Tag Archives: families

Disconnect from Devices and Reconnect with Nature

Reset and Reconnect with family

Reset and Reconnect

Parenting Week 2021 is about celebrating parenting and will run from 18th – 22nd October this year. This year’s theme for Parenting Week, chosen by parents is Reset and Reconnect.

Parenting Week is about acknowledging and celebrating the role that parents play not only in their children’s lives but also in the wider community. Following the tough periods of public health restrictions, it is important that parents and families are encouraged to take the time to Reset and Reconnect. There is a huge value in parents taking time to hit the reset button, leaving behind the challenging year and focusing on the future. Reconnecting – with their family, friends, child’s school, faith group etc. will likely to lead to improved support networks for parents which will lead to better mental health and well being and reduced feelings of isolation.

This article is going to specifically focus on the benefits of disconnecting from devices and reconnecting with nature for the week.

Disconnect devices

Reset and Reconnect with familyTime spent online has increased dramatically in the 18 months. As a result of periods of lockdown, due to the public health situation, thousands of children were forced to stay at home and switch to remote learning, while social media use has also skyrocketed.

Based on anonymous online habits data provided by 60,000 families to Qustodio[1], website App visits in the UK were up by more than 100% in January 2021 compared with January 2020, spurred by YouTube, TikTok and BBC News. Additionally the average daily time spent on apps rose by 15%.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health[2] says that while there are no ‘safe’ amounts of screen time, and the amount of screen use that is right will vary
from family to family, screen time should be controlled. If it is not controlled, negative effects of screen time, include reducing your family’s sleep, loss of social connections and sore eyes.

Why reconnect with natureReset and Reconnect with family

With families spending so much time in front of screens over the last number of months, now is a great time to reconnect with nature. Many studies have found that there is a clear benefit for children of all ages, and adults to spend time in nature and that children who spend more time with nature are likely to be happier, more attentive, and less anxious than children who spend more time indoors.

The Child Mind Institute[3] has found that nature is good for a child’s mind as it helps them build confidence, promotes creativity and imagination, gets children moving, provides different stimulation, teaches responsibility and reduces stress and fatigue.

Ideas to reconnect with nature in NI

Autumn is the perfect time for children to enjoy the wonders of nature. The crisp autumn air, colourful crunchy leaves and weird and wonderful fungi mean it is an exciting season to go out and explore all that the natural world has to offer. We have some suggestions below of days to reconnect with nature for families in Northern Ireland:

Belfast Zoo – Belfast Zoological Gardens is located in North Belfast on the slopes of Cave Hill. This unique location provides unrivalled views across Belfast Lough with only a 15 minute drive from the city centre. The 55 acre site is home to more than 130 species, many of which are facing increasing dangers in their natural habitats.

Castle Coole – The family tracker packs are full of essentials to get you and your little ones closer to nature and explore the great outdoors at Castle Coole. It is the perfect time to start ticking off the National Trust’s 50 things to do before you are 11 ¾ activities.
The Argory – Cycling at the Argory provides a traffic and a pollution free, safe environment for children to learn a new skill.  Why not try the free-to-hire balance bikes. The balance bikes and helmets are available to hire from Visitor Reception. You don’t need to book anything as they will be given out on a first come first served basis, and the balance bikes are free to use – just turn up and get going.

Finally, remember that reconnecting with nature does not have to cost anything.  A nature walk at your local park on in your own local area can be just as fun. Pull on your wellies, grab a cosy scarf and head out to your local park with your family. During the autumn the woods come alive with colour, thanks to beautiful autumn leaves.  Why not have a ‘senses’ walk and focus on what you can hear, what you can see, what you can smell… gather different materials like fallen leaves to make a collage with at home.  Spending time together as a family, taking a break from the devices and reconnecting with nature will undoubtedly have many benefits for you and your family.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/22/children-health-screen-times-covid-crisis-sleep-eyesight-problems-digital-devices
[2] https://www.rcpch.ac.uk/sites/default/files/2018-12/rcpch_screen_time_parent_fact_sheet_-_final.pdf
[3] https://childmind.org/article/why-kids-need-to-spend-time-in-nature/

Promoting Positive Behaviour

For parents based in the Belfast Trust

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.

