Tag Archives: supporting parents

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 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.

The Importance of Self-Care

Parenting can be rewarding but also very stressful, and Parenting NI recommends that parents take regular time to look after themselves; self care. The Coronavirus crisis has made this advice more relevant than ever. It has been well established that the pandemic has had a negative effect on the mental health of millions of families under lockdown. The U.N warned of a ‘global mental health crisis’ as a result of the impacts of the virus. 

Mental Health

It is important for everyone to look after their emotional and mental health and well being, but as a parent this can sometimes feel extra challenging. Managing parenthood, particularly combined with home-schooling and working from home can leave little time for self-care. However, a parent’s mental health has a direct impact on their children. Parental mental ill health is linked to a number of negative outcomes in children later in life. This is not to say parents should feel guilty or ashamed if they need support for their mental health. Instead, parents should recognise that taking time to support their own mental health is good parenting. You are supporting your children by supporting yourself. 

This article will give advice on how parents can take time to manage their own stress and mental health even during particularly challenging times, such as what we have been experiencing in lockdown. 

Communication

Firstly, talking; this is such an important and often overlooked aspect of self-care. Talking about your feelings can help to regulate your emotions and process stressful situations. Talking to someone can help you to feel less isolated. Talking to a trusted adult, like a partner or close friend is a good way to deal with stressful situations. Be aware, however, that some mental health issues will require a professional to help you. Do not be afraid to seek that sort of help if you need it. 

Talking to your children is important too. It is highly likely that even young children will have picked up on mood changes or other signs that you may be struggling emotionally. Talking to them about how you are doing – in an age appropriate way – can help to alleviate their fears, feelings of self-blame and guilt. An added bonus of doing this is that it encourages your children to talk to you if they are feeling down. Open communication allows families to support each other. 

Exercise

Another key aspect of self-care is physical activity. Moving your body releases endorphins, helps you to sleep better and makes you feel energised. Even if you are unable to get outside to exercise, looking up a short video online and doing a mini-workout can help to improve mood.  Even better if you can do this with your children – why not enjoy a mini yoga session together or if you can get outside a game of rounders perhaps! 

Exercise can be something done with the family in a fun way. If you are able to play outdoors with your children, or go for walks everyone will really benefit. However, if you find that you need time alone to de-stress, consider leaving children with your partner or if they are old enough, at home. If this is not possible in your family, you can always exercise after the children go to sleep or while they work on school work. It is normal to need time alone for self-care for many people. 

Switch off 

Social media can be a great tool to keep in contact with friends and family. However, it is also a major source of stress for many parents. An important form of self-care, particularly for parents with anxiety, is to limit consumption of news and social media. An over abundance of information, as well as untrue or misleading stories can increase your anxiety and stress So take time to step away from the TV or your device that you use the most. 

Instead, seek out information on a more limited basis and only from reliable news outlets that you trust. Rest assured, you will not miss anything important by not refreshing your Facebook or Twitter timelines every ten minutes. 

Be Kind to Yourself

Finally, the most important tip for parents struggling with self-care is to go easy on yourself. Almost every family in the world is struggling to adapt to this new and unwanted change in routine. If you are doing your best, it is very likely that it is enough. Do not judge your own competency by what you hear about others, and simply do what you can to get through this.  

If you find that you are struggling, reach out for help. Many community and voluntary sector organisations are acutely aware that people are in need of support. Some of these people have never felt they needed support before, while others have found an already difficult situation has changed into something unmanageable. There is no need to suffer in silence – reach out for support if you need to. 

Parenting NI continues to provide help and advice for parents, so contact our free,  support line: 0808 8010 722 to talk through your concerns and find out about what might be available to you. 

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: 

Discipline

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.  

Step-siblings/Half-siblings

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. 

Roles

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. 

Childcare and the Pandemic

Finding and being satisfied with your chosen childcare is complicated under any circumstances. During the pandemic, when almost all providers have been forced to close and children told to stay at home the situation has become even more difficult. As a parent, you have already delicately balanced affordability with good-quality care for your child. Most parents are happy with their childcare provider and were measured and careful in picking what was most appropriate to suit their needs and the needs of their child(ren) in the first place. However, financial and other pressures will have meant that they may need to have uncomfortable conversations with providers. 

