Tag Archives: children

Promoting Positive Behaviour

Available for parents in the Antrim, Newtownabbey, Crumlin & Ballyclare areas. 

With the many changes this year, our children may be struggling to express their feelings, which may be resulting in challenging behaviour. This workshop will help parents understand the feelings behind the behaviour, and will support parents to develop strategies to help reduce the challenging behaviour and promote more positive behaviour. Supported by the McCall Social Fund

Call freephone 0808 8010 722 to register!

Children’s Emotional Health

For parents based in the Belfast Trust

Children who have positive emotional health and wellbeing tend to have better outcomes in life. This workshop encourages parents of children to recognise the importance of their children’s mental health.

This workshop will:

  • Raise awareness of the effects on children with positive emotional health and wellbeing
  • Promote activities parents can use to enhance social and emotional learning
  • Equip parents with the skills to improve their children’s emotional health and wellbeing

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Raising Boys

Much of the advice and support provided by Parenting NI regarding parenting and childrearing is universal. Both boys and girls benefit from things like clear communication, routine and secure attachment. It is important to recognise that every child is unique. This uniqueness is often the reason why a particular tactic or activity does or does not work with a particular child, rather than it be about their gender. Nonetheless, there are differences in the way in which boys and girls may need support from their parents and as the month of November includes international Men’s day (Thursday the 19th of November), this article will look at some advice specifically for parents and carers raising boys.

When thinking about parenting boys, there are two equally important aspects to consider. One is physical and developmental differences that come from biology. The other is more to do with the idea of what a boy or man ‘should be’ or might face growing up in Northern Ireland. Every society is different, and what is considered normal, appropriate or good behaviour for a boy will in part be a reflection of this. Additionally, every family is different, and so every parent will have their own morals and values for their children. As a result, some of the advice we give might not be relevant to your son or family.

The first question that any parent of a boy looking for advice or guidance on how to raise him may be asked is: ‘what kind of man do you want your son to be?’ Society has a range of expectations for men (and indeed women). It is therefore important for parents to know what particular characteristics they wish to encourage in their sons, as they grow into men. This means looking at behaviours and attitudes that you wish to build in your son that are not generic to all children. An example might be:

“I want my son to have a healthy respect for women, and to understand issues relating to consent”


“I want my son to know that he does not have to be violent or aggressive in order to ‘prove’ his manliness”

Of course, most parents will want to ensure all of their children are respectful of others and not violent. However, there are aspects of these behaviours that are often specific to men. Boys will gain their understanding of what is required to “be a man” from a number of sources, but their parents and in particular fathers can have a major role to play. They can counteract any negative stereotypes or influences from society at large.

Scientists have found differences between male and female gender children present from the moment of birth. From as early as three months, male infants on average lag behind females on a range of developmental issues such as language and sensory development. Most of these gaps are closed by age three, but the existence of these differences (and the importance of the first three years of child development) show the value of being aware of gender-related differences in parenting. The distinctions in the way you raise your son will take different forms as they develop. Starting early down the path to a compassionate, respectful man will make the transition easier, but it is never too late.

Differences naturally have an impact on how a child develops. For example, boys tend to outperform girls in spatial awareness in early childhood. This may lead him towards activities that require good spatial skills like ball sports or climbing, and away from social or verbal games like participating in role-play. This might be typical, but as a parent, you are the one who can decide when or if your son is exposed to particular activities or encouraged to indulge his particular interests in them. A ‘nature and nurture’ approach is thus required to understand male versus female development, and account for problems that arise. It is a good idea to introduce your children to a very wide range of activities when they are young and encourage them to see the value in varied play. By not labelling activities as “for boys” or “for girls”, you can promote positive attitudes and grow their own sense of creativity. On the other hand, preventing them from taking part in something they express an interest in because it is not masculine may cause strife or confusion in the household. Additionally, consider what behaviours these attitudes will create as they grow and engage with other children. Your son might mock or refuse to play with another child who he sees as playing the “wrong” sort of game. Once these attitudes have been developed, they will be harder to change or refine later.