Book Now

Children’s Emotional Health – Fully Booked

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

Book now

Children’s Emotional Health – Fully Booked

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

Book now

Family Finances

2020 has been a year like no other. Almost no family across the world has been unaffected, either directly or indirectly by the unprecedented challenges posed by a global pandemic, multiple lockdowns, and ongoing restrictions. One area that many families have found themselves in particular difficulties is finances. For many families, being on furlough or being without work unexpectedly has created a real strain on their finances. This is compounded by the holiday season, and a general desire to make what will inevitably be an unusual and in some ways distressing Christmas ‘more special’ by buying more gifts. This article will look at ways to explain the realities of finances to children, without scaring them or causing undue distress.

Just as there is no ‘easy’ way to have financial problems, there is no easy way to explain them to children. Parents will often try to ‘shelter’ their children and decide to hide money problems from them. This is understandable, as the child cannot do anything about the situation, and parents will want to spare them the worry. However, this secrecy may cause issues for the family down the line and some experts suggest parents should talk more openly about their family’s money situation. While it is important not to scare or worry children, keeping them in the dark might lead to further stress or strain down the line. Just like adults, children can make better decisions if they have a better understanding of the situation.

For younger children, parents should remember that you are not ‘depriving’ your child by setting limits and living within your means. While the newest toys and designer clothing seems very important, they are much less important than healthy food, heat or electricity in your home. Explaining to your child that they cannot have a new toy now – but to wait until a holiday or birthday is a good way to teach them to delay gratification. This will make each new gift more special and help to emphasise the value of the item.

For slightly older children, parents should empathise and relate to their child’s situation. Tell them that there are things you would like to have but cannot afford right now. Do not say this in a way that the child may blame themselves (for example saying ‘if I didn’t have to buy you a new bicycle, I’d…’). Instead, you can both set goals to save for and celebrate together when you meet them. Setting limits and rules and sticking to them for money is a good way to encourage good financial behaviour going forward.

If children understand that money is not limitless, their expectations will be more in line with what is realistic, particularly for your family. This can naturally be more difficult under certain circumstances, for example at Christmas. A child might not understand why their family can or cannot afford a particular toy, they might struggle to comprehend why some children get more toys or gifts than others. Exactly how your family deals with this issue is up to you as a parent as often traditions are unique to each family. However, you might want to explain that every families situation is different and use it as an opportunity to discuss the importance of spending time together and how fortunate you are that you are able to do that.  As children grow up it is much more likely that it will be the trip to the park for a jump in muddy puddles or the rolling down the hill in the snow rather than how many presents they got that they remember.

Even if you are not facing difficulties, children are remarkably preceptive and will soon understand signs of wealth or poverty. They may ask, for example why they (or their classmates) get free school meals. They may wonder why some children’s clothes or school supplies are not as good as others. While primary school may be a little early to have a conversation about post-industrial capitalism, it is a good idea to speak about some of the realities that your child will encounter. Even if you are not trying to explain your own circumstances, taking the chance to talk about money, budgeting, poverty and unfairness is an excellent way to foster empathy. This way, you can encourage your child to not flaunt any expensive gifts, and to not tease those less fortunate than themselves. Instead, they can be taught the value of sharing and importance of non-financial things.

Teaching your child the value of money early can be useful as well. Many parents will shy away from sharing particular details that a child may innocently ask – how much dad makes a month, how much does mummy have in the saving account, or if granny is ‘rich’. These simple questions might be rude if an adult asked – but a child has no concept of the societal aspect of wealth. They do not know why someone might not want to discuss their salary. Parents should share as much as they think is appropriate, but also explain why someone might want to keep those things private.

Teaching children simple monetary concepts at appropriate ages can help them to understand value later in life. As early as 5 or 6, children begin to start to understand simple things like identifying different coins and counting change. This presents an excellent opportunity to talk to them about the value of money and to teach them that it does not grow on trees (or appear like magic from an ATM).

Giving them a small amount of money, particularly tied to suitable chores can help them to understand the relationship between work and money. Many parents will be tempted to force children to save their money. However, it is also important to recognise that if they never spend even a little of ‘their’ money they will not necessarily understand the true value of it. Having a savings account when they turn 18 is good, but if they have no concept of costs it may not last as long as you would hope. On the other hand, once a child has experienced how quickly shopping can drain an account they might ration or save for more valuable purchases.

