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Divorce tips from the experts
Ensure your divorce or separation is as fast and fair as possible without breaking the bank by reading the following tips from amicable’s divorce experts. 1. Know the basics To get divorced, you need to arrange three things: File the legal paperwork. Submit your divorce petition (form D8), apply for a decree nisi (form D84), and, once this has been processed, apply for a decree absolute (form D36). You may also file a consent order if you want to make your financial agreements legally binding. Plan your finances. Agree what will happen to your home; where you will both live; and what money, assets and debts you have to divide. Make a parenting plan. If you have children, you will need to agree on their living arrangements, how they will see both of you, who will pay for what, and how you will raise them. You can use the free online template at Splitting Up? Put Kids First. 2. Don’t rush your partner into it While you may be keen to get things moving, rushing your partner into a divorce could slow the process down, particularly if you are at different stages of emotional readiness. Allow time for your partner to catch up with you, and be mindful not to apply pressure. In the meantime, look at other options, like professional coaching or counselling support to help with the process of letting go and moving on. 3. Know the facts, remove the emotion The law isn’t concerned with who’s right and who’s wrong. The law is only concerned with the facts for the marriage breakdown. If you understand this when you begin the process, you will have a better chance of negotiating a settlement without a damaging and expensive legal process. It’s important to note that the reasons given for your marriage breakdown will not affect any of your financial or child arrangements. Read more about the divorce law process in the UK. 4. Don’t rush off to a solicitor There are many ways to divorce and different processes suit different people. Using a solicitor is usually expensive and can also create dependency and a barrier between you and your ex. Learning how to communicate with your ex can help you get through the process amicably without spending more than you can afford. If you have children or pets together, you’ll need to communicate after the divorce so it’s better to start learning how to do this effectively now as ex-partners. There is a difference between legal information and legal advice. This page is an example of legal information, whereas legal advice is personalised to you. It’s more cost effective to start by seeking free legal information and giving yourselves a chance to work things out. 5. Be realistic on how long the divorce process takes The divorce process can often take much longer than expected – this is one of the biggest causes of escalating costs. If you have never been through a divorce before, it’s unlikely you will have much idea of the steps involved. The UK court system is slower than you might expect – average processing times run between 20 and 22 weeks. Complete this form to get an idea of how long it may take you personally to get divorced. 6. Look forward Don’t spend your time, energy or money arguing over the past. Change the conversation from ‘How do we split our stuff?’ to ‘What do we need to do to be happy in future?’. Or, if you have children, ‘What we need to do to ensure our children are happy’. This can help to see what’s most important to you and put your focus on that. The author Kate Daly is a co-founder of amicable, the faster, fairer, fixed price way to separate and divorce. Kate is a divorce expert and helps couples and separated parents navigate divorce and separation amicably. She's passionate about changing the way the world divorces, and campaigns for fairer divorce laws and access to justice. To schedule a free, no-obligation call with Kate to talk through your divorce, please click here.
Article | divorce, amicable, legal rights
5 min read
Shared parental leave
Shared parental leave could be the answer to a number of tricky issues like sharing childcare and other housework, but studies have shown that it may not be as straightforward as first thought. Since April 2015, parents have been entitled to take 12 months of shared leave. In the past, dads could only take two weeks’ parental leave but parents can now choose how to divide up the first year between themselves. We know that the transition to parenthood is one of the toughest hurdles a couple can face together (though it doesn’t have to hurt!). Shared parental leave can make this transition easier, but there are some practical and financial factors to consider. Managing the demands of a new born baby, along with all the existing household chores, is a lot to ask of one parent alone. Shared parental leave means that both parents can sometimes be at home together and the load can be shared during the day. It can also help new dads – who often experience the transition differently to mums – adjust better to the demands of parenting [1]. One study showed that dads who take parental leave spend more time with their family, get more involved with the children, and take more of a shared role in parenting and other household tasks than those who don’t [2]. Your decision about whether and how to share leave is likely to be influenced by a number of factors, including which of you earns the most, and how parental leave is handled by your employers [3]. There are also a number of social factors such as the traditional gender roles of dad as breadwinner and mum as caregiver, and more practical needs like breastfeeding [3], all of which may play a part in your decision. Couples who reject traditional gender roles are more likely to take up shared leave [2]. But it’s not always easy to break down these barriers, and some dads may find their workplace culture getting in the way of taking parental leave. One study showed dads facing negative reactions from colleagues and bosses at the idea of reducing their working hours to look after babies [3]. This range of influential factors gives an idea of just how complex the decision to share leave can actually be. So, what does this all mean for couple relationships? Well, there isn’t yet much evidence about the effect of dads’ parental leave on relationships. But, what we do know is that shared leave can help dads be more involved with childcare and housework, and that people whose relationships have a more balanced share of chores often report feeling more satisfied [4]. Whatever you decide, you might find it helpful to read an overview of the law and your entitlement over on gov.uk. If you are expecting a new baby, you and your partner should consider these factors together and decide what might be best for you and your family. References [1] Wisensale, S. K. (2001). Family leave policy: The political economy of work and family in America. ME Sharpe. [2] Seward, R. R., Yeatts, D. E., Zottarelli, L. K., & Fletcher, R. G. (2006). Fathers taking parental leave and their involvement with children: An exploratory study. Community, Work and Family, 9(1), 1-9. [3] McKay, L., & Doucet, A. (2010).  