This article will attempt to give you some ideas and support if and when you need to have this conversation with your childminder/childcare provider. Our friends at Employers For Childcare have also contributed to this advice. We would strongly recommend reading their articles on financial support measures for childcare providers/childminders to better understand the circumstances. These are regularly updated, and provide a useful source of information for parents and providers. 

Difficult conversations

Legally, you may have signed a contract. While the pandemic has created a unique set of circumstances it does not necessarily mean that you are released from the clauses of this contract. You may still be asked to pay a retainer fee if you wish to keep your childminding/childcare place. You can find further help and support on the Family Support NI website. In particular, the article COVID-19 Childcare Options and Associated Guidance. 

When having difficult conversations, it is important to remember to remain calm. The first thing is to have a plan for what you want to say, and how to say it. In this case, decide before contacting your childminder/childcare provider what you think is a reasonable and balanced solution to the issue. Remember that difficult circumstances are by definition, difficult. There is no magic bullet response that can resolve this and keeping a realistic goal of just improving the situation is important. 

Would you be happy to pay a percentage of your normal fee to maintain your child’s place? Are you able to pay or are you unable to pay at all? If you have a solution in mind it will be easier for you to communicate your concerns and come to a reasonable solution. 

Be understanding about circumstances

Secondly, remember to be empathetic. These are highly challenging times and it is understandable that many parents are finding it difficult to deal with the additional pressures. Home schooling, working from home and financial changes related to furloughing or having hours reduced will have an impact on your ability to cope easily with stress. When you arrange to speak to your childcare provider, remember that they are often facing exactly the same pressures.  

They are worried about keeping staff employed, staying safe and keeping their business from going under so that when we come out the other side of this pandemic there will still be childcare available to enable all to return to work. Additionally, you are unlikely to be the only parent who has contacted them about this. Try to put yourself in the place of your childminder/childcare provider and remain calm if they are not initially receptive to your concerns. 

Flexibility

Finally, be as flexible as you can. This situation is new, and rapidly changing. While you will naturally have a desired outcome it is important to keep in mind that this may not be achieved. Instead, react to the reality of the situation you are facing. Deal with things as they are, not as you want them to be or how you may fear that they will end up. Keeping awareness is important in dealing with a conversation that you find challenging. This means: 

  • Gathering of and clear perception of relevant facts and information. Don’t have this conversation without getting the facts first – read your contract, find out what financial support you may be entitled to, and speak to relevant services like Employers For Childcare’s Family Benefits Advice Service – Employers For Childcare have a helpline number you can call to get specific information about childcare. They are available on: 0800 028 3008 
  • Determine what is relevant – there is a great deal of information available. Much of it is not relevant. If you read reports or news articles, ensure that they apply to Northern Ireland and that you understand how they affect what you want to do;
  • Understand the dynamics of the relationship – remember that keeping a good professional relationship is important for your child. At the end of this crisis, you will want your child to return to their childcare setting in all likelihood; 
  • Self awareness – when and how our own emotions distort our perception. If you find yourself getting upset or frustrated, take a moment to collect your thoughts.  

If you make use of a childminder, you may be best supported by the Northern Ireland Childminder’s Association, whose website has support information for parents available here. 

If you are finding the emotional aspect of the conversation difficult, or you feel you need help with any parenting related issue, you can call Parenting NI on: 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. 

Consistency

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’s Big Birthday Bash

High Sheriff of Belfast, Alderman Tommy Sandford and Parenting NI Ambassador, Pip Jaffa join the charity in celebrating 40 years of supporting parents in Northern Ireland, with Parenting NI staff Maeve Bouvier, Lauren Walls, Emma Lyttle and Elaine Hanna. 40th birthday cake created by students of North West Regional College.

Parenting NI were delighted to be joined by families at Oh Yeah Music Centre’s Acoustic Picnic on Saturday 12th October to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the charity.

Parenting NI was established in 1979 by a group of dedicated volunteers to support parents in Northern Ireland and has continued to grow ever since, delivering a range of high quality services which have been specifically developed and tailored to meet the needs of parents.

The charity say that the continued demand for services and the range of pressures on families highlights the need for support for parents is vital. Charlene Brooks, Chief Executive of Parenting NI said,

Research Parenting NI carried out last year found that 82% of survey participants said they do not feel parents get enough support. Parents’ answers indicated that they felt that society was not very supportive of those in a parenting role; so during the 40th year celebrations and upcoming Parenting Week, Parenting NI are focusing on the important role parents play in their children’s lives. This celebration event was all about giving parents the recognition they deserve for the amazing job they do every day, and highlighting that support is available when times are tough.”