One common issue is male children partaking in overly aggressive play. On average, boys are more physically aggressive than girls in play. Normally children will disincentivise overly aggressive play by refusing to engage with a child who is ‘too rough’, and as a result that child will reduce their aggressiveness in order to reengage. Research has suggested that parents, and fathers in particular, can help boys learn to self-regulate by engaging in rough and tumble play in childhood. However, it is important that the parent sets the limits – stopping if they get too rough or start to try to cause real harm. By teaching your son to play within acceptable limits, you can help him to be less violent later. This in turn helps him to learn to solve problems without violence.

Keep in mind that some parents will find it harder to tell if ‘rough play’ is actually fighting. One study found that while boys could tell the difference between a video of rough play and a real fight 85% of the time, fathers or mothers who grew up with brothers about 70%, but women who grew up without brothers identified all videos as actual fighting . As such, keep your own experiences and internal biases in mind when talking about what you see as overly aggressive play.

If your son seems to be too violent in their play, this also presents a chance to talk to him and introduce empathy. While it can be frustrating or concerning – particularly if your son has hurt another child – remember to see this as a learning opportunity. In addition to whatever discipline you feel is right, take the time to speak to him about his actions and why they were wrong. For example:

“How do you think you made [the other child] feel?”

“Do you think everyone was having fun, while you were playing like that?”

“I know you were just playing, but remember that other people have feelings too, and your behaviour can hurt them even if you don’t mean to”

By stimulating this sort of conversation, you encourage your son to think about the wellbeing of others. It also makes it clear that talking about emotions is good, and this may help to prevent issues later in life where a man may feel uncomfortable talking about serious emotional distress. It helps him to see talking and communication are the way to resolving issues, rather than fighting.

Naturally, it is important to talk to your son about women and girls. This should be done in an age-appropriate way, including language they are likely to understand. As modern attitudes shift regarding the relationship between women and men, think about how you want your son to see women in society. You might presume that they will know by default to treat them with respect – not to catcall on the street, harass or otherwise intimidate. For many boys, this will come naturally. However, there is no harm is explicitly stating that such behaviours are not acceptable.

This sort of conversation can happen early in your son’s life. Advice for young boys who are teasing their sisters or female friends (particularly for being girls) can be to follow the “SEE” acronym:

– Stop: Respond in a calm manner. Tell him that personal insults are not acceptable;

– Empathy: Like with rough play, encourage your son to see the issue through the eyes of the victim;

– Educate: Help him to express his frustration or other feelings in a better way. Teach him to use words to describe his problems, but not to insult or harass.

Naturally, children will fight and this will often include insults or taunts that we as adults would deem unacceptable. Remember that your son may not realise that making fun of someone for their gender, or putting them down for being a ‘girl’ is wrong. As his parent, it is your role to teach him. If you see poor behaviour being displayed by others, point this out and talk about why it is inappropriate.

As your son grows the issue of respecting women as autonomous people may present itself. Teenage boys are under immense pressure to ‘show off’ and impress friends. This sometimes results in overly aggressive or inappropriate behaviour with women. Equally, there is a pervasive but incorrect attitude some young men have that a woman needs to be ‘argued down’ and that ‘no’ does not necessarily mean ‘stop’. In addition to being socially unacceptable behaviours, these attitudes can lead to serious consequences if not addressed. As a parent, you can and should talk to your son about what it means to get consent, and there is plenty of advice contained in our previous article “Talking to Young People About Consent”.

In many ways, raising a boy into a man is about forward planning. Parents cannot possibly anticipate every event or influence on their son, and he must take some responsibility as he grows for the kind of man he will be. However, if you have an idea of the types of values you want to instil in him and are watchful for signs of poor behaviour raising a “good man” is perfectly achievable for parents. There are many more issues than can be explored in one short article but keeping open communication and strong standards of behaviour can address many of them.

