THE BLOG
04/13/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

An Emotional Stimulus Plan: Invest in Your Family and It Will Pay Big Dividends

Just as Congress passed an economic stimulus plan to help our faltering economy, you can give your stressed-out family an emotional stimulus plan during these hard times. Leadership expert Jamie Woolf, author of Mom-in-Chief: How Wisdom from the Workplace Can Save Your Family from Chaos offers practical strategies to get your family back on track.

In challenging times, good business leaders know to demonstrate emotional intelligence. Showing kindness, fostering healthy relationships and finding the positive despite the economic bleakness are all part of the package. Chilling out when you feel an angry outburst coming on, staying emotionally present with your kids when you'd prefer to veg out in front of the TV, and remembering what you have instead of dwelling on your dwindling paycheck are all savvy leadership habits that take discipline but pay big dividends.

Investing in your family is like adding to your bank account: it builds emotional reserves your children can draw from for years to come. Here are her six strategies for what mothers can do to boost love, communication and resilience during this economic crisis and beyond.

1. Build resilience: The most important lesson to keep in mind -- and to share with your kids--is that the hard times won't last forever. They never do, because change is life's only constant. That knowledge lies at the heart of resilience itself. Model resilience when you confront challenges. If you get laid off and don't fall apart, or if you have to start taking on extra work but still manage to get dinner on the table at the same time every night, this tells kids that no matter what happens, Mom can get through it, which will give them confidence that they can, too.

2. Practice optimism: Express your faith that things will get better and help your kids shift from discouragement to optimism. When you cancel a planned family ski trip or vacation, assure them that they'll be able to go next year, when the economy is in better shape. Resilience is grounded in optimism, in hope for a better tomorrow. You will find a new job or settle into a new home or adjust to living a simpler, less materialistic life. Believing that your circumstances will improve is the first and most important step in making them improve.

3. Practice connection: Research reveals that showing kindness and developing caring connections alleviates depression and pull us out of despair. Display empathy and compassion within your family. Be careful not to take your frustrations out on your kids--that's a trap that even the most loving mother can fall into, especially in tough times. If you're feeling extra vulnerable theses days, your kids may be, too. So make them feel loved and secure at home. A strong web of relationships is a powerful shock absorber for stress.

4. Share bad news skillfully: Parents have to be smart about sharing bad news if they want to keep spirits high and fear down. If you're child asks you point-blank: "Mommy, are you going to lose your job?" share the truth: "I don't know yet," and add reasonable reassurance: "No matter what happens, we will be fine." Avoid absolutes like "Mommy will never lose her job" - they could come back to haunt you. Secrecy isn't bad if it shields children from needless worry. Make sure you and your partner agree about what to share and what to keep quiet. And don't dribble out partial news or mixed messages individually. Once you have news to share, release that information together, as a united front.

5. Fight constructively: Fighting is inevitable even in the best of times, and may increase with economic uncertainty. The key is how a couple argues. Do not resort to defensiveness or intellectualizing. No naming or shaming. Arguing is guaranteed to be more constructive if you take time to calm down before engaging in conflict. Find ways to see the situation from your partner's perspective to gain empathy. Instead of justifying why you are "right," find ways that your partner's position makes sense. And most important, identify the ways that you contributed to the conflict instead of blaming the other.

6. Devote time to your relationship: When you're working like crazy to avoid getting laid-off, or holding down two jobs to make mortgage payments, marriage can get relegated to the sidelines. Yet the time you spend on your relationship protects your most precious asset: your marriage. Schedule time for pleasurable activities--just the two of you. Spend time every day talking about the day and your feelings. Express your appreciation for your spouse. With a bit of soul-searching and a willingness to discard old habits, you can weather the economic crisis and emerge happily ever after.

With an economic recovery nowhere in sight, it's up to you, the Mom-in-Chief, to manufacture relief and help your children cope with hardship and even grow stronger. The lessons they learn from the kind of leadership you demonstrate will leave an indelible influence on how resilient they are as adults.

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