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Communicating With Children

Topics: Family

 

 

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Communicating about worrisome, sad, or difficult topics can be challenging. Avoiding tough subjects does not help children or teens learn to manage worries and to accept that sad and bad things do happen. Age-appropriate discussions about the PSP job and risks can help children and teens worry less. If your child has concerns, understanding their point of view allows you to problem solve together and provide support. Below are tips for communicating with children and teens, particularly when dealing with difficult subjects.

  • Ask your child what they know about the topic, which can help you find where to begin. You can ask an open-ended question, such as “What do you know about…?”  
  • Listen. Allow for pauses and silence. Give your child time to think, respond, and elaborate.   
  • Avoid asking leading questions (where the question suggests an answer).
  • Find out how your child feels and validate their feelings (e.g., show that you are listening and understand, use validating statements such as “I can see why you’re feeling ___”). 
  • Tell your child how you feel. This is a good way to model the skills of identifying emotions and communicating feelings. 
  • Be honest (in an age-appropriate way). Avoid giving details that are too graphic or scary. 
  • Say “I don’t know” – it’s okay to not have all of the answers.  
  • It’s okay if they become tearful or cry when discussing difficult topics (learning to accept and talk about sad or anxious feelings are important skills).  
  • Comfort your child if they become upset. Let them know that they are cared for and loved. 
  • Have discussions at a pace that works for your child. Discussing a difficult topic may take place over several conversations.    
  • Let your child know that you will do everything you can to keep yourself safe, them safe, etc. 

A Note on Anxiety

It is normal for children and teens to worry or have some anxiety. Anxiety becomes a problem if it is intense, happens often, and makes it hard to do everyday activities. If you think that anxiety may be a problem for your child or teen, consult with your primary care provider or a qualified mental health professional.  

For more information about anxiety in children and teens, visit: 

 www.anxietycanada.com or https://kidshelpphone.ca/  

practicing open-ended questions

Open-ended questions or prompts tend to lead to more elaborate responses (not just a yes or no). These questions or statements can begin with how, why, who, what, where, when, or tell me about. Participate in the activity below to see if you can identify open-ended questions.

Using a variety of open-ended questions (or prompts), and waiting for a response, can take practice. During your next one-on-one conversation with your child or teen, try the following:    

DOWNLOAD: Tips to Open-ended Questions

 

Afterward, consider the following: What was it like intentionally using open-ended questions with your child? What did you learn?  

Once you have practiced using open-ended questions about everyday situations, begin asking open-ended questions related to PSP work or the lifestyle. The more you practice, the easier the skills of asking open-ended questions and listening will become. This can make it easier to initiate conversations about concerns or difficult topics, when needed.   

reading together and starting conversations

Reading books or articles can be a great way to share information about PSP work and start conversations with your child or teen. For older children and teens, you may wish to share an age-appropriate article, blog post, or video on a PSP-related topic to provide information and start discussions. For example, you could share a newspaper article and say, “I read this article and was curious about your thoughts on this…” and follow up with an open-ended “What did you think?” 

For young children, try the following: 

  • Find a PSP-related book that is a good fit to your child’s age/development. 
  • Read the book together when everyone has the time to read slowly and chat. 
  • When reading, point out what’s happing in the story and ask basic questions (e.g., “Do you know what her job is?”, “Do you know what a ______ does?”) or open-ended questions (e.g., “Why is Sam feeling scared?”).  
  • Feel free to pause during the story for discussions.  
  • When you are done reading, encourage your child to ask questions and share their thoughts and feelings about the story.  

After your shared reading time, reflect on this experience as a family. What was it like to read about the PSP role together? Are there other things you would like to learn about or talk about together? 

Below are examples of children’s books about PSP:  

  • A Hero Lives in My Family: A Story for Kids of First Responders 
    by Dr. Susan Hunt   
  • The Wolf was Not Sleeping
    by Avril McDonald (Canadian Edition available)

References for this page (click to expand)

Arruda-Colli, M., Weaver, M. S., & Wiener, L. (2017). Communication about dying, death, and bereavement: A systematic review of children’s literature. Journal of Palliative Medicine, 20(5), 548–559. https://doi.org/10.1089/jpm.2016.0494 ; 

Carrico, C. P. (2012). A look inside firefighter families: A qualitative study. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.  

Cox, M., Norris, D., Cramm, H., Richmond, R., & Anderson, G. S. (2022). Public safety personnel family resilience: a narrative review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(9), 5224. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19095224 ;

Gurwitch, R. (2021). How to talk to children about difficult news. American Psychological Association. Retrieved December 10, 2022, from https://www.apa.org/topics/journalism-facts/talking-children

Kolucki, B., & Lemish, D. (2011). Communication with children: Principles and practices to nurture, inspire, excite, educate and heal. UNICEF. Retrieved December 10, 2022, from https://www.comminit.com/global/content/communicating-children-principles-and-practices-nurture-inspire-excite-educate-and-heal

Traub, S. (2016). Communicating effectively with children. University of Missouri Extension. Retrieved December 10, 2022, from https://extension.missouri.edu/media/wysiwyg/Extensiondata/Pub/pdf/hesguide/humanrel/gh6123.pdf

Walker, J. R., & McGrath, P. (2013). Coaching for confidence workbook. Anxiety Disorders Association of Manitoba. 

