Jeff Short chats to Dr Sarah Rose about her webinars helping families across the UK adapt to home-schooling, by offering practical evidenced based tips on creating a happy home.

Jeff Short
Jeff Short

Jeff: I imagine it's quite a real and relevant subject you're addressing at this time with many parents working at home and trying to balance that with looking after the needs of the children. What have you perceived to be those difficulties?

Sarah: Absolutely. I think the current situation is affecting families in quite different ways. Like you say, some families are at home juggling work and looking after the children and trying to do the activities the schools are sending through and support children in that way. And of course some families are not in that situation. Some families are trying to balance being key-workers and looking after the needs of their children, using the school and childcare facilities that are still open. In my talk I'm trying to help both sets of families and everybody in between. As well as being a Senior Lecturer in Psychology and Child Development I'm also a parent to two small children. They are very real challenges that we face at the moment.

Jeff: You talk about reducing parent and child anxiety, conflict while supporting and trying to work from home. What tips are you going to be offering?

Sarah: I'm offering 6 evidence-based tips, tips that are based on psychology research and theory. The first of those is about showing connection to each other, to our children. Showing affection, spending time with each other can do a lot to reduce stress and anxiety. So trying to prioritise that quality time. Of course that's difficult because we're all so under other pressures such as working at home. It's about trying to be that balanced parent, the parent who is in charge, who has rules and boundaries to set but also that parent who prioritises the children at certain times and gives them that quality time, that affection. Hugging, touching children can reduce their anxiety levels and reduce our anxiety levels as parents; taking exercise together, playing games together. All those things can reduce our anxiety and also our children's anxiety. Emotions are very real at this time. People will feel angry. Parents will feel angry, resentful maybe of their children trying to balance different demands. Children may feel angry. People with two children may find they are fighting more than usual. Recognising that anger isn't naughtiness; it isn't a failing in us as a parent, it isn't a failing in our children, it's really just a symptom of stress and anxiety. So trying to look at positive ways to reduce that conflict and manage that anger and stop it before it happens.

Jeff: I'd never really thought of that. An overused phrase is quality time but if you're working at home those words are good that you show affection because Mummy or Daddy is in front to that computer screen and that's taking up more of their lives; they're ignoring me for that. I'd not put myself in the position of a child there but I guess that is difficult for them to understand.

Sarah: I'm sure many parents are using the phrases 'in a minute', 'soon', 'please be quiet'. It's a very real juggling act that people are having to carry out. The tip that I'd like to give about that is for families to try and develop routines that work for them. They don't need to be set in stone but having those times in the day when now it's time for family time or now it's time for work time so that children can learn the routine, gain that reassurance that ok, Mummy/Daddy might be busy now but in a while they are going to do something nice with them and spend time with them so that there's that balance. And also try and manage that parent guilt which many parents feel because you feel you're trying to do your best for work, but you're trying to do your best for your children and sometimes having that idea of routine or structure like now I'm going to prioritise work but after lunch I'm going to prioritise the children. Having that structure within the day can be really reassuring for everybody in the family

Jeff: You mentioned key-workers. Do you think there are unique pressures on key-workers who may be coming home having had more stress in their day than normal?

Sarah: Very likely. I think this situation is affecting everybody in different ways. For key-workers the stresses and the anxieties will be very real, they will be slightly different but they will be real. They also may be more worried about the risk of infection and the illness side of the virus and that may also increase stress in their children. The routines for their children will have been turned on their head. Even though they may be attending school it will not be school, as they know it. Their parents may be less available; they may have less time for them because their work hours may have increased if they're key-workers. That can also increase stress and anxiety for the children as well as the parents.

Jeff: Do you think there is a particular confusion for a child who may become anxious or even blame the parent because I can't go and see Nana, I can't go and play with my friends? Is there any way that we can ease those pressures and anxieties and worries?

Sarah: Oh, absolutely. There are some really good resources on line to do with talking to children about coronavirus and the effects it's having our lives. That's the key, really. It's about talking to children; it's about understanding that their frustrations, their anger maybe, are symptoms of how they're feeling. The more we can do as parents to talk to them in a child appropriate way, to offer them reassurance, to answer questions they ask as truthfully as possible. My four year-old, most evenings as I'm putting her to bed asks: "Do you know, Mummy, when coronavirus will be over?" How do I explain to a four year-old that people are working on vaccines? I think I've got there because now she asks: "Are the people still working hard, Mummy?" So at least I can give her some reassurance. These questions that children have are very real to them and it's important that we do try and take the time and think about child appropriate ways of giving them hope and optimism and giving them a picture that works for them.

Jeff: The final thing is what about iPad or CBeebies guilt?

Sarah: It's interesting actually, my area of research is around parents and managing screen time. A lot of the literature in psychology says that screen time can be part of a balanced childhood; letting your child watch TV, play games on the iPad is not going to immediately damage them. It's something a lot of parents are having to turn to and a lot of children are spending an increased amount of time in front of the screen because a lot of the work that schools are sending out has screen based activities. Again, it's part of that balanced childhood. We know that children do learn better from interacting with other people than they learn from screens. But well-chosen content on screen can support learning and can be part of your family routine at the moment definitely.

Jeff: I did suggest to my daughter that if she put subtitles on and switched the sound down it would qualify as a reading lesson. Could I have a professional endorsement on this please?

Sarah: Well, there is a lot of evidence that educational screen time can be more beneficial than simply recreational screen time so yes, make it into reading practice. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.