Families Under Pressure

During this stressful and cooped-up time, don’t let the pressure of parenting get you down. Try these simple tips and tricks, formulated by Professor Edmund Sonuga-Barke and Professor Andrea Danese, which are backed by science and proven to work with families.

Try these simple tricks and tips, formulated by Professor Edmund Sonuga-Barke and the POP-UP team, which are backed by science and proven to work with families.

  • Tip 1: Keeping positive and motivated

    Being a parent is a special and important role. But sometimes it can feel like a thankless task. As a...

    Tip 1: Keeping positive and motivated

    Being a parent is a special and important role. But sometimes it can feel like a thankless task. As a person and a parent you are special and important, and you need to look after yourself.

    • Being a parent is perhaps the most important role in society; but sometimes it can feel like a thankless task.
    • If things are not going well with your children you can start to worry that you are not a good enough parent.
    • It’s easy for this to turn into a negative habit of thinking which makes you lack confidence. This makes it harder to take control which often leads to children playing up more.
    • It’s vital that you break out of this negative cycle and take the pressure off yourself. The best way to do this is –
      • to recognise that parenting is a challenge, that some children are more difficult to parent than others, and that everyone messes up sometimes –
    • To understand that small changes can improve matters with your child – which is what our films are about. Once you have switched into a more realistic cycle of thinking you need to look after yourself so you can keep this new sense of perspective.
      • make sure you time out from the hurly-burly of daily life to relax and do things you enjoy and;
      • reach out to family or friends – not just to talk about parenting – although it can be helpful if you have a person you trust. Don’t feel embarrassed to talk about the challenges you face. They will probably find it as useful as you will.
    • Doing these things will provide a great platform for the next set of tips.
  • Tip 2: Making sure everyone knows what’s expected of them

    Clear house rules are an essential starting point for managing children’s challenging behaviour. These rules are important during the current...

    Tip 2: Making sure everyone knows what’s expected of them

    Clear house rules are an essential starting point for managing children’s challenging behaviour. These rules are important during the current times when families are under pressure because they set out clear boundaries about – what you want to encourage and discourage your child to do.

    • They also promote respect between family members.
    • Children like clear rules as long as they are fair, and they are applied with justice
    • To set up these rules first arrange a meeting between all the adults in house – decide what your priorities are so you can focus on what is important. . You don’t want too many rules or they might be too complicated or hard to remember.
    • Decide what will happen if rules are broken – will there be specific sanctions?
    • Some rules will be relevant for everyone in the house and some for the children only.
    • Once the adults have decided on the rules it’s vital to get the children on board as well. You need to take time to explain the reasons. .
    • Get everyone to make a commitment to follow the rules – including people from outside the family– like grandparents.
    • Put the rules on a poster so they are displayed for everyone to see – perhaps stick it on the fridge.
    • Be consistent – make sure all the adults in the house apply the same rules in the same way – don’t let the children play one parent off against another and don’t have favourites.
    • Regularly review the rules as a family – how are you all doing? Are the rules still relevant? Do they need to change?
  • Tip 3: Building your child’s self-confidence and trust in you

    In times of uncertainty, children may start to doubt themselves and feel insecure in their relationships. Children who feel positive...

    Tip 3: Building your child’s self-confidence and trust in you

    In times of uncertainty, children may start to doubt themselves and feel insecure in their relationships. Children who feel positive about themselves and confident in their place within the family are less likely to misbehave There are lots of reasons why children misbehave and become disruptive and disobedient[MJ1] .