Wasik, B. A., & Hindman, A. H. (2013). Realizing the promise of open-ended questions. The Reading Teacher, 67(4), 302-311. https://doi.org/10.1002/trtr.1218

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Skill building:

 

Things to consider…
  • Prioritizing communication and planning.
  • Developing a back-up plan if the PSP family member is called into work or will be late.
  • Talking to children about PSP work schedules and how the family makes adjustments.
  • Going ahead with plans without the PSP (they might be able to join later).
  • Finding ways to include the absent PSP (text or video chat, videos, pictures, etc.).
  • Using problem-solving skills to help develop flexible plans.
Do you want to know more about this?

It is not uncommon to feel a sense of helplessness when plans are always changing and family routines are disrupted. Identifying potential opportunities associated with shiftwork and long hours is a way to reframe the experience and reduce stress. There are workarounds that families can adopt that make the changes and PSP absences less disruptive.

Think about your own flexibility when making plans.

Out of ideas? See below:

Shiftwork

  • Are there any perks to shiftwork for you and your family?
  • Think about the advantages of rotating shifts.
  • Which shifts are favourites and why?
  • Which shifts are more challenging?
  • What can you do to make them easier?

Flexibility

  • PSP couples and families often become better at adapting their plans over time.
  • Think about times when your plans changed unexpectedly, and you and your family handled the change well. How did you manage this?
  • It can be helpful to consider not only what has gone wrong but what you are getting right.
Skill building:
Family Calendar Check Up

Family calendars are a key tool for coordinating family plans and activities. Take time together to consider the calendars that everyone in your household uses. Answering the following questions will get you thinking about how useful (or not) these calendars are and how to make them better.

  • What type of calendars does your family use (e.g., wall calendar, notebook/planner, digital/online calendar)?
  • How many calendars do you have altogether?
  • Where are they?
  • Are the calendars shared or does everyone keep their own?
  • What’s included on your calendar (e.g., work and school activities, extra-curricular activities, holidays and birthdays, other information)?
  • Is there a central family calendar (e.g., on the fridge) or synchronized family calendar (online) that everyone in the household has access to?
    • If so, who is responsible for keeping the calendar up to date?
    • What information is recorded on this calendar?
    • Are symbols, stickers, or highlighting used to abbreviate or allow for quick glances?

Sometimes you can make order out of chaos. Keeping a central calendar for everyone in the household is a starting point. When unexpected changes occur, adjustments will be needed. Last minute changes can be challenging but are usually temporary and the family calendar can help everyone get back on track. You may even want to add back-up plans to your calendar, so these changes are less disruptive.

Let’s see how a PSP couple, Alejandro and Sofia, manage their busy schedule.

Click on the “arrow” to visit a room, or click on the “plus” for more information.

References for this page (click to expand)

 

Neustaedter, C., Brush, A., & Greenberg, S. (2009). The calendar is crucial: Coordination and awareness through the family calendar. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction, 16(1), 1–48. https://doi.org/10.1145/1502800.1502806

 

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When family members take time to be together whether it is part of a daily routine, planned activities, or just hanging out, they feel valued and connected. Sometimes, particularly in busy households, PSP families need to recalibrate and think about what is important. Focusing on family values and adopting a family-first philosophy can help families stay on track.

How do you let your family know that they are a top priority?

Things to consider…
  • Having a family conversation about the nature of the PSP family member’s work, why the job sometimes takes precedence over family time, and the various feelings that might result.
  • Making sure family members who are not able to attend activities are not left out (e.g., videotaping a school play so the family can replay it later).
  • Leaving notes or texts to let each other know you are thinking about each other when you can’t be together.
  • Telling family members that they are the most important people in your life (sometimes we neglect to say the words that express how we feel).
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meeting family requirements – planning leisure time

Families who live together in the same house spend time together, but it may not always be quality time. When family members make a choice to do things together, there is an opportunity to build mutual trust and commitment. Consider the following exercise to connect and strengthen family relationships and demonstrate the importance of family.

This is a list of several types of activities (for couples or families with children). Each family member checks the type of activities they want to do more of in the next 6 months. Look for matches. Two or more family members must be involved in the activity and make a commitment to participate. Each family member commits to participating in one activity and can participate in more than one activity. Family members work together to determine what the activity will be, when, and how it will be done.

Start small and aim for success! Consider the time and resources that you have to commit to the activity that you choose. Making a special dessert might be more achievable than preparing a four-course meal, though that might be your end goal. Keep in mind the time that is needed for preparation before you actually start the activity (e.g., deciding on games you want to play, buying the games, understanding instructions).