One very important thing that you can do as a parent is not get caught up in ‘competition’ with other families. No one benefits from parents putting immense pressure on themselves to buy all of the newest, most expensive items (aside from the manufacturers). It can be difficult to ignore it when your child’s friend has something that your child wants, but you cannot afford. Just remember that you do not know the reality of their family’s situation. Comparing yourself and stressing over not being ‘good enough’ because you cannot afford a toy or trip does no one any good. Focus on meeting the basic needs of your children, and teaching them to be financially literate. They may complain about not getting what they want, but you are setting them up for success in the future.

If you are struggling with talking to your child about finances or money issues, you can always get parenting support on the Parenting NI Supportline on 0808 8010 722.

Families Together Project in Antrim and Strabane draws to a close after five highly successful years in local schools.

The Families Together Project is a 5-year transformative project deployed in schools within Antrim and Strabane. The project was headed by Parenting NI in partnership with Action Mental Health New Life and with financial support from the National Lottery Community Fund. The project was initially deployed in six schools within Antrim and Strabane which included Sion Mills Primary School, Ballycraigy Primary School, Six Mile Integrated Primary School, Parkhall Primary School, St Catherine’s Primary School & St Mary’s Primary School. The project was able to provide support for an additional 4 schools across the two areas however unfortunately ends this November after five incredible years working within local schools.

A principal remarks on the project;

“It’s hard to imagine the school without them – they’re part of the school now and an important part of our annual pastoral action plan.”

Parenting NI has been providing parenting services across Northern Ireland since 1979 in the belief that effective parenting is the cornerstone of strong families, and that parents should be supported to enable them to provide children with a positive upbringing. Parents are a primary influence on their children and that influence can either be negative or positive depending on the quality of the parenting (Campbell, 1995). The Families Together project was designed around these principles in order to holistically strengthen these relationships. Strabane and Antrim were selected as the two areas for the project because of the high level of disadvantage. Primary schools within the most disadvantaged parts of Strabane and Antrim were invited to become partner schools with Parenting NI to form the Families Together Project.

Once a year, the Families Together Project would host a Family Fun Day in Antrim and Strabane with a variety of local agencies joining in to provide fun activities for families as well as information on local support services. The project hosted a large number of activities, parenting classes, parent & child workshops and counselling sessions for parents and their children within each school. These included the ‘Time for Parents’ Support and Counselling service and ‘Time for Me’ informal listening and signposting sessions and Time Together for the parents and their children. Families Together ran a variety of free parenting workshops for participating schools. These topics ranged from subjects such as Relaxation, Handling Children’s Behaviours and Healthy Choices. The programme ran numerous child workshops, a Parenting Café for parents to informally meet one another and a highly successful Walking Group.

One of the school principals remarks on the programme;

“I am struck by the diversity of needs and parents being engaged – not just those who are always targeted because of high needs, but also fathers and people of different social backgrounds. This is de-stigmatising.”

Over the 5-year duration of the project, the engagement of the schools and families involved in the programme has grown significantly. This has been particularly noticeable with families who lacked confidence in their parenting ability and self-esteem. Parenting NI and the Families Together Project are delighted to celebrate all the great work and engagement the parents, families, children and the teachers in each school have brought to the project over the past five years.

One parent remarked on the programme:

“It’s like a wee lifeline. A good experience – brilliant and highly recommended. I’m definitely more confident as a parent and I have a better support system.”

Parenting in the Pandemic – Fully Booked

Parenting within the current climate can be extremely challenging for families. This workshop explores these challenges for parents during Covid-19 and looks at the impact of stress on the parent and the effect this can have on the parent and children’s emotional health and wellbeing.


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

Fathers and Families Programme

Duration: 6 weeks online via Zoom

The Fathers and Families Programme emphasises the important role fathers play in the lives of their children, encourage fathers to take an active role in their child’s upbringing, whether they live with their child or not. The programme will provide fathers with knowledge on how they can be an Authoritative father and develop a strong, positive relationship with their child regardless of their family structure.

Over the 6 weeks we explore:

  • The Important Role of the Father
  • Parenting Styles
  • Supporting Fathers
  • Effective Communication
  • Rules and Consequences
  • Quality Time

The programme is interactive, fun and offers dads an opportunity to build a support network.

This programme is offered as part of the Dads Project, funded by the National Lottery Community Fund NI. 