Without taking away her leave: A Canadian case study of couples’ decisions on fathers’ use of paid parental leave. Fathering, 8(3), 300. [4] Kershaw, T., Murphy, A., Divney, A., Magriples, U., Niccolai, L., & Gordon, D. (2013). What's love got to do with it: Relationship functioning and mental and physical quality of life among pregnant adolescent couples. American journal of community psychology, 52(3-4), 288-301.
Article | parenting, work
3 min read
How to be a happy young parent
As teenagers, we are still figuring out who we are, and what we want from life. We are forging our adult identities, and our romantic relationships set the tone for the future. Finding out you’re going to become a young parent plunges you into another major life transition just as you’re figuring out how to deal with the rest of life’s struggles [1]. Ensuring you have the right support in place can make all the difference. If you’re in a relationship, the increased stress of pregnancy and raising a child can lead to putting extra strain on the relationship. One study found nearly half of young parents’ relationships had broken up by the time the child was a year old [2]. You can protect against this by knowing about the factors that keep relationships strong, and where to get extra support. Getting support Just having a partner can be beneficial to you as a parent. Studies have shown that young mums supported by their partners feel more satisfied with their lives, have higher self-esteem, and are less likely to be stressed [3] [4] [5]. They are also likely to feel readier for parenthood. However, if you don’t have a partner, you needn’t despair. Research shows that single young parents who have good support from their parents and other family members can also report feeling more satisfied with their lives, and are less likely to be depressed or anxious [5]. Even if you don’t have support from your family, you can still feel the benefits of external support by connecting with other young parents or expectant parents through online forums. This kind of social support and parenting advice is also linked to stronger wellbeing [6], so it’s worth seeking support wherever you can get it. Relationship quality To protect against the breakdown of a relationship, it’s important to think about relationship quality. Evidence shows that the good bits of your relationship not only protect against breakup, but also help you feel more confident as a parent [1]. This is true even if your partner isn’t the child’s biological parent [5]. A positive relationship between you and your partner is also good for your child, as they are less likely to be exposed to conflict and stress [7] [8]. A strong sense of mutual love and attraction can often be enough to protect your relationship, but if you want to do something to make things stronger, consider upping your relationship equity. This means that you both make an equal contribution to the relationship. You can do this by sharing chores and childcare, but also by showing equal affection and support [9]. If your relationship breaks down, and you’re not getting the support you need from family and friends, you can try visiting the young parents section of the Family Lives website or posting a comment or question on Click to ask for tips and social support from other young parents. References [1] Gee, C. B., McNerney, C. M., Reiter, M. J., & Leaman, S. C. (2007). Adolescent and young adult mothers’ relationship quality during the transition to parenthood: Associations with father involvement in fragile families. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 36(2), 213-224. [2] Sipsma, H., Biello, K. B., Cole-Lewis, H., & Kershaw, T. (2010). Like father, like son: the intergenerational cycle of adolescent fatherhood. American Journal of Public Health, 100(3), 517-524. [3] Dhayanandhan, B., Bohr, Y., & Connolly, J. A. (2010). Understanding the link between developmental tasks and child abuse potential among adolescent mothers living below the poverty line. In Poster presented at the Annual Meeting for the Society for Research on Adolescence, Philadelphia PA. [4] Gee, C. B., & Rhodes, J. E. (1999). Postpartum transitions in adolescent mothers' romantic and maternal relationships. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly (1982-), 512-532. [5] Stevenson, W., Maton, K. I., & Teti, D. M. (1999). Social support, relationship quality, and well-being among pregnant adolescents. Journal of adolescence, 22(1), 109-121. [6] Sherman, L. E., & Greenfield, P. M. (2013). Forging friendship, soliciting support: A mixed-method examination of message boards for pregnant teens and teen mothers. Computers in Human Behavior, 29(1), 75-85. [7] Cutrona, C. E., Hessling, R. M., Bacon, P. L., & Russell, D. W. (1998). Predictors and correlates of continuing involvement with the baby's father among adolescent mothers. Journal of Family Psychology, 12(3), 369. [8] Hetherington, E. M., & Stanley-Hagan, M. M. (1997). The effects of divorce on fathers and their children. The role of the father in child development, 3, 191-211. [9] Kershaw, T., Murphy, A., Divney, A., Magriples, U., Niccolai, L., & Gordon, D. (2013). What's love got to do with it: Relationship functioning and mental and physical quality of life among pregnant adolescent couples. American journal of community psychology, 52(3-4), 288-301.