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Download: Planning leisure time

References for this page (click to expand)

Carrington, J. L. (2006). Elements of and strategies for maintaining a police marriage: The lived perspectives of Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers and their spouses. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. https://central.bac-lac.gc.ca/.itemid=NR18860&op=pdf&app=Library&is_thesis=1&oclc_number=289058279

Witman, J. P., & Munson, W. W. (1992). Leisure Awareness & Action: A Program to Enhance Family Effectiveness. Journal of physical education, recreation & dance,63(8), 41-43. https://doi.org/10.1080/07303084.1992.10609949

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Resentment

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Resentment

Topics: Couples, Family, Mental Health

Resentment

We can understand resentment as a mixture of feelings of frustration, anger, envy, and sadness. This emotion can surface when we feel something is unfair or unjust, or if we fail to set boundaries, or we feel let down. Resentment can make us feel ill about something that we think is wrong. Resentment can be an individual or shared experience. It is a complex emotion that can be shaped by and shape other negative feelings like loneliness, fear, grief, etc.

PSP family members might feel resentment toward the PSP’s job requirements such as shiftwork or unscheduled overtime. PSP’s work is usually less flexible than typical jobs. Rotating and unpredictable shifts have to be accommodated. There could be resentment over the camaraderie/companionship the PSP has with coworkers. PSP family members have reported feeling resentment when the PSP job is prioritized and seems to be more important than family.

Resentment could result in:

  • a lack of physical and emotional support
  • emotional unavailability
  • reduced communication
  • lack of understanding

Sources of SSO resentment

Click to expand
  • SSOs may give up their careers or reduce hours to manage the home because the PSP’s work schedule and time at home is so unpredictable. The PSP career may be given priority over the SSO career.
  • Household tasks including childcare and eldercare may primarily be the responsibility of SSOs.
  • SSOs may be left to shift plans and schedules and pick up the slack when there is a unexpected schedule change (e.g., overtime or call-ins).
  • Explaining a sudden absence of the PSP family member to friends and family and dealing with disappointment can be difficult.
  • Work and home transitions can be challenging. SSOs may try to keep children quiet and allow PSP time to recover from a shift when they are experiencing stress and fatigue themselves.
  • SSOs may feel that the sacrifices they make and the responsibilities they take on are expected and taken for granted. It can be frustrating if their contributions are not valued or recognized.

Continuously shifting schedules, plans, and routines

PSP families have identified the many ways that the unpredictability of PSP work interferes with family life.

Over the years these experiences become ‘normal’ parts of daily life for PSP families. SSOs and other family members are expected to adapt. But, over time, with many changes and disruptions, SSOs can feel that they are taken for granted and ‘the job’ is more important.

Many PSP families understand, and many accept the risks and requirements of the job. However, the constant nature of the disruptions can pile up and become more than families can manage. The seemingly endless demands and the lack of recognition for the role of family members can be frustrating. Families feel resentment toward ‘the job’ which is central to tensions and conflicts that arise.

The impacts of work schedules on a PSP family’s social life

References for this page (click to expand)

Alrutz, A. S., Buetow, S., Cameron, L. D., & Huggard, P. K. (2020). What happens at work comes home. Healthcare (Basel), 8(3), 350. https://doi.org/10.3390/healthcare8030350 

Black, A. (2004). The treatment of psychological problems experienced by the children of police officers in Northern Ireland. Child care in practice : Northern Ireland journal of multi-disciplinary child care practice, 10(2), 99-106. https://doi.org/10.1080/13575270410001693330  

Carrington, J. L. (2006). Elements of and strategies for maintaining a police marriage: The lived perspectives of Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers and their spouses. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.  

Cigrang, J. A. et al. (2016). The Marriage Checkup: Adapting and Implementing a Brief Relationship Intervention for Military Couples. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 23, 561-570. 

Cowlishaw, S., Evans, L., & McLennan, J. (2008). Families of rural volunteer firefighters. Rural Society, 18(1), 17-25. https://doi.org/10.5172/rsj.351.18.1.17  

Ewles, G. (2019). Enhancing organizational support for emergency first responders and their families: Examining the role of personal support networks after the experience of work-related trauma. PhD Thesis. University of Guelph. 

Merolla, A. J. (2010). Relational maintenance during military deployment: Perspectives of wives of deployed US soldiers. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 38(1), 4–26. https://doi.org/10.1080/00909880903483557 

Miller, L. (2007). Police families: Stresses, syndromes, and solutions. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 35(1), 21-40. https://doi.org/10.1080/01926180600698541  

Regehr, C. (2005). Bringing the trauma home: Spouses of paramedics. Journal of Loss & Trauma, 10(2), 97-114. https://doi.org/10.1080/15325020590908812  

Regehr, C., Dimitropoulos, G., Bright, E., George, S., & Henderson, J. (2005). Behind the brotherhood: Rewards and challenges for wives of firefighters. Family Relations, 54(3), 423-435. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3729.2005.00328.x 

Roberts, N. A., & Levenson, R. W. (2001). The Remains of the Workday: Impact of Job Stress and Exhaustion on Marital Interaction in Police Couples. Journal of marriage and family, 63(4), 1052-1067. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3737.2001.01052.x 

Watkins, S. L., Shannon, M. A., Hurtado, D. A., Shea, S. A., & Bowles, N. P. (2021). Interactions between home, work, and sleep among firefighters. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 64(2), 137-148. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajim.23194 

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Unpredictability: Sleep disruptions

Topics: Couples, Family, Mental Health

Unpredictability: Sleep disruptions

Sleep can be disrupted for PSP families for a number of reasons. When PSP are at work, family members may have a hard time falling or staying asleep due to worry. The timing when PSP leave and return home can be out of sync with family members, interfering with their sleep and sleep routines. When PSP need to sleep in the day, family members change their activities to maintain quiet.

