As a parent or caregiver for a young child, or children, you might worry about the effects for children living in an unstable environment. Whether the child in your life is a step-child, a grandchild, a niece or nephew or a friend of the family, it is important to consider their environment and how it now impacts them, as well as how it might affect them in the future. The Urban Institute notes that each child’s early childhood experiences shape their lifelong health and learning, so your attention might make all the difference in providing a healthier future for them1. According to the 2003 National Survey of Children’s Health, children in single parent-only and grandparent-only homes experienced poorer overall health — physical and mental — than children living with two biological parents2. Although all families do the best that they can, the study shows that family structure can sometimes have a profound effect on children’s feelings of security, their childhood experiences and their eventual transformations and trajectories into adulthood3.
Other Problems with Lack of Structure
Other types of lack of structure, or instability, might involve both parents living with the children without fully being able to live up to their parental responsibilities due to their own mental, emotional or substance issues. While there are indications that children in non-traditional homes sometimes struggle, there is no guarantee that these children will succumb to mental illness, substance use or drug abuse. Sometimes these periods of instability are temporary and will not take as much adjustment for you and the children as a permanent arrangement might. If the arrangement is long-term or permanent, it is important that you create a strategy to help them navigate the situation and grow stronger from it all as they mature and move forward.
How Can You Help Children Overcome a Lack of Household Structure?
Your desire to help the children in your life is the first and most important step in helping them survive and ultimately thrive during difficult times for the family, no matter how long those difficult times last. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that there is no single factor that will dictate whether someone will become addicted to drugs or begin using drugs at all since the risk for addiction derives from a variety of factors, such as each person’s own biology, social situation, overall environment, history and age or stage of development3. Whether the children in your life are with you due to their parent’s financial or housing instability, or they suffer from their own abuse, it is important that you try to create a calm, warm, inviting and stable environment for them to feel some sense of equilibrium. One of the best things you can do is to lead by example, showing children there are healthy ways to cope with the stress of their current situation and lack of structure, as well as life, in general1.
Finding Healthy Ways to Cope with Stress
When parents, or caregivers, discover healthy ways to cope with stress and share them with children, it can help lessen any negative impact associated with the instability surrounding them. If you are a caregiver to a child in a household that lacks traditional structure, or you know a child who needs support to help prevent mental, emotional and potential substance issues, contact us at 877-466-0620 for a free and confidential consultation and assessment. This is just a part of the benefits that come with sending a child to an adolescent specific rehab facility.
- Heather Sandstrom and Sandra Huerta, Urban Institute, September 2013, http://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/alfresco/publication-pdfs/412908-The-Negative-Effects-of-Instability-on-Child-Development-Fact-Sheet.PDF
- Matthew D. Bramlett and Stephen J. Blumberg, Health Affairs, May 2015, http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/26/2/549.full
- National Institute on Drug Abuse, Revised November 2012, http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction