Improving Communication with your Child

Parenting NI understands that these are difficult and uniquely challenging times. We hope the advice and information in this article will be useful to your family during this challenging time. Even when this pandemic has passed these strategies should help to improve communication and reduce conflict in your home. 

Living in relatively confined circumstances can be challenging for anyone. If you and your partner are newly working from home and your children are no longer at school your home may feel very busy. Families, particularly children – often miscommunicate, unintentionally under the best of circumstances. This article will contain some information and advice on how best to maintain good communication during this crisis. 

Age appropriate

Obviously, there are different strategies that work for younger or older children. However, some things are universal. In their report for UNICEF, Kolucki and Lemish stratify children into three sub-sets – early years, middle years and early adolescent years. They outline four principles regarding how you approach communication with children, it should be:

  • Age-appropriate and child friendly
  • Address the child as a whole – and bear in mind their own personality
  • Positive and strengths-based
  • Talk about everyone’s needs, including those who are disadvantaged

Taking the current crisis as an example, children may not understand words like “pandemic”. They may struggle with concepts like “self-isolation. This lack of understanding may lead to a child or young person being frightened or confused. In older children, this might lead to them taking unnecessary risks or ignoring official advice. 

Parents know their children best – when attempting to explain a complicated idea to a child, use examples they are familiar with. Equally, if you find yourself struggling to explain, take this as an opportunity to learn together. Do not guess, instead look up answers together. Ask your child what they understand already and be sure to correct any disinformation. The UN recommends a strategy they call ‘Child-Friendly Honesty’ when talking about the coronavirus, for example. This means using language they understand, watching their reactions and being sensitive to their anxiety levels. 

Remember that children – particularly those who have access to the internet – may have read more than you expect. However, they may lack the critical thinking skills to determine fact from fiction effectively. There are plenty of reputable websites that can help dispel errors or misinformation like the BBC or the Government’s own websites. 

Everyday Communication

While it is important that children understand the current situation (to an extent), it is also important that the lines of communication remain open in a busy household. 

Family Lives, a UK-based family support organisation outlines three types of communication between parents and children. These are: 

  • Organisation of an event or activity, or to check arrangements; 
  • Bonding – genuinely sharing and learning about each other; 
  • Chatting – idle conversation about unimportant issues. 

All three sorts of communication will be important in the coming weeks. It is important that parents and children are aware of the types of communication and when they are appropriate. For example, it is okay for a child to interrupt a workday for an important conversation. It may not appropriate for them to attempt to chat, but that will take time to get used to so it is important you learn to work together.  Perhaps you could agree a signal that indicates you are on an important call or put a note out to explain that you are not available (unless of course in emergencies) for 10 or 15 minutes.  But most of all, understand that you are all adjusting  and that it is going to take time to find your new family ‘normal’.   

If you find for example, that your children continues to regularly attempt to talk during times when you have to focus, it is worth speaking to them during a calm moment. Attempting to explain while you are stressed is likely to have negative outcomes. Discuss with your child what your strategies are and how you are going to make it clear when you are unavailable, agree with your child what is reasonable and what is not, and be mindful that you follow your own guidelines. It is unfair for a child who is working on home-schooling to be interrupted with idle conversation, and then be told off for doing the same to you during work. 

What does good communication look like?

Good communication is the result of setting out a number of basic elements. Parents should remember that communication is a two-way process, and make sure to listen as well as talk. According to the Australian Department of Social Services, this will help to encourage children and young people to do the same. Listening is an active behaviour – pay attention not only to what is being said, but also how it is said. Look at body language and be positive and encouraging. It can be difficult to listen under stressful circumstances, but that makes it more important. 

Be clear with your intent

It is natural to be polite, or to seek to avoid conflict by your words, but if you have certain expectations of children it is important that they understand this. This is especially relevant for parents of adolescents. When talking to a teenager, remember that they are going through complex physical and social changes. When you add in the complications associated with the need for self-isolation this can become overwhelming. Nonetheless, experts have been clear that teenagers in particular are not following the advice regarding avoiding social gatherings6. While it might be easy to react angrily if you learn that your teenage child has been to a party or been seeing friends, this is not necessarily the best way to react if you want them to listen. 

Rebelliousness is a natural part of teenage life

In fact, brains develop during the teenage years to specifically be more likely to take risks. This does not mean that they cannot understand risk, that they do not care or that they cannot be persuaded to behave differently. Communication, based on listening and respect are a parent’s best tool to getting a teenager to avoid a behaviour. In the context of the coronavirus, explain in reasonable terms why you need them to socially distance themselves. Listen to their concerns and worries about the effect of this, and do your best to mitigate them. Stress that this is not a ‘normal’ circumstance, like staying late at a party or using alcohol.  

This won’t be forever

Remind them that this is temporary, and if practical offer them a reasonable incentive if they comply. This is not a ‘bribe’, but a mutually agreed reward for them to focus on when the temptation to socialise during lockdown is particularly strong. This does not have to be money – let them propose what they might like or offer family-based incentives like getting to choose a film, more screen time or having time when they are allowed to be alone to chat to friends digitally. 


When communicating with children remember to be reasonable but consistent. If you explain the consequences of an action, and the children do not comply, you should follow through with any disciplining. This applies for any positive consequences too – do not let the unique circumstances reduce the fun or family time that you normally enjoy. It is just as important to fulfil the promise to make pancakes for breakfast as it would be to instil discipline. 

Having your own space

Time alone is important in maintaining communication as well. It is hard to keep your own composure if your family are constantly around, making noise and disrupting your already disrupted schedule. It is a good idea to plan time for each member to have time spent away – in another room, in the garden or the like. This gives them time to collect their own thoughts, and should help with communication later on. 

Finally, it is important always to not be too hard on yourself as a parent. These are uncertain times, and while it is good to aim for perfect communication, you must have a reasonable expectation of your own capacity. Do not judge yourself for mistakes, instead simply aim to improve from that point. If you feel overwhelmed, you can continue to contact Parenting NI on 0808 8010 722. 

Promoting Good Sibling Relationships

Having more than one child can be complicated. While there is a huge amount of joy associated with siblings throughout life, there are also natural challenges. Nonetheless, during this time of isolation and social distancing, for many children their brothers or sisters are their only real peers. This article will look at some of the positive benefits of having siblings, and how parents can support good sibling relationships. 

It is important to note that while siblings can bring advantages to families no parent should feel concerned if they have only one child. Siblings are by no means “mandatory”, and many of the benefits can be replicated by friends and family. 

What does research say?

Firstly, there are studies that have found that having siblings has a beneficial effect on the mental and physical health of children. Swedish researcher Therese Wallin found that siblings are less likely to suffer allergies, be obese or have depression. Siblings can start to influence each other right from birth. When a new baby enters the household, the older sibling begins to gain social skills by interacting with their younger sibling. The younger sibling will gain cognitively from copying their older sibling, using their behaviour as a model. There is even evidence that the mental benefits of having siblings can last into adulthood, because people with siblings are statistically happier than those without. 

Sisters – older or younger – have been found to improve their siblings mental health. A study into the impact of sisters on their siblings found that the presence of a loving sister can reduce feelings of guilt, sadness and isolation. Sibling relationships are important and different from parent-child relationships and provide unique benefits. Brothers and sisters both improve the charitableness and general kindness of their siblings. In households where there was a strained or difficult parent-child relationship affection from siblings acted as a shield from some of the negative effects. 

Interestingly, each child makes gains depending on where they come in the birth order. While youngest siblings have been found to be more adventurous and open to new experiences. They have to find their own “niche” in the family and this promotes outgoingness and a desire to experience new things. Older siblings on the other hand tend to be more responsible and dependable than they would otherwise be. Finally, middle children develop particularly astute conflict resolution skills. As you can see, siblings have a unique and positive effect on each other. No two families are alike, so having siblings doesn’t mean child must be a certain way. Instead, it offers parents opportunities to promote positive characteristics in their children. 

Promoting good relationships 

There is a lot of advice on supporting siblings and preventing sibling rivalry in our article here. However, here are a few tips for helping your children get along: 

  • Give your children tasks to do together. For example, have the older sibling help the younger with their homework; 
  • If you have the space in a garden, have sports “competitions” between siblings. This can involve running, body-weight exercises like push-ups or just kicking a ball around. Keep it light-hearted to ensure minimal conflict; 
  • Encourage creative co-operational activities. Make a den or fort out of pillows, blankets or carboard. 

It is also important to talk to your children and encourage them to see their siblings as their teammates. Competition and rivalry is common and normal under regular circumstances. During the challenge presented by the pandemic where everyone is stuck inside arguments are almost certainly going be more common. Therefore, parents can help to address this by being proactive. When you talk to your children, emphasise the fact that they are all in this together. That as a family, you will need to help and support each other. Ask them how they could be there for each other when they are needed. 

There is no sure-fire way to ensure consistent positive sibling relationships all of the time. Even if it was, remember that children do learn from some level of conflict. Parents shouldn’t necessarily attempt to prevent it entirely. During the crisis, try to focus on doing the best that you can to ensure that your children are kind to each other and have a positive relationship most of the time. More importantly, be realistic with what you can achieve. Don’t put undue pressure on yourself, and remember that every family is struggling right now. Do the best that you can, and ask for help if you need it. 

If you are struggling with sibling rivalry or any other aspect of parenting during the pandemic, don’t forget that Parenting NI’s support line is operational. Simply call 0808 8010 722 and we can provide support, help and advice on how best to get through this extraordinary time. 

Supporting Children with Death & Loss

Sadly, during this difficult time it is more likely than before that children and young people will have to experience loss of a friend or loved one.

Dealing with this will be more difficult than normal, because of the uniquely cruel circumstances around the pandemic. How then, can parents best prepare their child for this?

Much of the advice in this article applies even under normal circumstances. However, it will also include some specific support for dealing with loss during the pandemic.

Talking to your child about death

Death is an unfortunate part of life. For some children, this is a particularly difficult thing for them to deal with emotionally. Children will understand death in different ways, depending on a number of factors. The most important of these is their age and stage of development. Speaking about death to a teenager is naturally very different than speaking about it with a toddler. 

The American Academy of Paediatrics breaks children’s understanding of death down into four main concepts: 

  • Irreversibility (that death is permanent); 
  • Finality (that everything the body does stops with a death); 
  • Inevitability (that death is universal for all living things); 
  • Causality (what causes death). 

 A child’s ability to understand and cope with each of these four concepts will help determine how they react overall to a death. It is therefore important for a parent supporting a child during a loss to understand generally how well they understand these concepts. A parent can help a child deal with death by explaining it in an age-appropriate manner. 

It is normal to want to shield your child from the harsh truth of a loss. It can be enormously challenging for an adult to speak about the loss of a loved one frankly especially when they are grieving themselves. However, being too vague or making use of too many euphemisms can confuse a young child. A parent should try to be sympathetic and emotionally supportive in their language. However, you should avoid giving the wrong impression about any of the four concepts of death. 

How do children grieve?

It is also important for a parent to be aware of how their child grieves. Everyone is different, and everyone processes grief in their own way. Therefore, not every child will behave in the same way. Nonetheless, there are a few things that children will likely do if grieving: 

  • Babies and toddlers: looking for the person who has died, being irritable and crying more, being anxious and wanting more attention.


  • Young children: Many of the same behaviours as above, as well as dreams about the person who has died, regressing in developmental progress, fearfulness.


  • Primary-aged children: Many of the above behaviours as well as, blaming themselves, being easily distracted, feeling embarrassed or fearful, stomach or physical issues.


  • Older children: Being particularly anxious about friends and family’s safety, trying to please adults more than normal, feeling very strong emotions, being very focussed on what has happened.


  • Teenagers: Being easily distracted, being generally unsettled and neglecting school or work, wanting to be alone or alternatively, being clingy, risk-taking behaviour to escape, pretending not to care or joking about the death. 

How can parents help?

The first thing is for younger children, try to continue normal routines as best as possible. While older children understand that a death temporarily upends life and that it will return to normal, a younger child might be fearful that everything has changed forever. Secondly, allow them to feel their emotions. Do not tell them how they must feel, and give them space to feel fear, anger or grief. Parents should step in if a child is at risk of self-harm or if they seem to be getting beyond control. Attempting to stop them from expressing their emotions can cause further issues. 

Particularly with older children, talk honestly with them about the death. If a person is likely to pass away, but has not yet done so, it may be worth speaking to the child in advance. Do not hide your own emotions from them and remember that it is okay for you to grieve as well. Explain that death is a tragic but natural part of life. For younger children, give examples like plants or animals. 

Coping with death during the pandemic 

A positive activity that can be done – depending on access during the pandemic – is to create a memory box. The NHS has a guide here to explain how to create one. Having a physical reminder of the lost loved one is a good way to deal with grief. 

During the pandemic, it is likely that there will be unique challenges. A loved one may die while you and your child are unable to see them. You may be unable to attend a funeral. There may be a higher level of bereavement than normal. Parents should not scare children, and if they ask about these circumstances reassure them that you will deal with it as best you can if it occurs. Remind them that being physically present is not more important than keeping the loved one or friend in their thoughts, and that it does not mean they loved them less. Reassure them that you can visit once this pandemic has passed, and make plans for a memorial when it is more feasible. 

Parents should remember that they are not alone if they are struggling. It is important that you seek support yourself with grief if it is needed. This can be from loved ones, friends or if applicable to you, religious or spiritual leadership. If you or your child is struggling particularly hard with a loss, there are professional and charitable organisations who can provide support. You and your child should not feel ashamed or reluctant to reach out. Parenting NI continues to provide our support line service during the crisis and can be reached on 0808 8010 722. 

Parenting NI Statement on ‘Too Little, Too Late’ Report

Parenting NI welcomes the comprehensive review of the provision of SEN in mainstream schools completed by NICCY.

The key findings of the report mirror our own experiences of parents and caregivers struggling with a system that is under-resourced, opaque and slow. SEN needs were a major source of concern in our own research, such as the 2019 Big Parenting Survey.

We specifically welcome the recognition of the issues faced by parents in the report. In particular, the lack of communication with parents and caregivers involved in the SEN process and in SEN provision. This is an issue that parents and families raise with us on a regular basis with us. In addition, we recognise specific parental concerns such as parents feeling that children with dyslexia, or ASD are not being sufficiently supported . These are worries that are raised by parents contacting Parenting NI and will likely be familiar to any organisation supporting parents.

Parenting NI supports the call from the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, for an urgent systemic review of SEN provision within mainstream schools. In addition, Parenting NI echoes calls for a clearer framework for communication with parents and caregivers as outlined in recommendation 32 in particular.

Parenting NI commends NICCY on it’s hard work in producing this essential report, and calls upon all relevant bodies to implement its recommendations as soon as possible.

You can read the full report on NICCY’s website.













Co-Parenting in the time of COVID-19

The government has outlined strict instructions for all residents in Northern Ireland. It has made clear that everyone should stay at home as best they are able. For many families, this will be logistically simple. However, what is the advice for parents who are co-parenting? Are you allowed to bring a child to their other parent’s home? Even if it is legal, is it advisable? 

This short fact sheet will look at the government’s own advice, as well as academic studies on the importance of seeing both parents. 

Firstly, the government has specifically answered the question regarding seeing children in co-parenting arrangements during the crisis.

In short, yes, your child should keep any normal contact arrangements they had before in terms of visiting houses. However, children should not:

  • Visit with other family members except where those individuals live with their parent
  • Have visitation outside of the home.

Some parents are concerned that they may be doing more harm than good during the pandemic by moving children from house to house. This is understandable, and should a more stringent Wuhan or Italy style lockdown come into place this advice will need to be reviewed. However, it is important for parents to remember that being unable to see a parent has negative outcomes for social and emotional development.

This is a more long-term impact, but even short term absences can cause trauma. A study looking at children of refugees who were separated from their parents cause children to have feelings of anguish, despair, guilt, blame and depression – negative emotions that disrupt how they learn life skills. While you as an adult may understand the logic of changing routines, children may struggle to cope.  

A break in the parent-child relationship can cause difficulties in later life. We do not yet know how long the changes to social distancing and isolation will remain. As such, we should strive to maintain parent-child relationships as much as possible during this time of stress. A poor parent-child relationship has a direct connection to the likelihood of later life depression and anxiety.

Remember that this is an extraordinary time, and your child is already likely to experience heighten levels of stress. A disruption to their normal routine – not being able to see their other parent – may be more impactful now than under normal circumstances. Being able to see and spend time with their mother or father can reassure them that they are not in danger. Parents should make extra effort where possible to communicate directly in the current circumstances. Some advice for separated parents during this pandemic are:

  • Stay healthy. Limit your own social contact and wash your hands regularly. Your own contact with your child is at risk if you are unwell.
  • Be present. Your child will have many questions, and some will be uncomfortable. Listen to their concerns and answer honestly as best you can in an age-appropriate way.
  • Meet your obligations. Do not assume that the crisis means normal contact rules do not apply. There is no reason to create extra toxic conflict at the worst possible time.
  • Adapt. There will have to be reasonable adjustments and compromises. Try to meet these and remember – this is temporary. 

If you are struggling, remember that you can contact Parenting NI on 0808 8010 722.

Advice for School at Home

A new challenge

These are unprecedented times, and as a result many families are finding themselves in extremely challenging circumstances. One of the most obvious new trials is that the many thousands of families who do not home-school suddenly have children who are no longer able to attend school. When combined with many parents working from home in roles that previously required presence in the office, this naturally poses difficulties.

This article will seek to give parents advice regarding establishing new routines for their children. There are a number of official sources that you should also consult, and they will be listed at the bottom of this page. We would encourage you to prepare yourself as best you can.

What can I do?

The first thing to remember is: You are not school. This is temporary. Do not put yourself under undue pressure to “meet” the educational standards of professional schools. It takes years to qualify as a teacher. People are paid very well to determine the curriculum and how best to deliver that. No one is expecting parents to perform the same, particularly those who are also trying to juggle working from home with supporting your child’s or numerous children’s education. Remember that all children are experiencing this, and your child is not comparatively disadvantaged by default.

Nonetheless, there are some things that are important. If your child’s school is making use of online materials for teaching, make sure that they make good use of these. If they have a set work schedule, then parents should endeavour as best they can to follow this. It is important where possible for children to maintain a routine and link to their school during this time.

When seeking to establish a temporary “home school”, parents should involve children in the decision-making process. This is a confusing and difficult time for them, but allowing them to help decide how much studying, what form it will take and what they will be learning about can help keep them calm and engaged. Start by laying out the subjects that they will need to keep on top of. They should aim to be covering a number of topics generally, like maths and English. Beyond this, you can be creative in what they learn about.

Other types of learning

Remember that you can learn in all sorts of ways – not just worksheets. For example, here is a page from the American Chemistry Society all about how to teach chemistry via baking. Additionally, here is a page all about teaching basic maths with LEGO. The internet provides a wide range of useful resources that cover practically any subject your children can think of. Have them draw up a list of the things they would like to do or learn, and then sit down as a family and decide which may be possible and which you will do.

Children will naturally be less focused and engaged than in school. Some of the learning from your own experience working from home can transfer – establish a routine. Get your children get up at a reasonable time, get them dressed and have breakfast the same as you would if the were going to school. This will help them to take the new routine seriously. You don’t necessarily need to put them in uniforms, but it may be harder for them to concentrate in pyjamas.


Having a distinct place to “work” is helpful for your concentration and helps to establish a distinction from home and school. Some families set up temporary “school” rooms, complete with decorations and even a “school charter”. This outlines commitments and aims of the “school” setting, and gives children a list of rules to focus on.   Although this may not be possible in all houses and a work station at the kitchen table can work equally as well. Work with your child to make their “classroom”, ask them what they think makes a classroom special and provide as much as you can. Be creative and have fun. Most children have a schedule that they follow in school, so having a version of this can help them to adjust to the new way of learning.

Check up on them regularly. This is not only to ensure that they are still working, but to let them know that you care about how they are doing. If they seem to be struggling, talk to them about their issues. Remember that every child has different needs and learns at a different pace. In the same way that a teacher might have to spend more time with a particular student, do not be surprised if you have to work slightly more with one child. This is normal, not a reflection on you as a parent and makeshift educator!

Opportunity for relationship building

Keep in mind that this is an opportunity to spend time with your children doing things you might otherwise not have been able to. Of course it is highly stressful and difficult for families, but it is important to take advantage of any positives you can. Learn together, talk about the information that you have gotten, go on long walks together and talk about the environment, the weather, the possibilities are endless and it will encourage your children to pursue any interests they have.

Obviously parents who are working from home will need downtime where the children work independently. It is worthwhile talking to them about this in an age-appropriate way. However, whenever you can Parenting NI suggest getting involved in the activities your children are taking part in. Crafting and artwork is a good way to encourage learning. Don’t hesitate to make your own painting or recycled object art. You may well find that it is more enjoyable than you think.

For the time being, children are allowed outside. While it is not advisable for them to interact socially with friends or go to busy places like parks, they can still play in gardens or go for walks. Remember that regular break times are important in schools. Build these into your new routine to give your children a chance to play and relax.


The most important advice we can give is for parents to not be too hard on themselves. Know your limits, and if your children spend a day watching TV or a few more hours than usual during the week looking at screens do not despair. While it is important to ensure that not every single day is spent this way, there is no benefit to a parent getting upset or frustrated and giving up. Remember tomorrow is always a new day.

If you require further support, you can access the Parenting NI Support line on 0808 8010 722.

You can get further information regarding governmental advice from:

Parenting NI Statement Regarding COVID-19

Update from Parenting NI 

We are living in unprecedented times and it is important that we all look after ourselves and each other in these challenging circumstances.

Parenting NI provides support to parents and families throughout Northern Ireland, and the health and well-being of our staff as well as those in the communities which we offer services is of the utmost importance. Therefore we have made the decision to temporarily suspend direct services, effective as of Friday 20th March. These services will include programmes, Families Together services such as walking groups and parenting cafes, focus groups, home visiting and the Dads Project services such as Dads Talk and programmes.

We will continue to provide support via our Support Line which can be contacted on freephone 0808 8010 722 during the usual opening times of 9:30am – 3:30pm Monday – Thursday and 9:30am – 12:30pm Friday.  Our website which has a wide range of tips and guidance will be updated regularly and our Parent Support App will also still all be available.

At this stage, direct services (such as programmes) due to start week commencing 20th April will proceed as planned. However, as the situation continues to change quickly, we will continue to follow the guidance and advice of the Public Health Agency. I would encourage parents to keep an eye on our website for the latest on Parenting NI services in the coming weeks and also follow our social media channels which will continue to share information and support for parents.

Rest assured that Parenting NI will continue to explore new ways that parents can access support during this period. At the moment our priority is to safeguard parents, families and staff. We appreciate your understanding as we take precautions in part of the wider public effort to reduce the impact of the virus.

Further information

In line with government guidelines, and to protect the wellbeing of families and our staff, Parenting NI Head Office  will close from 5pm on Monday 23rd March until further notice. Parents and families will continue to be supported by telephone/web chat and email. With the closure of schools and children being at home, where needed, staff flexibility will allow the needs of those parents who may wish this support to be outside our normal hours of working. This will be agreed between the staff member and the parent.

The teams will also provide families with resources on family activities, Top Tips, practical support and tips on emotional wellbeing as well as ongoing weekly support either via calls or email.

Feedback from parents on this provision has been hugely positive as the team continue to provide this valuable service.

All parents have been informed of the postponement of programmes and workshops and will be made aware of new dates of commencement when the time is right.

We are still available to take referrals based on this temporary means of providing support from all professionals across Northern Ireland. We would ask that all referrals are made via email to our address. Referral forms are available to download and further guidance offered here.

Take care,
Charlene Brooks
Parenting NI CEO

Talking to your children about COVID-19

Read Parenting NI's latest article with advice on talking to your children about Coronavirus, including videos on the importance of hand washing.









