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Tips for parents in a difficult living situation during lockdown

Life under lockdown can be especially tough if your living situation poses further challenges. Our Parents Helpline experts share their tips for dealing with a lack of physical space, parental separation, arguments, aggressive or violent behaviour and domestic abuse.

The Government’s instruction to stay at home is helping to keep people safe and reducing the spread of coronavirus. However, the lockdown restrictions are challenging for many of us, and they can be particularly tough for families. Here we share some tips for managing difficult situations and living spaces.

Young people who don't have their own space

During this time, young people may find it difficult to find their “own space” while isolating at home with family. This may be because they share a bedroom, do not have access to any outdoor space, or feel that they cannot find a quiet part of the house where they can be by themselves. Although young people may not have a lot of physical space, it is important that they can find ways of creating some mental space. This might be through reading, drawing, exercising, chatting to friends on Zoom – anything that helps them reach a different headspace.

Although young people may not have a lot of physical space, it is important that they can find ways of creating some mental space.

To ensure your children have some private space to call friends or do the things they like without being disturbed, it might be helpful to create a schedule where you agree as a family who can spend time in a certain room or space at a given time. Make sure this works for your whole family and everyone gets to input. Be clear about time allowances so everyone has an equal amount of time to have their own space. It is also important that your family are flexible during this time, as routines are likely to change on a day-to-day basis.

It might be helpful to create a schedule where you agree as a family who can spend time in a certain room or space at a given time.

As it stands, the Government is allowing people to take part in one form of exercise outside the home each day, for example going for a run or walk. Encourage your family to make use of this time safely, and ensuring they know what social distancing means and how they can stick to it. This will allow them to get some fresh air, exercise and a change of scenery.

Contact with separated parents

For families whose parents have separated, lockdown can be incredibly difficult, since young people may not be able to see both parents as often as they would like to - or even at all. Children may experience feelings of frustration, become upset, feel a sense of loss or think that it is their fault. It is really important to firstly be clear about the reasons why they may have limited or no physical contact with their parent during this time, and secondly to reassure them that it is not because the other parent does not want to see them – it is to keep them and their family safe.

Government guidance advises that where parents do not live in the same household, children can move between both of their parent’s homes – and this is an exception to the “stay at home” advice. The decision, however, for children to move between parental homes needs to be evaluated on an individual basis and should be discussed with the families involved.

It is really important to firstly be clear about the reasons why they may have limited or no physical contact with their parent during this time.

If you are considering whether it is the right decision for your child to have physical contact with both parents or move between households, think about:

  • Your child’s health - Are they displaying any symptoms of coronavirus? Have they been in contact with anyone who is working or has worked closely with individuals who have the virus?
  • The risk of infection from the other parent’s household - Is anyone in their family displaying symptoms or has anyone been recently displaying symptoms?
  • Vulnerable individuals - Does either household include any vulnerable individuals, such as older people or those with underlying health conditions, who are at higher risk from the virus?

If you decide that it is not the right decision for your child to have face-to-face contact with their other parent, find alternative ways for them to stay in touch – for example Zoom, FaceTime, Skype or telephone calls.

For more information and advice about divorce or separation and your child's mental health, as well as suggestions of where you can get further support, have a look at our page on supporting your child during divorce or separation.

Responding to arguments

The lockdown means that families are spending the majority of their time in close proximity to one another, making it difficult for family members to find their own space and use their normal coping strategies for managing difficult feelings. It is completely understandable if there are more arguments in your family at the moment – and it is natural for young people to take their frustrations out on those they are closest to. It may also mean that small or trivial problems feel magnified, and this could increase tensions and cause arguments to break out.

It is completely understandable if there are more arguments in your family at the moment.

Here are some tips to help you prevent situations from escalating and manage conflict in a healthy way:

  • Don’t worry or give yourself a hard time – remember arguments are going to happen!
  • When they do happen, try to stay calm and remove yourself from the situation to prevent things from escalating. For example, move into another room or go for a walk.
  • Create a schedule. To help prevent squabbles over who can watch their programme on the TV or whose turn it is on the Xbox, create a family schedule. You can map out time for school, chores, dinner, fun stuff and who has access to the TV remote!
  • Talk to your child. Ask your child what they think would help the family to avoid arguments. It will feel positive for them to be able to input, and what they say may surprise you!
  • Give each other space where possible and make sure that you take some “me time”. It can be difficult to find time for yourself on days where you are home-schooling, entertaining your children and keeping up with household chores or your own work. It is more important than ever, however, that you do factor in time for yourself so you can escape a little and take care of you. Whether it’s soaking in the bath, going for a run or lying on your bed listening to your favourite song!
It is more important than ever that you factor in time for yourself so you can escape a little and take care of you.

Managing your child's aggression or violence

Sometimes, arguments in the home can escalate to physical violence and aggression – especially if this is something your child was struggling with before the lockdown started. If your child is physically aggressive towards you or other members of your family, it is important that you take steps to keep yourself safe and minimise the risk of harm.

Here are some tips for if your child’s aggression escalates to violence:

  • Remove yourself and anyone else present from the situation as quickly as possible. This could help to prevent anyone from getting hurt. You may want to step outside or go to another room, and it’s a good idea to stay there until things have calmed down. It is natural for you to feel angry, frustrated, frightened or overwhelmed in this situation. Try to remain as calm as you can, and avoid raising your voice or retaliating aggressively in any way.
  • It’s a good idea to try to engage your child in a conversation about what’s happened, however it is best to do this only when your child has calmed down and they are no longer behaving violently.
  • If you feel that the aggression or violence is putting you or anyone else at risk of serious harm or you have had to leave your home and it is not safe to go back, contact the emergency services by dialling 999 as soon as possible. You may worry that the emergency services are stretched at this time, but seeking help is the right thing to do – your safety is most important.

For more tips on dealing with your child's anger, aggression or violence, have a look at our page on responding to anger.

It’s a good idea to try to engage your child in a conversation about what’s happened, however it is best to do this only when your child has calmed down and they are no longer behaving violently.

If you are concerned about your child’s safety, or believe that they are being abused or are at risk of abuse, you can contact the NSPCC who can offer information and guidance on how you can help to keep your child safe.

Open Monday to Friday 8am-10pm, and 9am-6pm at weekends.
Phone: 0808 800 5000
Email: [email protected]
Online form: https://forms.nspcc.org.uk/content/nspcc---report-abuse-form

Domestic violence

Staying at home during the coronavirus outbreak has changed everyone’s life dramatically. The current restrictions have also increased the prevalence of domestic violence, creating fear and anxiety for those who are experiencing, or at risk of experiencing it.

If you are in this situation, it is crucial that you know that help and support is still available, no matter what the situation or circumstances may be. Most importantly, the Government’s restrictions around staying at home do not apply if you need to leave your home to escape from domestic violence – your safety will always come first.

Remember that:

  • the priority is always to keep you and your family safe
  • you are not to blame for your abuser’s behaviour and there is no excuse that can justify domestic violence
  • if you feel unsafe, you can reach out for help - whether that’s calling 999, a helpline or contacting a friend or family member

There is still lots of support available if you need it, including:

Government publication on coronavirus and domestic abuse: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-and-domestic-abuse/coronavirus-covid-19-support-for-victims-of-domestic-abuse

For more information and advice about supporting the mental health of a child who has experienced or witnessed domestic violence, have a look at our page on supporting your child through domestic violence.

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