If you want more help or are worried about the behaviours or attitudes of your son (or any of your children) you can access support on the Parenting NI Supportline on 0808 8010 722.

Parenting Children’s Challenging Behaviour Ballyclare

Duration: Every Thursday for 6 weeks
Aim: To help parents understand and manage their children’s challenging behaviours

The Parenting Children’s Challenging Behaviour programme will:

  • Help parents understand children’s behaviours
  • Recognise the triggers to their child’s behaviour
  • Give practical tips on how to reinforce positive behaviour

The programme promotes the Authoritative Parenting style which research shows to be the most effective.

The programme is particularly suited to those parenting children aged 2-10 years old. The programme will be delivered free online to parents in the Ballyclare area.

Call us to register on freephone 0808 8010 722.

The freephone number is currently available Mon – Thurs 9:30 am – 3:30 pm & Fri 9:30 am – 12:30 pm.

Delivery of this programme has been made possible thanks to funding from Assets Recovery Community Scheme.

Parenting Children’s Challenging Behaviour Lisburn

Duration: Every Wednesday for 6 weeks
Aim: To help parents understand and manage their children’s challenging behaviours

The Parenting Children’s Challenging Behaviour programme will:

  • Help parents understand children’s behaviours
  • Recognise the triggers to their child’s behaviour
  • Give practical tips on how to reinforce positive behaviour

The programme promotes the Authoritative Parenting style which research shows to be the most effective.

The programme is particularly suited to those parenting children aged 2-10 years old. The programme will be delivered free online to parents in the Lisburn area.

Call us to register on freephone 0808 8010 722.

The freephone number is currently available Mon – Thurs 9:30 am – 3:30 pm & Fri 9:30 am – 12:30 pm.

Delivery of this programme has been made possible thanks to funding from Assets Recovery Community Scheme.

Homework – What is it good for?

Homework presents an unusual challenge for parents. It has been a fixture in education since the earliest days of standardised teaching. It has been around for a very long time – the British Museum has an example of a 2000 year old homework book. Like many things that have been around for a long time, it is possible that parents, children and teachers take it for granted that it is still important or necessary.

Homework is not uncontroversial, however:

  • A Stanford study found that 56% of students considered homework to be a “primary source of stress”. They said it led to sleep deprivation problems and left less time for socialising or extracurricular activities;
  • More than a third of parents don’t think homework in primary school is helpful, and 72% think prep work at school would be a better alternative;
  • A study of teachers found that they were split – some viewed homework as essential while others felt there were better ways for children to learn.

This article will look at the advantages and disadvantages of homework for families. It will examine the current NI guidelines on homework, and compare these to countries that are seen as having good education systems. We hope that this will encourage parents, schools and policy makers to consider if alternatives or changes may be warranted.

The Situation in Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, there is no specific law regarding homework policy in school. Instead, each school is allowed to set its own homework policy. This policy, once it has been sufficiently developed is to be shared with parents. Homework policies should include things like:

  • How long a pupil is expected to spend on homework per night;
  • What is supposed to happen if children are getting too much;
  • What the school will do if children do not meet the required standard of homework.

A summary of the homework policy of every school is required to be included in their prospectus by the Education (School Information and Prospectuses) Regulations (NI) 2003. This means that prospective students and their parents should have a good general understanding of what will be expected of them with regards to homework at school.