Both the shift work and the unpredictability of PSP work can interfere with sleep. In some PSP sectors, such as volunteer firefighting, there may be an expectation for a PSP to be on call often, leading to the possibility of call-ins at any time. This disrupts both their sleep and the sleep of their spouse/significant other (SSOs) and family members.

Unexpected call-ins and overtime can also lead to inconsistent schedules for children. Wake up, bedtimes, and nap times might get rearranged due to the unpredictability of PSP work.


Why is it so hard to sleep when the PSP is at work?


PSP’s daytime sleep is out of sync with family life

  • Family members feel like they have to be especially quiet.
  • Routines and extracurriculars for family members can be disrupted.
  • Weekends and holidays when the whole family tends to be home are particularly challenging.
  • Babies and young children who may cry create noise that interferes with the PSP’s sleep.
  • Pets who play and need to go outside may also be at odds with the need for daytime sleep.
  • All these issues were magnified during COVID-19 when family members stayed home to work or attend virtual school.
  • PSP sleeping in the day throws off everyday family routines such as mealtimes.
  • When PSP sleep during the day, their bedtime is often out of sync with the family that night.

 

What happens when sleep is disrupted?

Learn about some of the outcomes of sleep disruption by clicking on the “i”

References for this page (click to expand)

Ananat, E. O. & Gassman-Pines, A. (2021). Work schedule unpredictability: daily occurrence and effect on working parents’ well-being. Journal of Marriage and Family, 83(1):10-26. https://doi.org/10.1111/jomf.12696 

Bochantin, J. E. (2010). Sensemaking in a high-risk lifestyle: The relationship between work and family for public safety families. PhD Thesis. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.  

Cowlishaw, S., Evans, L., & McLennan, J. (2010). Work-family conflict and crossover in volunteer emergency service workers. Work & Stress, 24(4), 342–358. https://doi.org/10.1080/02678373.2010.532947 

Cox, M., Norris, D., Cramm, H., Richmond, R., & Anderson, G. S. (2022). Public safety personnel family resilience: A narrative review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(9), 5224. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19095224  

Friese, K. M. (2020). Cuffed together: A study on how law enforcement work impacts the officer’s spouse. International Journal of Police Science & Management, 22(4), 407-418. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461355720962527  

Hill, R., Sundin, E., & Winder, B. (2020). Work–family enrichment of firefighters: “satellite family members”, risk, trauma and family functioning. International Journal of Emergency Services, 9(3), 395-407. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJES-08-2019-0046  

Landers, A. L., Dimitropoulos, G., Mendenhall, T. J., Kennedy, A., & Zemanek, L. (2020). Backing the blue: Trauma in law enforcement spouses and couples. Family Relations, 69(2), 308-319. https://doi.org/10.1111/fare.12393  

Regehr, C., Dimitropoulos, G., Bright, E., George, S., & Henderson, J. (2005). Behind the brotherhood: Rewards and challenges for wives of firefighters. Family Relations, 54(3), 423-435. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3729.2005.00328.x 

Tuttle, B. M., Giano, Z., & Merten, M. J. (2018). Stress spillover in policing and negative relationship functioning for law enforcement marriages. The Family Journal (Alexandria, Va.), 26(2), 246-252. https://doi.org/10.1177/1066480718775739  

Watkins, S. L., Shannon, M. A., Hurtado, D. A., Shea, S. A., & Bowles, N. P. (2021). Interactions between home, work, and sleep among firefighters. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 64(2), 137-148. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajim.23194 

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Public perceptions

Topics: Couples, Family, Mental Health

Public perceptions

Public perceptions are the stories about PSP and PSP sectors that are commonly believed by the general public. These stories can quickly shift and change which can be frustrating for both PSP and their families. Movies and TV often portray PSP work as either glamorous or corrupt which can lead to misinformation about ‘the job’. Media and social media can also shift public perception in the way that they report stories involving PSP. Stereotypes create further misconceptions. Because of these factors, PSP families never know what to expect from the public.

PSP family members may also feel that they are being held to an impossible standard. For example, children may feel pressure to be ‘extra good’ because their parent is a police officer. These feelings might be stronger in rural communities, where community members are more likely to know each other. 

Negative public perception can be very frustrating for PSP and for their families who sacrifice holidays, weekends, time, and personal safety to protect the community. It can be hurtful to know what a PSP family member does every day, and then hear negative things said about them. In some cases, negative public perception has lead to threats and safety concerns for PSP families.

Overall, because public perceptions can change so quickly, the importance of public perception – positive, negative, or absent – is felt by PSP families and can impact relationships and the wellbeing of individual family members.


Positive public perceptions

Impacts of gratitude on PSP families

Gratitude – When members of the public express gratitude to PSP and/or their families, they are showing their appreciation. This gratitude is welcomed by some PSP families who feel that it validates the importance of the PSP role. When gratitude is extended to other family members, the public is also acknowledging the contribution of PSP families.

