Parenting during the coronavirus outbreak

Last reviewed: 6 January 2022

The Mental Health Foundation is part of the national mental health response during the coronavirus outbreak. Government advice designed to keep us safe is under constant review and will be different depending on where you live: more details and up to date information here.

There’s no doubt that the pandemic is having a huge impact on family relationships. 

Many of us are spending more time at home with our children. We might be balancing work, parenting and supporting our children’s education if they’re learning from home. 

Some of us will be shielding and worried about having a child at school or nursery. Some of us are managing alone with our children, or co-parenting from two households.  

Whatever our circumstances, this period may be tough on our mental health and our relationships. We may face challenges with our children – around routines, missing social contact, staying in, and behaviour – but perhaps also opportunities to get to know our children better, to learn new things together, and to be together as a family.  

Now, more than ever, parenting is about doing the best we can, with what we have. 

This page has some ideas and sources of further advice to help you get through this time. 

1. Spend quality time together and by yourself  

You may be spending more time with your children than usual – especially if there are school or nursery closures, or you’re having to self-isolate.

It can sometimes seem like there is only one setting for family – everyone together. 

However, there are a lot of ways to split that time so you can have quality time with everyone in the household as well as with yourself. 

It’s OK to have alone time as a parent 

All parents need alone time and it’s OK to find and take it. If there are other adults in the household, enabling each other to have personal time is a huge gift.  

It might feel impossible to have time for yourself, but let yourself get creative: for example, could a grandparent read a book to your child over video chat so you can get on with something else? Could you give your children some screen time to free up time to relax? Could you block out some time in the evenings after the children are in bed – where you don’t do any housework, but do whatever you want to do? If you have a baby or toddler, try to use their nap times to recharge rather than clean or work. 

Help children build their own spaces 

Children also need time alone. If there’s more than one child in the house it can be great fun when they spend time together – but each child needs their personal space too. 

See if you can help your children each identify and make a space that is their own. This is hard to do in small flats, but perhaps they could build a den on their beds. 

Try to keep connected with friends and family 

Phone or video calls and online games with friends and relatives can be a good way to keep in touch – and letter writing for children and adults could be a nice way to surprise someone you’re missing. 

Activities for the whole family as well as ourselves 

Finding a balance of different types of activity is a good idea.

Reading together, playing games, making a meal together, keeping active or doing something creative are all opportunities to have family time.  

Trying to eat at least one meal together with time to reflect on the day can also give everyone a chance to connect. 

Download the Time for Us pack – activities to get adults and children talking about their feelings.

Think about relaxing rules on screen time

Your children may have more screen time than normal right now. This might cause arguments or tension if you’re not happy about it.  

It’s impossible for anyone to be a perfect parent right now (or ever!). You may need to temporarily relax the rules on screen time so you can have more time to work, rest or exercise.

There’s lots of free, quality content on television and online: from virtual museum tours and theatre shows to new content on streaming platforms and new games. Search on YouTube or visit the websites of your favourite museums or theatres, for example, to see what they’re offering.

It’s always good to know what your kids are watching and doing online, and to keep talking about it. Read our guide on talking to children about healthy internet use

2. Routines and structure 

Whether it’s during school time, the weekend or holidays, it can be helpful to plan the day and the week.  

If we’re at home all the time, it’s easy to lose track of time or end up doing the same old things and feeling bored.  

Try and plan your day 

Think about having a time to start the day together – maybe with an online PE lesson or having breakfast together. 

Nobody is saying you need a colour-coded timetable for every hour and minute – though if you like that kind of thing, it certainly passes the time.  

Try and keep mealtime and bedtime routines consistent 

Keeping mealtime and bedtime routines in place gives a sense of consistency, which can be especially important while everything else feels so unpredictable.

A weekly meal planner helps plan your shopping and can give you all something to look forward to. It’s even better if everyone gets a chance to have their favourite meal and the kids help with preparing food.  

Remember children show stress in different ways, so it may be they take longer to fall asleep or find it difficult to settle into activities that they normally enjoy.  

Sleep is important for teenagers and allowing them to sleep in a little, if possible, may well help them to cope with the challenges they face.

Setting chores and rewarding them for doing them can help with children’s boredom and give them a sense of achievement – as well as taking some of the burden from us. Even very young children can help if you turn it into a game – teaching them about helping and responsibility. 

Helping children with schoolwork at home 

There may be times when your children have to study at home, for example if their school closes or they’re self-isolating. School at home is hard. You may not be a teacher, but you’re a parent doing your best to keep your children’s brains active.

Although schools set work, you might also want to get your children going with projects that relate to their own interests. If you work at home, you’ll know that the rhythm of each day is different, what you can achieve varies, and that sometimes you have to cut yourself some slack and do something else. Let your children know this and reassure them that we all find it hard to stay motivated sometimes.

Try and define a couple of schoolwork sessions in the day for primary age children. For secondary age children, you can encourage them to study for longer – perhaps sharing some of your tips if you’re working from home too. Look for useful resources such as the videos and quizzes on BBC Bitesize.  

Go easy, and encourage them to share worries and disappointments they have about school, exam and next steps. 

You can find up-to-date information about how coronavirus is affecting different education settings in EnglandWalesNorthern Ireland and Scotland.