The outcome of this system is that schools have different homework policies and expectations. For example, here are the time and content expectations for two primary schools based in Northern Ireland:

Primary School Example 1 –

P1 – 10 / 15 minutes

Guided Reading, Reinforcement of words taught in school Oral development of initial sounds leading to practise letter formations in Term 2. Phonic activities Activity homework e.g. oral / practical activities

P7 – 45/55 minutes

Independent Reading / Factual Reading, Mental Maths, linguistic phonics / Table facts / vocabulary, Written and learning homework (Mon – Thurs), Occasional homework based on other curricular area



Primary School Example 2

P1 – 15/20 minutes

Daily: Home Learning Activities, Phonics (from start of October), Reading, Maths facts

1 written Literacy or Numeracy homework from Term 2


P7 – 1 hour

Daily: Spelling, Maths Facts, Reading

3 written Literacy or Numeracy homework per week



Equally, the stated purpose of homework at school can vary. However, there tends to be a few generally agreed elements. Most schools include in the “aims” of their homework policies a desire to:

  • Keep parents informed of what students are learning at school;
  • Provide opportunities to reinforce and practice what students learn at school;
  • Encourage independent study among students.

These broadly represent the mainstream viewpoint on homework within Northern Ireland’s educational system. Building a partnership between the teachers/school, the student, and their parents is a key element of many homework policies. This is to be welcomed, but as we have established already, for some parents homework is a source of stress rather than the foundation of a partnership. Meetings between parents and teachers are supposed to explore ways in which parents can best support their child with homework.

The Department of Education runs a campaign called “Give your Child a Helping Hand” which focuses on the important role parents and carers play in improving educational outcomes for children. This is not exclusively aimed at homework but does include a series of tips and strategies for parents to support their child with any work they are required to do at home.

The average amount of homework per day across the UK is 2.5 hours a week, however the NI average around a fifth spending 4 or more hours a week on homework. NI students are also given some of the largest amounts of homework – around 25% are given 4 or more offline pieces of homework a day. A survey in 2018 found that the average time spent by NI children doing homework was 6.3 hours a week, the highest in the UK.

Supporters of homework might point out that the average GCSE and AS/A-Level results in Northern Ireland are the best in the UK. This is the result of a series of educational policies, choices and circumstances however and while homework policies might have an influence, it would be difficult to determine exactly how much.

Alternative Systems

While homework remains a central element of Northern Ireland’s education system, this is not the case in other countries. A notable example is Finland, widely regarded as having the one of the world’s best education systems. While some articles suggest that Finnish children have no homework, this is not exactly the case. Instead, Finnish students have significantly less homework than their American, British or Irish peers. Additionally, they spend less time overall per day in school, and have longer summer holidays. Many experts put the success of the Finish system down to the quality of teaching, and the esteem with which teaching is viewed as a career. Therefore, while less homework is one aspect of the Finnish system, it is not the central component nor the crucial element to explain its success. However, opponents of homework have pointed to the Finnish model as proof that homework is not necessarily required to achieve good educational results.

Some researchers and experts disagree with the idea that homework is not necessary. Prof Susan Hallam from the Institute of Education argues that homework has a strong influence on the success of children in the British educational system. She noted that students who did two to three hours of homework per night were almost 10 times more likely to achieve five good GCSEs than those who did no homework.

One country that has both a successful educational system and has very high levels of homework is Singapore. The country is often rated either top or near top globally for educational outcomes in reading, mathematics and science. The Singaporean system is rigorous – examination and testing is considered a major element and Singaporean students can expect to take several streaming exams to place them into particular types of school starting from the end of primary school.

While school days and academic years are fairly similar to the UK, homework is a much larger element in the system. Singaporean children spend up to 9.4 hours a week on homework by age 15 – compared to the world average of just 5 hours. The system in Singapore produces excellent results, but is also often criticised for putting too much stress on students. An OECD study found that 78% of Singaporean students were afraid of the impact of academic failure on their lives – compared to an average of 54%. In addition, Singapore’s focus on more traditional routine style learning (including lots of homework) has raised questions about the efficacy of the whole system and critics argue that students become very good at taking exams, but not necessarily being creative independent thinkers.