Blended Families

Parents who no longer live together – because of separation, divorce or bereavement – often face distinct challenges. One of these is attempting to re-partner. It is natural for parents who are no longer in a relationship with the father or mother of their child to seek new companionship. Around a third of all marriages in England and Wales are remarriages for at least one party. Many of these will include children from either one or both partners, and these marriages will themselves often produce further children. This creates what has been called a “step” or “blended family”. The definition of these families in academic literature is: 

“families in which at least one of the adults has a child or children from a previous relationship”

It is difficult to determine exactly how many blended families exist in Northern Ireland. The statistics for remarriages are not collected in the way they are in England or Wales, and the growth of co-habiting families without formal marriage means that even if we did have a more accurate number it would not tell the whole picture. We know that in the UK, they represent between 11% and 15% of families with dependent children. Regardless of the exact number, it is reasonable to say that they are a significant proportion of families in Northern Ireland. 

This article will seek to identify the key challenges faced by blended families, and give advice on how to address them.  

Challenges for Blended Families

Every blended family will face a unique challenge. Partially, this is because both families who are attempting to come together do so with different ideas, routines and backgrounds. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry noted that “the members may have no shared family histories or shared ways of doing things, and they may have very different belief systems which may include a different ethnic or educational background, or religion”. As a parent, you should be aware of the differences between your family and the family you are attempting to blend with. These can be very stark – for example, views on the role of faith or responses to teenage risk-taking behaviours – or relatively minor, like expectations regarding chores or pocket money. Keep in mind that your children will look to you for guidance and may resist that guidance from their step-parent 

Our advice in this situation is to attempt to prepare for these conflicts by talking to your partner, and if possible, your ex-partner. What you should seek to avoid is a feeling of unfairness which when added to the strain of adjusting to the new family dynamic can exacerbate conflict. This is particularly important if your family includes half-siblings. 

Areas of difficulty often include: 


This has been identified as the number one issue faced in blended families. Stepparents should resist the urge to “establish” themselves right away. Instead, work with your partner to set up a baseline of boundaries that cannot be ignored. Beyond this, have a staged approach and a plan. Agree with your partner who will handle discipline, and how it will be implemented. Introduce stepchild disciplining gradually and ensure that as parents you are as united with your partner as is possible. Talk to the children and let them know the rules and consequences in this new family set up and how discipline will be handled.  


This is a highly complex area. For some children, they will have new siblings. These may vary greatly in age, gender and levels of contact. Nonetheless, it is a common concern among parents that they will fight or not get along. Children who acquire stepsiblings often feel jealous or left out. Their place in the family may also have changed from being oldest or youngest. Parents should understand that unlike their relationship with their own new partner, their child did not choose to have new siblings or step siblings. It is natural for them to take some time to get used to it, and they may never be as close to each other as you would like. Each parent should instead ensure that their own children understand the basic rules/boundaries. Beyond that, the most important thing a parent can do is spend time with your own children and talk to them about how they feel. There is good reason to be hopeful as well. Some research has suggested that siblings who share only one parent are as close (and in some cases closer) than full siblings. No matter how hurtful or difficult their initial reactions may be, understand that as a parent it is your role to help them adjust. Listen to their issues, and agree to reasonable action to address them. Be reasonable about language as well. Terms like step or half sibling may be a legal or biological term but may not be right in your home. Talk with all your children within your new blended family to determine what way they would all prefer to be referred too that will best suit everyone in your family. 


Beyond discipline, often stepparents will struggle with defining their own roles within the new family. If children already have an active mother and father figure in their life, a stepparent may have feelings of ambiguity in their role. This can lead to dissatisfaction, difficulties in the inter-parental relationship and other negative outcomes. Unfortunately, there are no simple answers regarding the role of stepparents. In some families, stepparents will have very clear and defined roles, while in others they will be more flexible. Successful blended families are those that develop structures, roles, norms, and interaction styles that are appropriate for each individual family situation. 

In conclusion, it would be encouraged that adults who wish to take the decision to move in with other adults talk to their children before hand and ensure that their needs are the priority before the decision is reached. Once the change has happened then parents should try to be understanding with children who are struggling with adjusting to the new family reality they face. Additionally, it is important that they are not too hard on themselves. Experts suggest it can take between two and five years for a blended family to fully settle. Do not be too hard on yourself if progress is slow, or if you are struggling. The three key elements for parents to remember are: 

  • Take your time. Don’t try to force a new dynamic. 
  • Decide what your roles will be, and communicate this with your children. 
  • Listen, and understand. Take your children’s concerns seriously and take steps to address them as best you can. 

If you are struggling with blending a family, you can always seek support from Parenting NI or other similar organisations. Parenting NI’s support line remains open on 0808 8010 722.