Talking to your child about COVID-19

The current situation regarding the worldwide pandemic of COVID-19 and Coronavirus is a deeply concerning time for everyone. No one is sure what is going to come next, or how families or indeed communities will cope. We do know that the majority of people who are infected with the disease are going to make a full recovery. Nonetheless, world leaders have made it clear that the virus will mean significant changes to our lives, at least in the short term. These will almost certainly include “social distancing” measures such as:

  • The closure of schools, childcare and universities
  • Cancellation of large events
  • Restrictions on travel or other activities

Inevitably, children and young people will hear rumours about these actions. Children, who are often less capable of critical thinking than adults may be more likely to believe hearsay or false information. This applies to information about the virus itself and the measures that will be taken to combat it.

What can parents do to address their children’s concerns?

Even after the current pandemic, it is important that parents can talk to their children and young people about major crises like this in the future. This article will give advice to parents about how to reassure children, even when you do not have all the answers yourself.

The World Health Organisation has put out the following advice for parents:

  • Respond to your child’s concerns in a supportive way. This is a time when they will need more love, reassurance and attention
  • Maximise time for children to play and relax
  • Keep your children close to you physically if you can (but do not break quarantine or self-isolation)
  • If you cannot be physically present with children, use technology like video calls and phones to stay in regular contact
  • Keep a regular routine, even if your “normal” is disrupted
  • Be honest with your children regarding information. Focus on age-appropriate information about what they can do to reduce risk


At Parenting NI, we regularly advise parents that the best way to help your children, your families and yourself is communication. Fear often stems from a lack of understanding and knowledge, and talking is the best way to address this. All communication with children and young people should be age appropriate, but our advice for parents during this pandemic and future public health emergencies is to:

  • Talk to your child. Find out what, specifically, they are concerned with. Are they worried about themselves? About you? Perhaps they understand certain people (like grandparents) are more at risk
  • Once you understand what they are worried about, you can better reassure them. There is no need to lie or pretend that there is no risk whatsoever. Instead, calmly explain the facts – that most people will be okay – and that the people in charge are doing their best
  • Focus on what they can control. Speak to them about hand washing, coughing into elbows and avoiding unneeded physical contact (but don’t refuse cuddles unless one of you in unwell)

Young children may not fully understand why certain actions are important. Some resources might be useful depending on the age and stage of your child. These address the pandemic in a fun or at least less frightening way. These include:

A very catchy song (in Vietnamese) which has spread widely about washing your hands

The British Red Cross has put out a handwashing video on TikTok

@britishredcross🖐🤚 + 💧+ 🎂🎵 @who ##coronavirus ##foryou ##foryoupage ##fyp♬ Happy Birthday (Samba Version) – Karaoke – Best Instrumentals

Our Parenting Champion, Alliance Belfast City Councillor Sian Mulholland has tweeted a fun experiment with her son to show how soap and washing our hands protects us from germs

While the exact measures taken in every country will be different, some advice is applicable no matter where you are. The Irish Department of Health has provided a useful and easy to read guide on talking to children about the pandemic, which is available here. One of the key points in this advice is ensuring that children can differentiate between baseless scaremongering rumour and genuine advice. It may be helpful to review our article on fighting ‘fake news’ if this is something you are worried about!

Time at home

Inevitably, children will have to spend more time at home as a result of this pandemic. Schools may be closed, and normal activities such as sport and youth groups will be cancelled. This might result in concerns among parents. Some schools will provide online/take home work, and depending on your area they may have digital classrooms. Remember to liaise with your school, talk to the teachers and the principal to find out what their current plans are, but be aware that these may change at a rapid pace.

If parents are concerned about children spending a significant amount of time at home, try to establish a routine. Reading books, perhaps rented from local libraries if they are still open, or downloaded if possible can be a useful substitute for normal educational behaviour in the event of an emergency. Playing board games, getting outdoors as often as you can and spending family time together is also important.

Looking after yourself

Equally however, parents must remember that these are very unusual circumstances. Normal rules do not necessarily need to apply. Do not be too harsh on yourself if children spend more time on screens than usual. In fact many useful resources may be found online which may be helpful for them during this time. Do not over worry about educational outcomes at the moment, and understand that every child will be in the same boat. Parents and families will already be under immense stress, and it’s important to look after your own emotional health and well-being.