Pride

Certain PSP sectors are shown to experience more gratitude than others. Firefighters are often publicly recognized for their bravery and service. Paramedics and similar emergency medical service careers are also often viewed positively by the public. PSP family members might also receive direct forms of praise from the public for the work their PSP member does (e.g., “thank you for the work your mother/father does”). 

Validation

Positive public perception can be experienced as validation by PSP family members. If the public appreciates what the PSP does, then it can make all of the commitment and sacrifices feel worthwhile. Sometimes, however, gratitude is shown only to the PSP, and the roles of SSOs and other family members are not considered. When families are not recognized, they may feel that their contribution is not well understood.

Civic mindedness

PSP families who are viewed positively by the public may develop civic mindedness. They may be actively involved in their communities and feel a sense of pride in being recognized as a PSP family. This might, however, also increase pressure for PSP family members to live up to public expectations. Because the community shows appreciation, PSP families may feel obligated to do more. This can increase demands on their time. 

Belonging

PSP families benefit when communities value the important work that they do. Families sometimes feel out of sync with others due to work demands and public recognition is important. When PSP families are acknowledged, there is a positive sense of identity and belonging.


Negative public perceptions

Impacts of public disdain on PSP families

Disdain is a feeling of dislike. It is often demonstrated through disrespect or contempt. PSP who are in positions of authority, such as police and corrections officers, are often targeted in this way. Current events, world news, and social trends can influence these negative perceptions.

Negative public perception can have a direct impact on PSP job satisfaction and the overall wellbeing of families.

  • For example, law enforcement officers are among the sectors treated with the most disdain. They can experience verbal abuse, anger, threats, etc., which can create stress for them and their families.

 

Mental health

Negative feedback from members of the public can challenge a PSP’s commitment and pride in their work. It can affect self-confidence and behaviours both at work and at home. This can lead to tension, uncertainty, and boundary confusion, experienced by PSP families. Families struggle with the negative feedback too. Negative public opinions can challenge beliefs and family values that are often related to the PSP role. PSP families may feel isolated from the rest of the community. A feeling of ‘us and them’ could develop resulting in a lack of social support. 

Children

Police children report receiving unfair comments and criticism about a PSP parent’s work. As children age, they sometimes grapple with negative comments from peers and social media. They might question the pride they once felt which can lead to ambivalence – they still believe in the importance of public safety but may resent the PSP or the ‘job’ because of the way they are treated.

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References for this page (click to expand)

Bochantin, J. E. (2010). Sensemaking in a high-risk lifestyle: The relationship between work and family for public safety families. PhD Thesis. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.  

Carrico, C. P. (2012). A look inside firefighter families: A qualitative study. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.  

Carrington, J. L. (2006). Elements of and strategies for maintaining a police marriage: The lived perspectives of Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers and their spouses. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.  

Duarte, C. S., Eisenberg, R., Musa, G. J., Addolorato, A., Shen, S., & Hoven, C. W. (2017). Children’s knowledge about parental exposure to trauma. Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma, 12(1), 31-35. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40653-017-0159-7  

Freeman, R. M. (2001). Here there be monsters: Public perception of corrections. Corrections Today, 63(3), 108-111. 

Helfers, R. C., Reynolds, P. D., & Scott, D. M. (2021). Being a blue blood: A phenomenological study on the lived experiences of police officers’ children. Police Quarterly, 24(2), 233-261. https://doi.org/10.1177/1098611120964954  

Majchrowska, A., Pawlikowski, J., Jojczuk, M., Nogalski, A., Bogusz, R., Nowakowska, L., & Wiechetek, M. (2021). Social prestige of the paramedic profession. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(4), 1–10. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18041506 

McCubbin, H. I., & McCubbin, M. A. (1988). Typologies of resilient families: Emerging roles of social class and ethnicity. Family Relations, 37(3), 247-254. https://doi.org/10.2307/584557 

Miller, L. (2007). Police families: Stresses, syndromes, and solutions. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 35(1), 21-40. https://doi.org/10.1080/01926180600698541  

Nix, J., & Wolfe, S. E. (2017). The impact of negative publicity on police self-legitimacy. Justice Quarterly, 34(1), 84–108. https://doi.org/10.1080/07418825.2015.1102954 

Tucker, J. M., Bratina, M. P., & Caprio, B. (2022). Understanding the effect of news media and social media on first responders. Crisis, Stress, and Human Resilience: An International Journal, 3(4) 106-137.  

Walsh, F. (2003). Family Resilience: A framework for clinical practice. Family Process, 42(1), 1-18. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1545-5300.2003.00001.x  

Woody, R. H. (2006). Family interventions with law enforcement officers. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 34(2), 95-103. https://doi.org/10.1080/01926180500376735  


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Dangers: Physical injury and illness

Topics: Couples, Family, Mental Health

Physical injury and illness

How might physical injury affect PSP families?

Some PSP family members have identified the risk of physical and mental injury as their greatest worry.

Spillover

The risk of injury or illness can create stress for the PSP. This stress can spill over into family life causing tension. At the same time, family members may also be fearful and worry about the dangers of the job. The wellbeing of the PSP family member, loss of income, and disruptions to family life are primary concerns. Open communication about the real risks and contingency plans can prevent worry from getting out of control.