    • In times of uncertainty, children might start to doubt themselves and feel insecure in their relationships with other family members.
    • These feelings can lead them to be hostile with parents and other family members and become disruptive.
    • It is a natural reaction for a parent to try and tackle “fire-with-fire” in such situations and try and clamp down on this sort of misbehaviour before it gets out of control by using sanctions.
    • Although there may be a place for this at some point (see film 8) this should not be the first line of response.
    • To try and find an opportunity to talk to your child about their concerns and take time to listen carefully to their answers.
    • This will give you an opportunity to provide them with reassurance about your feelings for them and help them to feel secure in their position within the family.
    • At the same time pay attention to your child’s positive actions and achievements – give them lots of positive feedback and encouragement.
    • Don’t be shy to praise your child – this will bolster their self-esteem and strengthen their confidence in their relationship with you.
    • Find things to do together as a family that you all enjoy – play together with your children – it’s a great opportunity to show how much you care, to praise and build your child’s confidence.
  • Tip 4: Getting your child to follow instructions

    Want children to follow instructions? Discover the keys to helping them listen and understand. If you want your children to...

    Tip 4: Getting your child to follow instructions

    Want children to follow instructions? Discover the keys to helping them listen and understand. If you want your children to follow your instructions then you need to be sure that they are listening to you and that they understand what you are saying.

    • Clear communication between parents and children is key to reducing parent-child conflict and promoting better behaviour.
    •  If your children don’t know what it is you want from them – either because they don’t hear what you say or because they don’t understand what they hear – then it is unreasonable to tell them off when they don’t do what you want.
    • If you do tell them off in such circumstances it will be no surprise that they get upset with you.
    • There are some simple things you can do to improve the way you communicate with your child to make sure this doesn’t happen.
    • Getting attention
      • 1. Although it sounds obvious, move to the same room as your child – don’t shout from room-to-room.
      • 2. Get full attention – remove distractions like phones or computers – either yours or theirs.
      • 3. Make eye-contact – make sure your child can see your eyes and mouth and you can see theirs.
    • Being understood
      • Speak slowly
      • Use simple short sentences – including only one point per sentence.
    • Check that they have understood what you have said by asking them to explain it to you.
      If you want to get your child to stop doing something give them good warning – count down the time till they have to stop.
    • Display authority and be a good role model.
      • Be calm and firm – don’t plead.
      • Be polite and respectful. Respect breads respect.
  • Tip 5: Promoting good behaviour

    Being smart about how you use rewards can really encourage children to behave better. Selectively using rewards can encourage better...

    Tip 5: Promoting good behaviour

    Being smart about how you use rewards can really encourage children to behave better. Selectively using rewards can encourage better behaviour in children and help them to follow agreed house rules.

    • Consequences influence behaviour – if someone gives us something we like, a reward, when we behave in a certain way then we are more likely to behave in that way again.
    • Parents can use rewards in this way to improve their children’s behaviour and the extent to which they will follow the house rules that have been agreed.
    • To do this parents should be –
      • relevant – give rewards that the child really values – agree what these are with your child.
      • realistic – don’t give rewards that are too large or disruptive to the rest of the household.
      • fair – use similar reward systems for the different children in your family.
      • selective – only give rewards when your child behaves in the way you are trying to encourage.
      • consistent – always give rewards when the behaviour you’re trying to encourage happens.
      • clear – make sure your child understands what you are rewarding.
      • timely – give the reward as soon after the behaviour you are trying to encourage happens.
      • “as good as their word” – always follow through on a reward that you promise.
    • Rewards can be used to encourage effort – so that you encourage trying to follow the rules as well as succeeding.
    • Parents should work together as a team – so that both parents (if there are two) are using the same reward system in the same way.
    • It can be very motivating if rewards are recorded on a chart which is displayed publicly.
  • Tip 6: How to limit conflict

    Parents can play an important role in reducing conflict by using simple and common-sense strategies. When families are living under...

    Tip 6: How to limit conflict

    Parents can play an important role in reducing conflict by using simple and common-sense strategies. When families are living under pressure it’s easy for this to affect everyone’s behaviour– frustrated and/or worried children are more likely to react negatively when things don’t go their way

