children looking outside

Interview with our parenting and relationship expert who is part of the offer FREE support for Londoners in 7 boroughs.

Together or separated couples in Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea, Camden, Hammersmith & Fulham, Croydon, Brent and Lambeth (as well as others in the northern Home Counties) can access free relationship and parenting support. John Fenna, of Tavistock Relationships, spoke with Alice Hargreaves, Relationship & Parenting Practitioner working on Tavistock Relationships’ ‘Building Relationships for Stronger Families’ programme, to gather some tips for parenting during lock down.

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Alice Hargreaves, Relationship & Parenting Practitioner with Tavistock Relationships

Parenting support

John: Explain there are things we can control and things we can’t

Alice: For example, we can control what we do to stay healthy – stay at home, wash our hands regularly, don’t visit family, avoid busy places, etc. And we can control what we do at home.

We can’t control school closures, restaurant closures, how long it will last, how others behave, etc.

Reassure & Focus on the positives

Reassure children by explaining that we know what we can do to stay safe. Focus on the positives, for example:

- we are spending more time together as a family – sharing meals, watching movies, playing games, going for walks together;

- we are being socially responsible and keeping our friends and family, and the more fragile people in society safe; and

- we can use technology to keep in touch with our friends and family.

Remember to give positive attention and encouragement to children’s behaviours you like and want to see more of.

Help children to get accurate and age appropriate information

With older children, help them to find accurate sources of information and correct anything inaccurate.

With younger children, share appropriate information gradually. Don’t overwhelm children. Be the shock absorber between the news and your child. For example, younger children don’t need to know how many people are dying, but they do need to know how to stay safe, why some parks are closed, why they aren’t visiting friends and relatives and why there are queues outside supermarkets.

Choose your language carefully

Avoid using language that is threatening or alarming, for example “There’s no food in the supermarket!” or “We are trapped indoors!”

Allow children to express their emotions

There may be increased tantrums, tears, shouting, mischief, defiance, etc but we must encourage our children to talk about their feelings. Ask open questions about the things they are worried about and how they are feeling. Make it clear that you are ready to listen to their worries.

Acknowledge their fears

Children’s basic need to feel safe and secure are currently not being met. We need to listen to their fears. Acknowledge them, be curious, ask them questions, for example ‘What do you worry about?’ and ‘What frightens you?’

We must avoid minimising or dismissing their worries. Children need to be heard and seen. They need to know that it’s normal to feel worried as it is a difficult time for everyone. Avoid telling them not to worry or not to think about it. The mind doesn’t work that way and they shouldn’t feel it’s wrong to worry or that it’s a part of them you don’t want to engage with.

Create a Worry Jar

Encourage them to notice their worry and engage with it. Worries can be split into two camps – hypothetical situations (what if’s) and current problems. Ask if there’s anything you can do about their worries.

Set up a Worry Jar where you invite your children to write their worries onto a piece of paper and post them into a jar. This helps the child to let go of the worry, knowing it is contained and safe in the jar, rather than having to keep replaying it in their mind. Set a regular time and place to go through the worries with each of your children individually and discuss them. After a meal is best when our nervous systems are in rest and digest mode. But not close to bed time.

Find ways to make the most of the situation

When we are thrown out of our Window of Tolerance we need to find ways to get back in. We need to look at the positives, for example exams have been cancelled, the environment is gaining right now and we are spending more time together as a family.

Help them to find the tools they need to feel better

This could be movement - for example kicking a football in the garden, going for a walk or doing some yoga.

It could be a form of processing – singing, writing or playing an instrument.

It could be a distraction – watching a movie, drawing, colouring, reading or baking.

It could be something sensory – for example modelling with clay, playing with a squidgy, kneading dough, etc

Find a purpose

This is particularly important for teenagers who will need to find ways to motivate themselves and be responsible for their own wellbeing. Making themselves accountable to their peers may help them to find this purpose, for example pledging to their friends that they will walk a certain number of steps or do an online work out each day.

Manage your own worries

Set a good example by acknowledging when you are struggling, catastrophizing, worried or anxious. Find ways to deal with your own stress and anxiety by taking time out and limiting your own intake of bad news. Be kind to yourself.

Have a plan

Structure and consistency are calming during times of stress, so try to maintain routines where possible. For example, have regular wake-up times, bed times, and meal times. Make time for activities and exercise, alternate study with play. Give kids age appropriate jobs around the house. Also make sure there’s a quiet place for everyone in the house to retire to if they need to.

But be flexible and don’t over schedule. It’s ok to relax boundaries at this time, acknowledging that there will be a time when we go back to normal.

Set aside quality time

Have one-to-one time with each child to help balance individual needs. Remember quality is more important than quantity. For example, just 15 minutes of your full attention while your child is colouring or watching Youtube will give them the opportunity to speak to you if they want to.

Remember to also set aside quality time for yourself, as part of looking after your own mental health and wellbeing.

Find a new normal

Slow down and accept a new rhythm to the day. Encourage everyone to be creative and learn new skills (e.g. touch typing, cooking, online yoga, make-up tutorials), connect with nature during time spent outdoors, write a diary, make your own bread, play cards or board games, or spend time drawing, painting or gardening.

Tavistock Relationships is offering free online support for couples and families in seven London boroughs and four counties. You can signu up here. or call 020 7380 1960 to find out more.