Physical stress

Family members often become caregivers when a PSP is injured or ill. There may be physical demands associated with this care. Family caregivers may experience physical fatigue due to increased responsibilities. This can put their own health at risk and lead to role overload. The expectation that SSOs or other family members will provide care is not always realistic. It is important for PSP couples and families to have conversations about caregiving.

Emotional distress

When a family member is injured or ill, family life changes. There are worries along with added responsibilities for SSOs and other family caregivers. They may experience the emotional distress of ‘not being able to do it all’ and concerns about the future. Having a network of support during these times can be invaluable. It can be useful to think in advance about who can be relied on for support. It is important to consider those who can offer both practical help and emotional support.

Social isolation

Routines and social activities can also be disrupted by an illness or injury. There may be less time and fewer opportunities to engage in activities outside of the home. Attention to caregiving may result in an SSO taking time off work. Added responsibilities may also limit contact with friends and family. Altogether, access to much needed social support is lessened. Having realistic expectations about how care might be managed ahead of time can help prevent such outcomes.

Shifting relationships

When PSP have a brain injury or a posttraumatic stress injury (PTSI), they may experience behavioural changes. This can impact intimacy in couple relationships and shift additional responsibilities to SSOs. These types of injuries can also affect parent-child relationships. There may be heightened expectations for children to regulate their behaviours. It is important for families to support both the wellbeing of the PSP and individual family members.

Financial strain

Both short and long term injuries or illnesses can put financial strain on PSP couples or families. There may be temporary or permanent loss of income for the PSP. SSOs may cut back hours of paid work to provide care which further reduces household income. Reduced earning potential and expenses associated with care can cause financial strain. It is important for families to develop a financial plan to manage these risks.

References for this page (click to expand)

American Psychological Association. (2022). APA Dictionary of Psychology. American Psychological Association. Retrieved July 18, 2022, from https://dictionary.apa.org/ 

Bochantin, J. E. (2010). Sensemaking in a high-risk lifestyle: The relationship between work and family for public safety families. PhD Thesis. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.  

Cox, M., Norris, D., Cramm, H., Richmond, R., & Anderson, G. S. (2022). Public safety personnel family resilience: a narrative review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(9), 5224. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19095224  

Friese, K. M. (2020). Cuffed together: A study on how law enforcement work impacts the officer’s spouse. International Journal of Police Science & Management, 22(4), 407-418. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461355720962527  

Helfers, R. C., Reynolds, P. D., & Scott, D. M. (2021). Being a blue blood: A phenomenological study on the lived experiences of police officers’ children. Police Quarterly, 24(2), 233-261. https://doi.org/10.1177/1098611120964954  

Karaffa, K., Openshaw, L., Koch, J., Clark, H., Harr, C., & Stewart, C. (2015). Perceived impact of police work on marital relationships. The Family Journal (Alexandria, Va.), 23(2), 120-131. https://doi.org/10.1177/1066480714564381 

Landers, A. L., Dimitropoulos, G., Mendenhall, T. J., Kennedy, A., & Zemanek, L. (2020). Backing the blue: Trauma in law enforcement spouses and couples. Family Relations, 69(2), 308-319. https://doi.org/10.1111/fare.12393  

Miller, L. (2007). Police Families: Stresses, Syndromes, and Solutions. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 35(1), 21-40. https://doi.org/10.1080/01926180600698541  

Watkins, S. L., Shannon, M. A., Hurtado, D. A., Shea, S. A., & Bowles, N. P. (2021). Interactions between home, work, and sleep among firefighters. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 64(2), 137-148. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajim.23194 

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Managing Public Perceptions and Social Media

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Skill building:

 

PSP families know that the public can be misinformed about the role and actions of PSP. However, opinions and news coverage can still be disturbing. There can be public distrust of PSP in positions of authority. In some cases, stereotypes of PSP sleeping through their shifts or hanging out at the coffee shop are also an issue. Inaccurate or exaggerated comments and images on social media can cause worry and upset. Opinions of neighbours and friends can be unfair and isolate PSP families. PSP families can also find themselves in the spotlight when incidents occur. Public safety organizations can help educate the public, but families cannot control public perceptions.  

 

Things to consider…

Have you tried:

  • Limiting exposure to social media.
  • Monitoring children’s use of social media and TV. 
  • Talking to children and teens about comments from peers regarding PSP. 
  • Seeking mutual support with other PSP families when incidents are reported. 
  • Proactively working on positive education and awareness social media campaigns with other PSP families. 
Do you want to know more about this?

Being aware of the effects that social media and news coverage have allows families to work together to manage the risks. Certain sectors of PSP are criticized on social media in ways that are not easy to ignore. Families who have shared values regarding the importance of the PSP role can provide mutual support. Open communication encourages family members to share their experiences and find ways to respond when issues arise (e.g., explaining the facts to trusted friends and encouraging children to report bullying to parents and school authorities).