    • Some children are naturally more likely to be more upset if things don’t go their way and find it harder to calm down. This might be especially the case for children with autism or ADHD for example. .
    • There are things that parents can do to help reduce these reactions.
      • Try as best you can to keep your children occupied.
      • Create routines and make a plan with your children for each day. If plans change give clear explanations why this is the case and reminders when things will be different. Many children react badly to (negative) surprises.
      • Try to avoid including tasks that you know your child will find frustrating, upsetting, provoking or too exciting, based on your knowledge of what has happened in the past and try to get to understand your child’s strengths and weaknesses better.
      • If your child is still starting to get upset with something (or someone) you can nip the problem in the bud by using distraction. For instance, talk about something they enjoy or find funny.
      • If your child still really works themselves up into a state, create a safe space where you can take them to calm down, ensuring you give them time and keep an eye on them.
  • Tip 7: Keeping calm when your kids act up

    Parents are only human! They over-react when their children misbehave. This is likely to increase conflict and make it harder...

    Tip 7: Keeping calm when your kids act up

    Parents are only human! They over-react when their children misbehave. This is likely to increase conflict and make it harder for their children to follow the family rules.

    • Parenting can be an emotional business –because we love our children, they can make us so upset that we lose our temper and do or say things that we regret.
    • Parenting is most effective in reducing conflict and promoting good behaviour when it combines a calm authority with kindness and respect.
    • Losing your temper as a parent never helps a situation – it may lead to more conflict and make it harder to establish control.
    • Children may become frightened or upset or react angrily. They may also lose confidence in, and respect for, their parents and become more difficult to deal with.
    • There are some ways to reduce the chances that you will over-react:
      • avoid situations where you will find it hard to keep calm.
      • 2. Use a firm, steady, confident and respectful tone of voice.
      • if you feel yourself getting upset – take a breath and collect your thoughts. Count to 10 or think of something pleasant.
      • If you really get upset, walk away to a safe space at home where you can calm down.
    • If you are having a problem with your temper it might be worth talking to your GP– it’s nothing to be ashamed of and they may be able to suggest something to help.
  • Tip 8: Using sanctions carefully

    Use sanctions as a last resort to encourage children to follow rules. Proper use of rewards can encourage children to...

    Tip 8: Using sanctions carefully

    Use sanctions as a last resort to encourage children to follow rules. Proper use of rewards can encourage children to follow agreed house rules.

    • Sometimes rewards isn’t enough and parents may decide to turn to sanctions
    • Sanctions means taking away something that the child likes when they break one of the agreed rules.
    • Sanctions should be used as a last resort to discourage persistent rule breaking when rewards haven’t worked.
    • Make sure everyone in the family knows what is going to happen. It’s vital that all adults in the family support the plan and don’t undermine it by changing their mind.
    • Perhaps have a meeting to highlight this and to get everyone’s buy-in.
    • Choose sanctions that are practical, reasonable and relevant – something the child will miss, and that you can deliver it without inconveniencing the whole family.
    • Stay in control and have a sense of authority in your voice. Don’t get emotional.
      • Remind your child what rule they have broken and what the agreed sanction is andand that you are putting into practice what has been agreed.
      • “Time out” – removing your child from normal interaction in the family by getting them to sit on a chair or the step for a short period of time can be helpful. The amount of time you need will vary depending on the child’s age and temperament.
      • Be consistent – always follow through on what you say you will do.
      • Don’t overuse sanctions – they will lose their effectiveness and they may be perceived as heavy handed by the child.

These videos focus on emotions and are formulated by Professor Andrea Danese and colleagues at the Maudsley CAMHS Trauma, Anxiety and Depression clinic. They are drawn from Cognitive Behavioural-Therapy (CBT) principles used to help young people who experience anxiety or depression.

  • Tip 9: How to communicate better with your child

    Active listening: It is helpful to explain to your children that it is normal to worry when facing challenges and...

    Tip 9: How to communicate better with your child

    Active listening: It is helpful to explain to your children that it is normal to worry when facing challenges and uncertainty. You can listen to your children’s worries and encourage them to ask questions, check that you have understood them, and try answer questions with factual information / examples. Of course, you may not have all the answers. It is helpful to acknowledge when you do not know the answer, then try to find some answers together, or tell them what is being done by others to find the answer.

