we could make, a large portion of the changes came strictly from inflation. We are paying significantly more for the same quantities of necessities.”
“This proved to be a valuable opportunity to talk to our children about money and being wise spenders. We talked about ways we could conserve, eliminating goods or services that we didn’t really need or use frequently, and ways we could be more self-sufficient. Bringing our children into the conversation helped us to feel empowered, rather than unconsciously and unintentionally stressing out our children.”
“If you are feeling the strain of the rising cost of living and are worried about how the stress might affect young children, try these tips to keep the conversation moving in a positive direction:
- Speak simply and avoid technical jargon. Rather than trying to have a conversation about interest rates, simply explain that it costs three times more to feed the family this year than last year. Then, brainstorm ways to compensate for that increase.
- Give children choices. Maybe you cannot afford the latest electronics, but your child could still take dance lessons. Involving the children in choices about where money should be spent can be a valuable lesson in setting priorities.
- Remind children that even small changes add up. Simply deciding to eat at home a few extra times a week rather than grabbing takeout can save quite a bit of money. Make it fun to try to see how much the family can “save” each week.”
“Finally, this is the perfect time to cultivate compassion and empathy with children. While there are some things that are out of my family’s budget, my children have many luxuries that other children may not. Remind your children that families may be struggling right now and that it is important to show compassion if a friend says they cannot afford to do something. Encourage children to look for fun ways to enjoy time with friends and loved ones that are free or nearly free.”
Check out Brandy’s additional articles and contributions for The Lily-Jo Project here.
What Can Adults Do to Help Themselves?
Raising children can be stressful enough on its own, and having a cost of living crisis to deal with too only adds to that stress.
To help, I’ve come up with a simple acronym to help us parents deal with this added stress.
- C – Compartmentalise
- O – Optimistic
- S – Silence
- T – Time Out
Remember – when you look after yourself in times of crisis, it only helps you become a better parent to your children. This is why we always fit our own oxygen mask first.
It’s not always easy to compartmentalize our feelings but it can be so powerful when trying to protect ourselves and our children’s mental health.
One of my favourite anxiety busting tools is ‘Worry Time’ which helps you to process any anxieties and worries. Write a list of the worries that are currently on your mind. Then cross off all of the worries you can’t control. Next, write down as many possible solutions to the things you can control. Spend 10-20 minutes doing this as and when you need. Or stick it in your calendar, to have some ‘worry time.’ Doing this activity when the children are out, or in bed, will give you and them space from the worries.
It’s not easy to be optimistic when you are under financial pressure. However, it is clinically proven that positivity provides benefits to our well-being. To cultivate a more optimistic mindset, it can be helpful to make practicing gratitude a part of your daily routine. As a family, or alone, take time over breakfast, dinner, or at bedtime to say out loud three things that you are grateful for.
When we are under stress, it’s easy to forget to take some time to be silent, and to breathe. A simple breathing technique like 3, 5 breathing can help you to regain focus and control. This is especially true if you find yourself spiraling into anxiety or depression. If sitting still is difficult, take a walk in nature and notice the beauty around you.
Taking time out to engage in something that you love and enjoy is important. This doesn’t have to be expensive. Write a list of your healthy distractions. I say ‘healthy’ because often when we are going through a time of pressure, it’s easy to lean into destructive behavior, like eating or drinking too much. Who are the people that make you feel good? What brings you joy that you haven’t done for a while? Make a list, and make it happen.
Talking to Children About Mental Health
If you found these tips helpful, why not check out my debut book Talking to Children About Mental Health.
This book is a practical guide designed to help adults understand the unique mental health challenges facing children, teenagers, and students today.
Some of the key themes covered include:
- Anxiety and cancel culture
- Self-esteem and self-harm in the digital world
- Climate anxiety and global grief
- Post-pandemic stress disorder
- And more!
It’s suitable for parents, grandparents, teachers, youth workers and anyone in a position of care or interested in the future of mental health and supporting the next generation.
Listen Now: Lily-Jo Chats With Interviewers About the Cost of Living Crisis
About the Author: Lily-Jo
Lily-Jo is a qualified mental health counsellor, counselling supervisor, and senior coach at Unstoppable Life Coaching. She is also the founder of mental health organisation, The Lily-Jo Project, which specialises in online digital wellbeing resources for children, teens and adults of all ages. Her brand new book Talking To Children About Mental Health, focuses on the unique challenges that gen z and gen alpha are facing, and how we as adults can help them.