When the parent loses job, the student loses ground

A friend who lost her job nine months ago told me that her daughter had begun to  struggle in school and act out. Her teachers asked my friend if anything at home had changed since the little girl’s disruptive behavior was out of character and came out of the blue.

My friend concluded that it was the undercurrent of tension in the house from the job loss. She and her husband – who has been cut back to part-time hours – had been having a lot of terse discussions about their money problems and whether they could afford to fix the car or order a pizza that night.

While they did not mean to scare their child with their comments, apparently the girl sensed the pressures and responded to the stress in ways that showed up in school.

There is a fascinating New York Times story dealing with the toll on children when a parent loses a job. Among the information in the story that relates to education and child development:

A recent study at the University of California, Davis, found that children in families where the head of the household had lost a job were 15 percent more likely to repeat a grade. Ariel Kalil, a University of Chicago professor of public policy, and Kathleen M. Ziol-Guest, of the Institute for Children and Poverty in New York, found in an earlier study that adolescent children of low-income single mothers who endured unemployment had an increased chance of dropping out of school and showed declines in emotional well-being.

When a parent loses a job, the repercussions can reach the child's classroom

When a parent loses a job, the repercussions can reach the child's classroom. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

In the long term, children whose parents were laid off have been found to have lower annual earnings as adults than those whose parents remained employed, a phenomenon Peter R. Orszag, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, mentioned in a speech last week at New York University.

A variety of studies have tied drops in family income to negative effects on children’s development. But Dr. Kalil, a developmental psychologist and director of the university’s Center for Human Potential and Public Policy, said the more important factor, especially in middle-class households, appeared to be changes in family dynamics from job loss.

“The extent that job losers are stressed and emotionally disengaged or withdrawn, this really matters for kids,” she said. “The other thing that matters is parental conflict. That has been shown repeatedly in psychological studies to be a bad family dynamic.”

Dr. Kalil said her research indicated that the repercussions were more pronounced in children when fathers experience unemployment, rather than mothers.

The Times story has other interesting info as well.

For those in the classroom, have you seen students impacted by a parental job loss.?

For parents, has a job loss in the family affected your child’s school performance?

5 comments Add your comment

William R. Taylor, M.D.

November 12th, 2009
5:09 pm

Thanks to the New York Times and other publications for alerting us to the depression and anxiety felt by children and teens in families struggling with financial, health care and housing problems due to unemployment or other circumstances. Kids don’t always express their feelings clearly, and parents or teachers may underestimated their distress.
In my practice of child and family psychiatry I found that some families concerned about depression got help from David Burns’ Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy.
Families interested in increasing resilience in the face stress can visit http://www.stressedfamily.blogspot.com for some Do and Don’t suggestions.
William R. Taylor, M.D.

Veteran teacher, 2

November 12th, 2009
7:36 pm

At our school, we have a few kids living in campers, more living in motels, and others probably worse off we don’t know about. I can certainly understand that these kids probably do not have the Roman Empire, mitosis, quadratic equations, and grammar on the front burner of their minds. It has got to make a difference in their schooling!

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say what?

November 12th, 2009
11:19 pm

Job loss affects us all. Children cannot go to school and say I am frustrated because my parent loss her/his job, we are about to lose our home, I cannot go on a fieldtrip,etc. But what they do is suddenly have a behavior change such as fighting, bullying, sleeping in class, problems concentrating. Unfortunately at my middle school they would be written up, given detention, parents called, etc instead of the prevention intervention specialist or graduation coach being available.
Many parents are unaware that if they become homeless(living in a hotel or car, having to move in with someone else) the child is eligble to remain in the school with transportation provided by the school system. This may be a small comfort to families, but at least remaining in the same school provides some stability. All schools in GA, have a homeless coordinator, which the name should be changed.

Fewer economic resources do affect student achievement. Parents become disengaged in learning process when they are needing to find ways to have basic needs met.
Glad to have this article.

Louise Lewis, author

November 13th, 2009
1:00 pm

Job loss…Been there. Done that. Yep, still ‘there’. My heart goes out to parents who are not only trying to stay (emotionally) afloat but have to keep high the spirit’s of their children.

For me, losing my job was one of those defining moments in life. I knew I had a choice: I could choose to lose my way (my mind) or rise to the challenge and follow what my Spirit tells me to do, always remembering that I am more than a statistic on the news.

I’ll share with you what I was told the day I got “set free” (laid off) from my job: “This is a new chapter in your life. WRITE ONE HELL OF A CHAPTER!” And I did just that! You can, too!

So if you just need a break from the doom and gloom, let me send you the link to a FREE cover-to-cover book download…no strings attached, really!

Sign up here: noexpertsneeded dot com

Yes, times are tough, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t still give back to one another. Sharing my story with you is simply my way…

take care,
Louise Lewis, author
No Experts Needed: The Meaning of Life According to You!
noexpertsneeded dot com