Helping your children stay in touch with friends 

If your children are having to stay at home, find ways for them to stay in touch with their friends. Video calls can be fun, but supervise young kids closely – ideally be in the room or nearby.  

For older children and teens, check in with them on how they are doing with keeping in touch with friends. 

If your children are feeling anxious about meeting up with friends or classmates after being apart for a while, let them know that they can take their time. They don’t have to rush back into playing – reassure them that they will soon feel comfortable, but it’s ok if they want to stay close to you for a bit before joining in again.

3. Recognising and managing stress 

It’s important we recognise and address any stress we’re feeling – about parenting, work, family and other challenges.  

Try and make time for yourself 

It can seem impossible to make time for yourself or practice self-care, but this is the time when you need it most – even if it’s just for a few minutes.

Try not to judge or compare yourself to others 

It’s easy to judge yourself as a parent based on what other people are doing, on what they’re posting on social media, or through a lens of what we don’t have or can’t offer. 

It’s important to cut yourself some slack. Right now, you’re giving your best to your kids – and hopefully there’s enough left for you. If there isn’t, you need to find a way to replenish yourself. 

Resources for our mental health 

In our general tips about looking after your mental health, we suggest a range of ways of looking after yourself. You can also make a plan for looking after your mental health at the NHS Every Mind Matters site. 

4. Celebrating success and staying positive 

Celebrating the small things and remembering what’s going well can help boost your self-esteem and mental wellbeing.

Praise your children when they do well 

Take care to praise your children when they do well. Be specific: tell them what they did that you were pleased or proud of and why. This lets them know that you’re noticing and interested in what they’re doing.  

Praise the effort and work they put into things more than the outcome. It helps them feel confident about taking on other challenges.  

How to set expectations with your children 

Set your expectations appropriately. It’s unlikely a younger child can stay quiet for a whole working day, but they might be able to let you take a call or answer an email without interruption.  

Being specific can help – ‘I need 20 minutes for this call then we can play’ is easier to understand that ‘ I need to work’. Give children short tasks that they can get stuck into independently while you’re busy doing other things.

Talk about what you have been grateful for 

At the end of the day, talk about the things you’ve been grateful for. You could do this at the dinner table, during bath time or as part of the bedtime routine.  

You could write these down too. It can quickly become a habit that can remind you of the good things that went well, even in those difficult days. 

If you can sit with your partner, or talk to a friend or relative about what’s going well at the moment, you may find that you’re doing better than you think. 

5. Helping together 

There has been an emphasis on community volunteering during the pandemic – and volunteering is great for your mental health. Teenagers might be able to take up volunteer roles and there may be community volunteering projects that you can do with your younger children.  

The BBC has ideas on how to volunteer as a family, or look at our random acts of kindness for more ideas. Drawing pictures or writing notes for your neighbours can be a simple way for young children to help people smile.

6. Managing difficult behaviour and conflict 

There might be some extra tension in the family at the moment. Children often act out when they feel stressed, and we may find it harder than normal to respond calmly and rationally.  

You may need to expect more disrupting behaviour – your children are dealing with an extraordinary set of circumstances. 

There are bound to be occasions when you lose your temper and shout. It’s important that you say sorry. If you model apologising to your children when you’ve lost your temper, they can do the same to you. For older children, you can accept apologies with a thank you and remind them that they hurt your feelings but you can move on. 

7. Talking about coronavirus 

It’s important to talk with your children about the pandemic and what it means. We’ve produced specific advice about having conversations about coronavirus with children of all ages.  

Popular children’s illustrator Axel Scheffler also collaborated with public health specialists to produce a downloadable book on coronavirus for primary school-aged children.

For older children and teens, there’s a lot of good quality information available. Our colleagues at The Mix, Young Minds and Young Scot have produced dedicated sites for teens. 

Be as honest as you can at an age-appropriate level and answer questions when they arise. If your circumstances have changed – for example, if you’ve lost your job or have fewer hours – it’s important to be open about that with older children. This allows them to understand the situation without guessing, and to share their feelings with you.

8. Reach out  

If you are struggling with parenting at the moment, you aren’t alone. The Every Mind Matters website has advice on looking after your child’s mental health.

It’s not a sign of weakness to reach out. You might want to speak to a friend, relative or another parent with a child the same age as yours. You might have an online parents’ group or forum like Mumsnet to call on.  

Being a single parent can be particularly challenging. Organisations like Gingerbread have advice for lone parents, including on co-parenting during the pandemic.  

You might also be able to access a local mutual aid or volunteer group .They can help with shopping and other supplies. Everyone can ask for help, whether or not they can offer help to others, now or in the future. 

If you have a child with a long-term health condition who is at higher risk of becoming ill from coronavirus, Great Ormond Street Hospital has some useful information. 

Finally, there are a number of helplines available if you want advice or support with parenting.

The Mental Health Foundation is committed to bringing readers reliable and relevant information. All of our pages are written and regularly reviewed by our mental health experts, in line with official advice on the coronavirus outbreak.

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If you want to develop a personalised plan for supporting your mental health you can visit the Every Mind Matters site, developed in collaboration with the Mental Health Foundation.

If you need to talk confidentially you can call Samaritans on 116 123 at any time. We also have a resource on how to get help for your mental health.