Recent economic hardships have brought the pain of home foreclosure to millions of families. Even when times are good, financial calamity can strike at any moment and lead a family into foreclosure. Losing your home can be a monumental event for all who experience it, children especially. So if you find yourself in this situation, it’s important to have some idea of how children are affected by home foreclosure so that you can better help them through it.
How losing a home impacts your child
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Home is where the heart is.” It’s more than just a catchy phrase. A home is a repository of memories and it can hold a tremendous amount of symbolic meaning.
Children form attachments to inanimate objects just as they do their caregivers, and a child’s home environment is a powerful source of attachment. Next to a child’s loved ones themselves, a home is the most significant source of stability, comfort, and closeness that a child has. The familiar setting, the neighborhood (and its other inhabitants), the yard, the park – all of these things can hold an emotional attachment.
Losing this attachment can be extremely stressful, and children may respond to it just like they respond to any other lost attachment. You may see behavioral changes such as increased irritability, clinginess, or acting out. Children might also experience psychosomatic symptoms such as bedwetting or stomach aches. They might experience nightmares or have trouble sleeping. These symptoms usually abate within a few months, but may extend much longer, depending on the importance of the attachments that have been broken.
Foreclosure means a significant family transition, and this transition is likely to elevate stress and anxiety. Not only do children have their own issues to cope with, but there is also palpable tension in the family. Children will feed off of this emotional environment and feel stressed and depressed themselves.
Feelings of powerlessness or a loss of control frequently accompany home foreclosure. A child’s life is changing and becoming more insecure, and there is nothing they can do about it. Feelings of powerlessness can be extremely destructive psychologically, so it’s important for parents to do all they can to combat this.
“It’s hard,” says one parent, speaking about what their kids went through. “I think they see things very differently now. My son asked me how much money I have, and I told him not to worry about it. We had to give away our lab and our bird dog (because it seemed unfair to keep them in such a small apartment). That killed my son. That tore him apart, big time.” (Armour, 2008)
There’s also the social implications of foreclosure. Children in this situation may face a variety of taunts for being homeless, and you don’t have to be living out of your car for children to be teased. Even if kids aren’t teased directly, they may pick up stigmatizing ideas from hearing the things others say, either in person or on television. Family is an important part of every child’s identity, and so they can be hurt vicariously by any shame that is directed at their parents or family situation in general.