Around the world, families are discovering just how stressful it can be to live in close quarters 24 hours a day, with no end in sight. Sharp words, spoken in haste, throw fuel on to anxiety, anger and frustration, often with no other room to separate people off. And there is only so much screen-time you can allow! Most families will hopefully come through this relatively unscathed; changed perhaps but still ok, still safe. But there has rightly been a lot of concern by government – and in the media – about supporting and monitoring the most vulnerable children now that schools are closed, those for whom school is their safe space or where they get their main meal of the day. There’s been lots of encouraging noise for parents about not having to recreate school, but to focus at this time on keeping kids feeling safe and secure, since these are things that are needed before any learning can take place. But what about the parents whose anxiety is about having the children at home for the next foreseeable because THEY don’t feel safe? What about the families experiencing child to parent violence, now quarantined or social distancing WITH their child? What advice and support do they need? The things we suggest for other families feeling tired and emotional start to sound rather trite and patronising.
It is well established that family violence is likely to increase at times like this. There is an excellent piece in The Conversation from Nicole Westmarland and Rosanna Bellini, explaining the additional stressors, and making helpful suggestions for ways to support individuals we may know over the next months, but again, the focus is on adults. For parents of children using violence in the home, some of the remedies are not available – leaving home for a refuge being the most obvious example, although the government have made it clear, following a certain amount of pressure, that escaping abuse is an acceptable reason to be out of the house.
The experience of each family will be very different. The needs of an eight year old child will potentially be significantly different to those of a seventeen year old. The risks posed by each will differ, as will likely triggers, and underlying circumstances. Where the source of a child’s stress was itself in school, parents have already tweeted about the great sense of relief that has come with not having to force a child out of bed each day. Relaxing the rules CAN help, but there is anxiety then about the future – and rods made for backs!
I have tried to gather here bits and pieces from a range of sources. This is advice from parents and practitioners on the front line – living and working with child to parent violence on a daily basis.
Refresh your safety plan and check in with friends and neighbours who might be called on to help.
Those using NVR will be familiar with the need for a support network, with the importance of prioritising issues and not focussing on the small stuff. You will want to keep a modicum of normality for your own sanity, but the “tidy house police” will not be round any time soon!
Bring in all those de-escalation and stress relieving tactics and techniques you learnt wherever possible.
Rachael says: “Parents need to feel able and confident to reach out to their support network more now than ever.” (20/3/20) And that means friends and supporters taking the initiative and checking in regularly too – don’t wait for things to blow!
Have a talk right at the start about how things are going to work: Expectations of safety, what everyone will do if feeling angry or unsafe, what consequences might be brought in to play.
Keep expectations low. Sally Donovan tweeted: “After my experience of homeschooling through a fug of trauma, I’d say don’t. Focus on safety and fun and make the focus getting all of you through this emotionally intact. #unofficialadvice” (23/3/20) Other parents have also been talking about removing themselves from the educational aspect altogether and making use of online resources. With so much on offer, and much “education by stealth” there should be something there that everyone can use!
It is important for children to stay in touch with other people at this time, whether chatting, FaceTiming or gaming, but what this means will vary from individual to individual, and it still comes with all the usual concerns about who they’re talking to, what people are saying and what they’re being asked to do. And how do you limit screen time if there seems not much else to do? This might itself be a source of tension and create later risk for child and parents. Talk about the new rules about screen time and how they will be enforced right from the start.
What about leaving the house? Children and young people who insist on doing this are going to be hard to stop and it’s likely the people they are seeing are not positive influences. What are your usual expectations and what actions do you normally take? If the police are aware of your family then now might be a good time to have a catch up with a named officer.
Maximise your own opportunities to leave, whether for exercise, shopping or self-care. Remember to breathe!
Look for the positives! Can you use this time to connect over shared activities you both enjoy, however brief? Use kind words where you can. Write thankful notes to each other if real conversations don’t work.
Make use of specialist support groups more than ever at this time, whether with regard to adoption, special guardianship, special educational needs, disability, substance use, parenting. Check out their suggestions for filling the days, and resources they may offer. Put helpline numbers in your phone.
Wishing everyone safety, and looking forward to a better time in the future. Keep well!
Parenting NI https://www.parentingni.org
Adoption UK https://www.adoptionuk.org
Young Minds https://youngminds.org.uk
Beacon House https://beaconhouse.org.uk/resources/
Safe Hands Thinking Minds http://www.safehandsthinkingminds.co.uk/covid-anxiety-stress-resources-links/