Article | parenting, young
4 min read
The father-child bond
Some dads fall in love with their babies as soon as they see them, but that isn’t everyone’s experience. If your baby seems like a stranger, you needn’t panic. Love at first sight is by no means common and, like all relationships, the bond between father and child takes time to develop. Lots of new dads feel under pressure to make all the right noises, but the reality of fatherhood can be different to your expectation. You may feel like a bit of a spare part too, particularly in the first few weeks when it seems to be all about mother and baby. Though it may be tough to admit to it, a little jealousy is completely natural too. Your bond with your child will grow as you spend more time together and get to know each other better. This will happen naturally over time but there are some things you can do to speed the process along. It may seem obvious, but try to keep in mind that you are dealing with another human being. Your baby has its own personality and moods, and that character will soon shine through. For many fathers, it doesn’t become clear how much personality babies are born with until the birth of their second child, and the revelation that they are not the same. So, how do you get to know a new born baby whose whole world seems to revolve around their mum? Here are some top tips: Give yourself some credit. Don’t be put off by the fact that most baby products and services are aimed at mothers. Be proud of the important role you play in your baby’s life. Don’t worry about how you’re supposed to feel. Becoming a dad is a shock to the system. Let yourself feel whatever you feel. Talk to your partner or a trusted friend; or, ask a professional like your health visitor, or someone from your local Children’s Centre. You could also make a post on Click, as there may be someone reading who has been through something similar to what you’re going through now. Take part in the baby’s routine. Get involved with feeding, burping, bathing, cuddling, carrying, changing nappies, and so on. Your involvement with the baby can just as significant as you make it, and this quality time will help you get to know each other. Be silly. Sing to your baby, and dance around to your favourite tunes. Invent games, and explore your inner child. You will soon learn what makes your baby smile, and when you do you won’t be able to stop. Smile at your baby. It sounds obvious but there is very little more rewarding than seeing your baby smiling toothlessly back at you. Hold your baby. Don’t shy away from physical contact. Having a warm baby sleep on your chest is a great way to relax. Cuddles and tickles help build bonds too.