    Address misinformation: It’s a good idea to limit children’s exposure to news and social media as they might unnecessarily increase anxiety. You can watch the news and social media together, so that you can help them interpret the news with terms they understand, correct misinformation, and discuss unhelpful behaviours they might see in others.

    Modelling: Try to discuss with your children when you are calm, to model the behaviour you’d like them to have. Maintaining a predictable routine also helps them feel safe.

  • Tip 10: Helping your child cope with anxiety

    Reduce unhelpful thoughts: To reduce worries, you can encourage your children to talk about their thoughts to you, to write...

    Tip 10: Helping your child cope with anxiety

    Reduce unhelpful thoughts: To reduce worries, you can encourage your children to talk about their thoughts to you, to write them down, and then to put the list away. Try to limit discussions about worries at a special “worry time” once a day. It is helpful to explain to them that instead of worrying about things they cannot change (the “what if…?” or “why…?” questions) they can use problem-solving to identify actions they can take to get what they want (the “what can I do to…?” question). For example, instead of asking “Why is my school still closed, what if it stays shut?”, suggest that they can ask “What can I do to keep in touch with my school-mates, how can I keep up with my school work?”.

    Reduce unhelpful behaviours: Only give reassurance a set number of times daily because those interactions will only keep the worry going. If needed, you can also offer little rewards for engaging in just the necessary amount of protective behaviours (e.g., hand-washing) and time away from you (if they are clingy).

  • Tip 11: Helping your child manage negative feelings

    Normalising: It is helpful to explain to your children that it is normal to be irritable and feel upset when...

    Tip 11: Helping your child manage negative feelings

    Normalising: It is helpful to explain to your children that it is normal to be irritable and feel upset when things are tough, but the bad feelings will pass with time, and there are things they can do to manage big emotions next time they arise.

    Calming Tool Kit: You can encourage your children to practise techniques to manage their big emotions. For example, they can find a quiet space to calm down, take deep breaths, distract themselves with exercise/music/reading, or talk to a trusted person. They can use grounding techniques, which involve paying close attention to their senses – the details of what they can see, hear, smell, taste, and feel around them. For example, listening out for lyrics and different instruments in a piece of preferred music, focusing on brush/pencil strokes when painting/colouring, or eating mindfully noticing textures and tastes as they come. They can also create a box of calming activities (e.g., touch: playdough, fidget cubes or spinners, and stress balls; smell: essential oils, candles; hear: favourite music; good memories: photos). Finally, they can imagine being in a safe or fun place.

    Reflecting and acting: Because it is hard to think rationally when experiencing big emotions, is it important to encourage children to reflect on their emotions, thoughts, and behaviours once they are calmer. In this way, you can help them think how to be kind and to avoid blaming themselves or others. Over time, they can learn to notice early signs of feelings erupting and to use the above strategies in a timely fashion. Early on it is helpful to offer praise and little rewards when children are able use those strategies.

  • Tip 12: How to boost positive emotions

    Acceptance: Parents must recognise that they are not superheroes: it will be impossible to entertain children 24 hours a day...

    Tip 12: How to boost positive emotions

    Acceptance: Parents must recognise that they are not superheroes: it will be impossible to entertain children 24 hours a day and all children will get bored at some point; parents are not expected to suddenly know and teach them the whole curriculum. It is important that parents are kind to themselves.

    Scheduling activities: When old routines are lost, it is helpful to build new routines by writing down a plan together with your children.

    Remember essential activities: It is important to ensure that your children keep eating and sleeping at regular times, and to ensure that your children maintain good social connection with friends and family – in person or even through video calls and social media.

    Identify positive activities: You can write down together with your children a list of what is important to them (e.g., being creative, being a good friend), and what they can do to get what they want (e.g., drawing, texting their friends). It is important to ensure variety in activities (education, exercise, creative activities, socialising), and encourage your child to try something new.

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Worried, or need urgent help?

If you are worried about yourself or someone else you can find details of mental health helplines by visiting the NHS conditions page. If you are experiencing a mental health crisis please call 111 or speak to Samaritans by calling 116 123. If your life is in danger please call 999 immediately.