Parenting NI Ambassador, Pip Jaffa, dedicated 37 years to the charity having been Chief Executive for many years before retiring in 2016. Speaking of the event and reflecting on the achievements of the charity Pip said, 

“It was wonderful to see so many parents and children enjoying themselves and marking this milestone for Parenting NI. The organisation has far surpassed all of my expectations from when I first got involved as a volunteer. I am incredibly proud to see Parenting NI continuing the mission of accessible services and support to meet the needs of those in a parenting role throughout Northern Ireland.” 

High Sheriff of Belfast, Alderman Tommy Sandford said: “I was delighted to join Parenting NI at their 40th Anniversary celebrations in the Oh Yeah centre. The work of Parenting NI has been invaluable in providing key support services to thousands of families. The dedication and hard work of the staff and volunteers in helping others can’t be underestimated and I want to congratulate everyone associated with the charity on reaching this amazing milestone.”

Parenting NI partnered with Oh Yeah Music Centre’s Acoustic Picnic in Belfast where families enjoyed live music, activities, games and crafts. Youth Engagement Assistant at Oh Yeah Music Centre, Caoimhe O’Connell, said it was a pleasure to host the Parenting NI birthday party,

“The Oh Yeah team are always striving to get young families involved with live music and the arts and Acoustic Picnic is an excellent way of doing just that. Coupling with Parenting NI this month meant that we had an wider pool of families to reach and as a result we had a packed event. It’s a great chance for parents to have a chat with each other over a cup of coffee and know that the kids are being entertained in a safe environment, they can also get involved by getting down to one of our large floor games or have a dance along to the hits provided by Over the Hill Collective. Not only is Acoustic Picnic a great way of keeping the kids busy, it is also a valuable resource for parents who can bring food into the event for the families and spend the day immersed in the arts, completely free of charge.”

Parenting NI will be celebrating Parenting Week from 21st – 25th October. You can find out more about the week and support services at www.parentingni.org

Parenting NI Celebrate 40th Anniversary in Strabane

John Crowe, Co-ordinator of the Professional Chef Diploma and Hospitality Lecturer at North West Regional College presents the 40th birthday cake created by students of the college to Cahir Murray and Muriel Bailey of Parenting NI.

Local parenting support charity celebrate special anniversary marking 40 years of supporting parents in Northern Ireland.

Forty years ago Parenting NI (formerly Parents Advice Centre) was established by a group of dedicated volunteers to support parents in Northern Ireland. The charity has continued to grow over the years, delivering a range of high quality services which have been specifically developed and tailored to meet the needs of parents.

Parenting NI continue to advocate for parents and the need for more support for families in order to ensure the best outcomes for children. The charity say that given the number of challenges many families are facing throughout Northern Ireland there is a continued demand for support services for parents.

Muriel Bailey, Director for Family Support Services, said

Research Parenting NI carried out last year found that 82% of survey participants said they do not feel parents get enough support. Parents’ answers indicated that they felt that society was not very supportive of those in a parenting role; so during our 40th year celebrations, and upcoming Parenting Week, we want to highlight the important role parents play in their children’s lives and celebrating the wonderful job parents do on a daily basis. Parenting isn’t always easy, and all too often we can focus on the times when things ‘go wrong’ so we want to focus on the positives and celebrate parenting.

We were delighted to hold a celebration event in The Parlor with Strabane Community Project on Friday 11th October with parents in the area. We are incredibly grateful to North West Regional College, who got their students involved in baking a birthday cake for us to enjoy with parents at the event.”

John Crowe, Co-ordinator of the Professional Chef’s Diploma at North West Regional College, said:

“Our Level 3 Hospitality students were honoured to be given the opportunity to create this cake and I have been extremely impressed with the hard work they have put in, to not only design the cake but also in creating it to such a high standard.

“The college is delighted to support Parenting NI as they mark this major milestone in their history.”

Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council Cllr Michaela Boyle praised the work of Parenting NI in providing support and advice to parents. “As a parent myself I know how challenging it can be. I’m glad that this event offered parents the opportunity to not only find out about support services that are available, but also provided a chance to meet up with other parents, share experiences and celebrate all that is good about being a parent,” she said.

You can find out more information about Parenting NI and the services they offer at www.parentingni.org or call the Support Line for free on 0808 8010 722.