Article | fathers, baby
3 min read
Being parents to disabled children: part 2
In part one of “The positives of being a parent to a disabled child” we found that, despite facing greater challenges, parents with a disabled child often reported that their child’s disability had a positive effect on their lives.  “Indeed, irrespective of the child’s impairment type (e.g. ASD, cerebral palsy), approximately two out of three parents in this study agreed that, overall, having a disabled child has been positive for their family.” We drew from a study of 175 parents and started looking at what they meant by ‘positive’. Here’s what else parents had to say: “I’ve become a stronger and more compassionate person”  When care and attention is highly demanding, sometimes people find out what they’re really made of, and what their relationship is made of too. Demanding times often reveal the point where your resolve begins to wear thin, or where you start to buckle. As a parent in this situation, the love for your child and your commitment to caring for them could strengthen that resolve in a way that surpasses your own expectations. Just as athletes can tap into a hidden pool of strength in the final lap of a 10,000-metre run, parents also find energy, patience and, endurance they didn’t know they had. As a parent, you face the added mental challenge of knowing you cannot quit or duck out but, much like that athlete, it’s your team of family, friends, and support networks that enables you to keep going.  "As a result of having a child with a disability, our family unit has emerged stronger" This extra energy to keep going can show parents how much they’re willing to give of themselves, which may surprise them. Especially those that perhaps considered themselves to be less caring or compassionate in nature.  “I’ve been able to laugh more, and I’m less bothered by trivial things” Parents facing additional challenges can sometimes gain a focus and a perspective that others do not seem to share. And that perspective – what matters and what doesn’t – can become something that sets those parents free from the humdrum of daily life. This perspective isn’t easily taught either. As people who get bent out of shape over trivial things will tell you, to them they’re not trivial issues – they’re deadly serious ones. Perspective is also coupled with resilience. Having bounced back from a series of challenges, you’re more likely to know what is worth your energy and what isn’t. Without realising it, you’ve probably become very good at estimating the value of your energy, your effort and your time. This might explain why parents with disabled children can sometimes enjoy life more, and laugh at the silly things, rather than be upset by them. Now that you’ve seen what other parents have to say about their experiences and how it’s shaped them, we’d love to hear your story. Have you, your relationship, or your family been changed for the better through your experience? Either leave us a comment, or get in touch with Contact. References [1] David McConnell, Amber Savage, Dick Sobsey & Bruce Uditsky (2015) Benefit-finding or finding benefits? The positive impact of having a disabled child, Disability & Society, 30(1), pp.29-45.
Article | parenting together, disability
2 min read
Disabled children and interfering in-laws
When you’re the parent of a disabled child, there’s a lot of information to absorb. Some of this can be useful but, like all parents, you may also find yourselves on the receiving end of unsolicited tips, advice, and wisdom. When it comes from your in-laws, it can be hard to know where to draw the line. In-laws can be a be a valuable source of emotional, financial, and practical support [1]. Depending on where they live, they can be a useful source of childcare, and play a valuable part in helping your children develop new skills [2]. Many can represent a calming influence during new and stressful situations that they already know their way around. As a parent of a disabled child, the issue becomes more complex. There are medical, social, and educational factors to consider that your and your partner’s parents may never have had to deal with before. Even if their parenting expertise hasn’t gone out of date, it may not be relevant to your child’s specific needs. However difficult your in-laws might be, it’s worth remembering that they have raised children too – they even raised someone that you fell in love with! But that doesn’t mean they’re always right. If their attempts to offer support just lead to arguments, the support itself may not be worth the emotional price you pay for it [3]. As the parent, it’s up to you to accept or reject offers of support. While your in-laws may have some useful nuggets, you and your partner are the ones who have access to the full picture as to what’s best for your child. Annoying in-laws If your in-laws are constantly texting bits of unhelpful advice, or if they come to the house and criticise a routine that you’ve been working hard to establish with the support of your child’s care team, then you need to find a way to respond. While the most obvious and possibly most satisfying response is to tackle them directly, this could lead to unnecessary arguments. Even when you know you are right, you still run the risk of turning your in-laws against you and upsetting your partner. The most effective way to deal with interfering in-laws is to talk to your partner first [4]. Speak openly to your partner about how you feel and why you’re concerned. As with any difficult conversation, start by talking about your own feelings, stick to the issue at hand, and give your partner a chance to digest what you’ve said. Don’t criticise or attack your in-laws – your partner has had to deal with them a lot longer than you have, and you don’t want to provoke a defensive reaction! Differences of opinion When you become parents, your priorities shift and your relationships change. This can include a rise in conflict with your in-laws. If you get on very well with them, this might just mean a few tiffs but, if you’re already prone to rowing, things could turn very stormy [5]. This makes sense as there’s more at stake than before – the little things you used to be able to ignore now need to be addressed head-on. Like you, your parents-in-law