Skill building:
Core Family Values

Every family has values, but they may underestimate their importance. Determining core values can help families recognize what they stand for and what matters most to them as a family. These shared values can be used to guide how families deal with challenges, including managing negative public perceptions and opinions. PSP family members often share beliefs about the role that the PSP performs and the importance of their shared commitment. When clearly understood, shared values about this way of life strengthen families. They can reinforce that “we’re in this together,” encourage open communication, and guide action when faced with adversity.

The purpose of this exercise is to discuss and identify your core family values. You may want to revisit your values in 3 to 6 months to see if they hold true or if other ones are more accurate.

  • Play the Family Values Drag and Drop below. Each word represents a family value. Sort the piles of words according to what is “Very Important”, “Important”, or “Less Important” to your family. If values that are most important to your family are not listed, you will have a chance to add them when you pick your “TOP 15.”
  • Once you have sorted all of the piles, consider all the words in the “Very Important” column. Your next step is to decide what your “TOP 15” family values are.
  • The final task is to select your 5 most important family values from the “TOP 15.” These will represent your core family values. Reflect on the importance of these values for your family. What do you do to demonstrate these values? How do these values guide you when you are faced with challenges?

Negative messages from the community and social media can be hurtful. Both adults and children in PSP families can be targeted. When this happens, open communication can reduce the negative effects. Families who share core values may be less impacted by misinformation. For example, a family who values “gratitude” can focus on the positive feedback they get from their community rather than negative messages. A shared commitment and understanding can help take the sting out of public criticism.

References for this page (click to expand)

Carrico, C. P. (2012). A look inside firefighter families: A qualitative study. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. https://digscholarship.unco.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1088&context=dissertations

Walsh, F. (2016). Strengthening family resilience (3rd ed.). The Guilford Press.

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Work and home transitions: Exit and recovery

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Work and home transitions: Exit and recovery time

Effects of exit and recovery time on families

Relationships

Without proper exit and recovery time, PSP may be physically present but not able to actively participate in family life. Families and couples can also experience conflict and tension. However, these types of routines can take time away from the family and add to an already long shift. Being aware of the value of this time is important. Families who create and manage exit and recovery time can enhance the quality of their time together.

Wellbeing

Family members may worry about how a PSP might feel or act when they get home (see anticipatory vigilance). This ongoing uncertainty causes stress and can threaten family wellbeing. No one is ever sure how PSP family members are going to be when they walk in the door after a shift. If the PSP family member is irritable or withdrawn, it affects everyone in the household. Conflict can arise and other family members can be upset and hurt.

Good exit and recovery time

When couples and families work together to manage exit and recovery time, everyone benefits. When PSP have downtime to unwind after a shift, they can return home ready to take on family roles. Families who talk about the why, when, and how of exit and recovery time reduce the risk of conflict and family tension. Being aware of the challenges of exit and recovery time and the impact on all family members is a first step in this process.

Preparing for re-entry

Research shows that, when exit and recovery time is not considered, PSP can spend their time at home thinking about the next shift. This may mean that they neglect family responsibilities and miss out on quality family time. Healthy exit and recovery time allows PSP to come home ready to engage in family activities. Active involvement benefits both PSP and their families.

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References for this page (click to expand)

Bochantin, J. E. (2016). “Morning fog, spider webs, and escaping from Alcatraz”: Examining metaphors used by public safety employees and their families to help understand the relationship between work and family. Communication Monographs, 83(2), 214-238. https://doi.org/10.1080/03637751.2015.1073853  

Carleton, R. N., Afifi, T. O., Taillieu, T., Turner, S., Krakauer, R., Anderson, G. S., MacPhee, R. S., Ricciardelli, R., Cramm, H. A., Groll, D., & McCreary, D. R. (2019). Exposures to potentially traumatic events among public safety personnel in Canada. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science / Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement, 51(1), 37-52. https://doi.org/10.1037/cbs0000115 

McElheran, M., & Stelnicki, A. M. (2021). Functional disconnection and reconnection: an alternative strategy to stoicism in public safety personnel. European journal of psychotraumatology, 12(1). https://doi.org/10.1080/20008198.2020.1869399 

Porter, K. L., & Henriksen, R. C. (2016). The phenomenological experience of first responder spouses. The Family Journal (Alexandria, Va.), 24(1), 44-51. https://doi.org/10.1177/1066480715615651  

Regehr, C., Dimitropoulos, G., Bright, E., George, S., & Henderson, J. (2005). Behind the brotherhood: Rewards and challenges for wives of firefighters. Family Relations, 54(3), 423-435. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3729.2005.00328.x 

Ricciardelli, R., Carleton, R. N., Groll, D., & Cramm, H. (2018). Qualitatively unpacking Canadian public safety personnel experiences of trauma and their well-being. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, 60(4), 566-577. https://doi.org/10.3138/cjccj.2017-0053.r2  

Shakespeare-Finch, J., Smith, S., & Obst, P. (2002). Trauma, coping resources, and family functioning in emergency services personnel: A comparative study. Work & Stress, 16(3), 275-282. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0267837021000034584 

Techera, U., Hallowell, M., Stambaugh, N., & Littlejohn, R. (2016) Causes and consequences of occupational fatigue: Meta-Analysis and systems model. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 58(10), 961-973. https://doi.org/10.1097/jom.0000000000000837 

Van Gelderen, B. R., Bakker, A. B., Konijn, E. A., & Demerouti, E. (2011). Daily suppression of discrete emotions during the work of police service workers and criminal investigation officers. Anxiety, Stress & Coping, 24(5), 515-537. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10615806.2011.560665 

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Work and home transitions: Boundary confusion

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Work and home transitions: Boundary confusion

Boundary confusion in PSP families happens when the boundaries between work and home are blurred. It can also mean that a person is unable to understand that certain behaviours are not appropriate (whether that is at work or at home). Inappropriate behaviours can affect that person’s relationships either at work or at home or both.