Remember to take care of yourself as a parent, as well as of your children. There is no reason to panic unduly, and remember that how you react is likely to have a direct impact on how your children will react. If you remain calm, but take reasonable precautions, your children are less likely to feel anxious or concerned.

Parents concerned about the effects of technology on their children, don’t feel they get enough support

Leading parenting support charity have launched the findings from the second Big Parenting Survey with a specific focus on technology’s impact on modern parenting

A survey carried out with 1,358 parents across Northern Ireland in the 2019 has found that parents remain concerned about their children’s future. 69% of parents are more worried than hopeful about parenting in the future – a 3% increase compared to 2018’s figures. 82% of survey participants said they do not feel parents get enough support, showing no improvement compared to last year at all.

Parents expressed deep concern about the role technology plays in their children’s lives. 75% felt is had a “significant” impact on their children’s wellbeing, 71% found it difficult to monitor and only 23% felt they get enough support on technology. Parents expressed particular concerns about smartphones and social media.

Jenny Smithson, a mother to 3 daughters, spoke of her parenting experiences,

“Smartphones and social media are incredibly concerning for parents. My girls are dabbling on the edges for now - going on YouTube, playing a few games, researching for school. However, I still wonder about how we equip them for this place full of great possibilities and knowledge, but where there are many dangers.

“I don’t want my girls to be caught in the trap of living out their social interactions online, of comparing their lives, relationships, and bodies with the fake world that these things celebrate. I know that the main responsibility for protection in this area (as in all areas) lies with us, the parents, and so I feel that any support that can be provided for parents is really valuable.”

Maria Rogan, Director for Training and Development at Parenting NI said,

“This year’s findings, mirroring last years, remain a deep cause for concern. Parents have made it very clear that on a range of issues – mental health, technology and childcare to name a few – not enough is being done. A pervasive feeling of worry has taken root in Northern Irish parents, and policy makers need to act urgently to address their concerns. The return of elected, locally accountable government offers a chance to improve things, and we call upon all parties to act swiftly.”

Read the full report

Click to download the full report of the findings from the Big Parenting Survey 2019. Published February 2020.

Executive Summary

Take a look at the key statistics from the Big Parenting Survey 2019. Published February 2020.

Parenting NI Support Line Win Brendan Bonner Award for Innovation at Helplines NI Awareness Day

The leading, local parenting support charity has been recognised for innovation in their Parenting Support Line with a special award from Helplines NI.

The Helplines Network NI held their annual NI Helplines Awareness Day at Parliament Buildings on Wednesday 5th February 2020. The Network, which was founded in 2013, is a member-led organisation of over 30 helplines operating across Northern Ireland brought together by the Public Health Agency (PHA) who recognise the value of helplines.

The Network members provide a variety of vital support services including information, advice, counselling, crisis intervention, a listening ear and befriending, covering a wide range of needs and issues.

The event celebrated the impact and value of helplines in Northern Ireland. Parenting NI were delighted to be the first recipients of the Helplines NI Brendan Bonner Award for Innovation, which was presented at the event in the Long Gallery at Stormont.

Parenting NI has provided information, support and guidance to thousands of parents primarily through its Helpline for 41 years. Despite losing funding to deliver the Regional Parenting Helpline in early 2019, the charity re-evaluated the delivery of the invaluable service and continues to provide a Freephone Support Line which acts as a portal into a range of Parenting NI services, as well as offer specialist support on more complex issues that parents share.

On receiving the award, Director for Family Support Services at Parenting NI, Muriel Bailey said

“We are over the moon to have received this award from Helplines NI and Public Health Agency. The Parenting NI team of staff and volunteers are incredibly dedicated and committed to supporting parents and ensuring they have access to high quality services.

Our service has developed and diversified further to ensure it meets the changing needs of families across Northern Ireland, using technology and digital solutions, such as the first of its kind Parenting Support App, podcasts and online resources. Parenting NI are delighted to have been awarded this accolade and wish to thank those who support the charity’s work. Our vision of the future is one where parenting is highly valued and we will continue to provide support for parents in order to ensure this becomes a reality.”