Primary v Secondary

One very important distinction that should be made about homework is between primary and secondary school children. As previously mentioned, there is some evidence that homework being set and done in secondary schools has a positive impact on GCSE results. Research has also found that for older children homework was linked to better test scores and outcomes. Additionally in the NI system, both GCSE and AS/A-Level work often requires independent work at home. Homework can also be seen as useful revision exercises for students who are taking significant examinations.

What about primary level? This is more contested, with some educators arguing that primary school homework does not improve academic outcomes and causes stress to both children and their parents1. In fact, one American research analysis found that for children aged under 11, there was no link between homework and improved academic achievement.

While some schools and parents have argued this should mean no homework ought to be set for primary school children, the issue is more complex. If we consider again the objectives of homework laid out in the homework policies of primary schools, it is clear that at least in Northern Ireland the “point” of homework is not only better test scores. It is meant to engage parents with their child’s learning and provide students an opportunity to develop useful independent study skills. The solution found by many schools and districts that have “done away” with formal set homework is to instead ask that parents and students do other relevant activities at primary level. This might mean reading or other tasks that are related to the work the child is doing in school. Research has found that it is the quality of the task, rather than the quantity that is important for homework.


In the end, there is no easy answer with regards to homework. This is because it cannot be properly removed from the wider educational system and examined without context. While a child in Singapore might benefit a lot from 9 hours of homework, a student in the Finnish system might do worse. When looking at changing and improving educational outcomes and personal development via homework, parents, schools and policy makers should take a careful approach.

Still, there is a strong argument that the current system could be improved. NI students, particularly those in Primary school are being given more homework than their peers in the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland. We know that this can cause stress, and that outcomes are not necessarily improved by giving them large volumes of work. While it is understandable and reasonable that every school sets its own homework policy, it might be worthwhile for a full review of the current system to take place. That way, parents will know what to expect, and schools will be provided with a yardstick to measure their own homework policies and have access to best practice.

Parental Experiences and Attitudes on Post-Primary Academic Selection during the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an unprecedented disruption to the education of children in Northern Ireland. While this has had a dramatic impact on all children, there has been a particular focus on those facing important exams. While sector-wide policies have been enforced for both GCSE and A-level results, this has not been the case for Northern Ireland’s unique third examination period – the post-primary transfer.

One key result of this lack of government mandated policy has been regional variation. While some schools have indicated that they intend to continue with selection without adjustment, several others have decided to either drop or amend selection methods for this year. This decentralised response to the crisis has left parents and children in a uniquely challenging situation, without precedent.

This paper sought to gather a snapshot of parental concerns and views regarding post-primary transfer in the pandemic period. The findings of this demonstrate a wide range of very strongly held views, and a lack of consensus on almost any aspect of post-primary transfer both in the pandemic and more generally. Parents were deeply divided on core issues such as:

• Whether the transfer test should go ahead this year;

• Whether the transfer test should exist at all;

• Whether academic selection by any means should be a component of Northern Ireland’s Education system.

Parents were often unambiguous and direct with their feedback. Those in favour of the transfer described it as “a necessary part of education” and said that altering it at this late stage was “deeply unfair”. However, some parents who opposed the tests described them as “almost a form of torture” and suggested that allowing the normal transfer process to take place in the shadow of COVID represented a “moral failing on behalf of the authorities”.

It is impossible to determine with such a small sample size how widely any of these beliefs are held. However, what is clear is that there are strong feelings regarding post-primary transfer that deserve to be examined in more detail.

To read & download the full report on Parental Experiences and Attitudes on Post-Primary Academic Selection during the COVID-19 Pandemic 2020, please click the button below. Published August 2020.

Read the report

Talking to Children about Race, Racism and Diversity

Recently, international incidents have brought issues relating to race and racism into sharp focus. All around the world, people have been talking about these issues and what they mean for society. If your children are old enough to hear and understand news and current events it is highly likely that they will have at least heard about some of these. They may know about protests, have heard slogans or seen images on the internet or on television. Race and racism, as well as diversity can be tricky subjects to explain to children. They trigger strong emotions and reactions and some families may prefer to avoid difficult or uncomfortable conversations. However, it is not necessarily in the best interests of your child to avoid the topic entirely.

