248 Economic Stress & Parenting

Based on research by: Conger, Rand D., & Donnellan, M.Brent (2007). Written by: American Psychological Association, adapted by Juanita N Baker, Ph.D.

When parents have extreme economic stress, it can be difficult to leave money problems off the kitchen table. Fears about mortgages, college tuition and day-to-day expenses haunt many family homes.

Although children are extremely resilient, they are often keenly aware of tension in the household, whether it comes from financial difficulties or other problems. In APA’s 2010 Stress in America survey 91% of the children reported they know when their parents are experiencing stress because of their complaining, arguing, and yelling. Parents often underestimate how much their own stress affects their children. Nearly half of “tweens” feel sad and 38% of teens feel frustrated when their parents are worried.

When times get tough, research shows, families can enter a downward spiral. Economic difficulties, like unpaid bills or having to move in with relatives, cause parents’ stress. Parents may then take their frustration out on their children or withdraw altogether. Without parental support, children may act out or do poorly in school.

Parents, reassure your children. The family will be OK. Seek community resources. Talk with a credit counselor or psychologist to problem solve: Identify your financial stressors, make a plan, and manage your stress better.


Conger, R.D., & Donnellan, M.B. (2007). “An interactionist perspective on the socioeconomic context of human development.” Annual Review of Psychology, 58, 175-199.

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