Typically, there are different role expectations for people when they are at work and when they are at home. People behave differently depending on their role. These differences in behaviour are often necessary and require only minor adjustments. However, the adjustments for PSP can be significant. They may have difficulty transitioning from behaviours that work well at work to those needed in the home. Work behaviours that are more controlling, militaristic, and hypervigilant can spill over into the home.

PSP are more at risk for boundary confusion because of the distinct differences between work and home roles. The blurring of roles and inappropriate behaviours at home can be uncomfortable for families and cause relationship tension and conflict. It is important to recognize the signs of boundary confusion and support work and home transitions that reduce the risk.

How might families experience PSP boundary confusion?

Overprotection and Hypervigilance

When PSP shift from a high risk work environment to home, it can be hard to switch off the behaviours that kept them safe at work. PSP might remain on high alert for any dangers (hypervigilance). They might also be overprotective of their SSOs or children because of what they witness at work. Introducing new rules at home and strict discipline for children, expecting absolute obedience, and reducing social contact can be signs of boundary confusion.

Withdrawal and Avoidance

As part of the transition home, PSP might decide not to share any information about work. They may do this to protect themselves and their families. At the same time, SSOs and children might choose not to share information with the PSP family member. They don’t want to cause the PSP family member any added worry (see anticipatory vigilance). All of this can cause a breakdown in communication, and adults and children can feel alone. Sometimes the decisions about what and how much to share can be difficult. Being aware of and talking together as a couple or family about the challenges can help reduce confusion.

Jealousy

PSP may bring their work home with them or their work might dominate couple conversations. SSOs may feel that PSP pay more attention to their work than their relationship or family. Co-worker camaraderie off the job can also result in jealousy. Team building and mutual support that is important on the job can develop friendships outside of work. SSOs may feel that PSP express themselves more freely with their co-workers which threatens their couple relationship. Boundary confusion results when there is too much focus on work and co-workers and too little focus on the couple relationship.

Heightened Expectations

PSP workplaces can have heightened expectations requiring strict order, rules, and consequences to get the job done. When there is boundary confusion, PSP might bring those same expectations home and expect to be listened to, followed, and obeyed. This can cause frustration for families. The kinds of expectations needed on the job may be inappropriate at home. PSP might also expect that, after a long or difficult shift, everything at home will be organized and in control. Unfortunately, this is often not a reality in family life. When these expectations are expressed, SSOs can feel disregarded and overworked.

Examples of boundary confusion

Click on the icon “i” for the example

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References for this page (click to expand)

Agocs, T., Langan, D., & Sanders, C. B. (2015). Police mothers at home: Police work and danger-protection parenting practices. Gender & Society, 29(2), 265-289. https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243214551157  

Ashforth, B. E., Kreiner, G. E., & Fugate, M. (2000). All in a day’s work: Boundaries and micro role transitions. Academy of Management.the Academy of Management Review, 25(3), 472-491. https://doi.org/10.5465/amr.2000.3363315 

Bochantin, J. E. (2016). “Morning fog, spider webs, and escaping from Alcatraz”: Examining metaphors used by public safety employees and their families to help understand the relationship between work and family. Communication Monographs, 83(2), 214-238. https://doi.org/10.1080/03637751.2015.1073853  

Fratesi, D. (2019) Police work and its effect on the family. Pine Bluff Police Department, Police Work and the Family. Retrieved July 15, 2022 from: https://www.cji.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/effects_on_family_paper.pdf 

Helfers, R. C., Reynolds, P. D., & Scott, D. M. (2021). Being a blue blood: A phenomenological study on the lived experiences of police officers’ children. Police Quarterly, 24(2), 233-261. https://doi.org/10.1177/1098611120964954  

McElheran, M., & Stelnicki, A. M. (2021). Functional disconnection and reconnection: an alternative strategy to stoicism in public safety personnel. European journal of psychotraumatology, 12(1). https://doi.org/10.1080/20008198.2020.1869399 

Miller, L. (2007). Police families: stresses, syndromes, and solutions. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 35(1), 21-40. https://doi.org/10.1080/01926180600698541  

Ricciardelli, R., Carleton, R. N., Groll, D., & Cramm, H. (2018). Qualitatively unpacking Canadian public safety personnel experiences of trauma and their well-being. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, 60(4), 566-577. https://doi.org/10.3138/cjccj.2017-0053.r2  

Ungar, M. (2009). Overprotective parenting: Helping parents provide children the right amount of risk and responsibility. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 37(3), 258-271. https://doi.org/10.1080/01926180802534247 

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