Local context

While Northern Ireland remains a fairly racially homogenous place – the exact figures for ethnic minorities will be updated by the 2021 census, but the most recent data from the 2011 census suggested 98% of the Northern Irish population was white. This will have increased since then, but it is still accurate to say that white children from Northern Ireland will have fewer encounters with non-white children than their counterparts in England. 

This means that children here may be less familiar with people from a different ethnic or racial background. A study in 2014 found that living in ethnically diverse communities tended to reduce racism because it creates what was called “passive tolerance”. People had or witnessed positive interactions in and ethnically diverse group and were generally more positive about them. This can be challenging in Northern Ireland – particularly if you live outside of Belfast or an area which is more ethnically mixed.

What can I do?

As parents, it is important that you encourage and promote anti-racist views in your children. In addition to being a good set of values to promote, it also helps to counter any false or racist information that they may become exposed to outside your home. As parents, you should try to be aware of what sort of information your children are accessing, and help them to get a balanced and accurate view of the world. As with most issues relating to parenting and children – the best approach is usually clear, safe and open communication between parent and child. Taking the time to discuss racism and diversity with your child can help safeguard them from harm.


Still – this can present its own challenges. The language of race and diversity can be complex, and the issues even more so. How should parents begin to discuss this with children who might seem too young to understand?

The first step is to not underestimate your child’s ability to understand issues relating to race. Caryn Park, a professor at Antioch University in Seattle noted that children as young as three are aware of race or skin colour and will often ask questions. Parents should respond in a way that makes it clear to children that it is okay for them to ask questions and talk about race. Children will probably become aware of events either locally or internationally and may have strong emotions. It is good to talk about those emotions and explore how events make you children feel.

Have the conversation

Another important step is making sure you, as the parent are in the right place to talk about these issues. It is possible that you are feeling fear, frustration or anger as a result of recent events. It is important that when you speak to your child about race you are able to be a calm, rational voice. This doesn’t necessarily mean letting go of anger or frustration – simply organising it in a way that helps you to communicate with your child. Parents should try to be role models in this. Your child will look to you in order to determine how to behave around people of different ethnicities and racial backgrounds.

Challenge stereotypes

When they are young, children will often comment on everything – including race. Parents should be careful not to link statements about race with a positive or negative. If a child notices a person’s skin colour do not try to prevent them from talking about it. Simply agree and move on. However, if a child makes a negative association with race, it is important that a parent talk about it. If a child says something disparaging or wrong about a race or ethnicity, try asking:

“Why do you think that?”

“Where did you learn that?”

Address incorrect stereotypes without getting angry. Remember that children often get information for a wide range of sources, but may not fully understand the context of what the learn. When your children are old enough (primary school age, for example) it can be useful as a parent to point out any negative stereotypes you notice and talk about why they are wrong. An example might be:

 “That joke was a little mean, making fun of the way someone talks. How does it make you feel?”

Occasionally, your children might ask questions that you don’t know the answers to. An important part of talking to children about any serious topic like race and racism is reflecting on your own knowledge and admitting to not having all the answers. Carrying out research together to better understand issues is a great way to strengthen your child’s understanding as well as your own.

Positive actions

As your child gets older, they will often have a better understanding of race and diversity. They will also have developed their own ideas, views and concerns. Experts suggest that parents can help by empowering teenagers who are upset or seeking to act by steering them to be positive agents of change.  You should encourage teenagers to helpful and positive messages on social media, for example and stay away from negative or destructive actions.

If you are worried about talking to your child about this, or if your child has expressed opinions that concern you, Parenting NI is here to help. You can talk to us about this or any parenting related issue on our support line 0808 8010 722.

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.