want the best for your child. Unlike you, they’re not around every day to make fully informed decisions about what’s actually best. If they start getting more involved than you want them to, it can feel intrusive and controlling. This can lead to problems between you and your partner, as you battle to strike the right balance [5]. Creating an effective boundary can be difficult. You and your partner will have to decide what’s acceptable and what’s not. You might want to agree a strategy in advance – for example, any time your parents or in-laws offer tips, thank them, and let them know you’ll consider their advice. You and your partner can then discuss the advice in private and make an appropriate decision. Sharing information It can be very helpful to update your in-laws on any information you learn about your disabled child. This could include medical information, or any strategies you’ve learned from your paediatrician, speech and language therapist, or other trusted provider like a charity or the NHS. If you have this information written down or printed out, show it to them, or ask your partner to. Discuss the information to help them understand what you’re trying to achieve with your child. It may also help them understand that you and your partner are in touch with the authoritative experts so they do not need to worry constantly that you may be doing the wrong thing! Getting to know your in-laws better Being on good terms with your in-laws can have unexpected positive side effects. One study found that couples who have closer ties to their in-laws tend to be happier and more satisfied with their own relationships [6]. So, rather than shutting them out, ask yourself it it’s possible to get to know your in-laws a little better. Take the opportunity to learn more about your partner’s background; encourage your in-laws to talk about the family history and customs. These conversations can help you form a bond, and may even have a positive impact on your relationship with your partner [7]. If you continue to struggle with your in-laws, take some comfort from the possibility that things can improve over time. Even the most vocal in-laws are capable of changing and coming around to accept your way of doing things. References [1] Goetting, A. (1990). Patterns of Support Among In-Laws in the United States A Review of Research. Journal of Family Issues, 11(1), 67–90. [2] Enyart, S. (2012). The transition to extended family: Examining the links between turbulence and children-in-laws’ goals, topic avoidance, and relational outcomes. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. [3] Schober, P. S. (2013). Gender Equality and Outsourcing of Domestic Work, Childbearing, and Relationship Stability Among British Couples. Journal of Family Issues, 34(1), 25–52. [4] Rittenour, E. C., and Kellas, K. J. (2015). Making Sense of Hurtful Mother-in-law Messages: Applying Attribution Theory to the In-Law Triad. Communication Quarterly, 63(1), 62–68. [5] Bryant, C.M., Conger., R.D., and Meehan., J.M. (2001). The Influence of In-Laws on Change in Marital Success. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63(3), 614-626. [6] [Timmer, S.G., and Veroff, J. (2000). Family Ties and the Discontinuity of Divorce in Black and White Newlywed Couples. Journal of Marriage and Family, 62(2), 349-361.   [7] Serewicz, M.C.M., Hosmer, R., Ballard, R.L., and Griffin, R. A. (2008). Disclosure from In-laws and the Quality of In-law and Marital Relationships. Communication Quarterly, 56(4), 427–444.
Article | grandparents, parenting, disability
2 min read
Considering having another child
For any parents, having another child is a big decision that requires serious consideration. So, if you are thinking about having another child, it’s likely your discussion will be affected by the financial, social, and health factors already in play in your lives. As parents of disabled children, you may be feeling this even more strongly. Studies have shown that parents raising children with disabilities are more likely to experience mental health issues such as anxiety, stress, and depression, (Stoneman, 2007) as well as relationship difficulties and problems at work (Simsek et al., 2015). One study asked parents of disabled children their thoughts around having another child. The main concerns included: Having less time to care for existing children Not having enough money to care for another child Risk of health problems in the next child (Simsek et al., 2015) Siblings You may also be concerned about what kind of life another child would have as the sibling of someone who requires regular extra care. You might be worried that your next child would have a stressful life, or that you wouldn’t be able to dedicate as much time to them as you would like to. This is certainly worth considering - some studies have shown that siblings of disabled children can experience increased stress in their lives (Murray, 2000) (Javadian, 2011). However, there is also evidence of siblings feeling a positive benefit of living with a disabled sibling. Children who are involved in the care of disabled siblings can grow up learning to be more helpful and compassionate than other children, and may also develop greater emotional awareness (Javadian, 2011) (Fisman et al., 1996). How will having another child affect your relationship? While parents of disabled children are statistically more likely to separate (Gardener and Harmon, 2002) (Patterson, 2002), many couples have a much more positive experience, and find that their relationship is strengthened and their bond solidified. Parents of children with additional needs have to rely on each other for support, and this can benefit your couple relationship, bringing you closer together (Simsek et al., 2015). It’s likely that you’ll have a lot to think about as you make a decision around whether or not to try for another child. However, depending on your experiences, you may feel more confident knowing that you’ve made it this far, learning and growing together. Whatever other factors you need to consider, the fact that you are thinking about it at all could be a positive sign about the strength of your relationship as a couple, and your capacity as parents. References Cahill, B. M., & Glidden, L. M. (1996). Influence of child diagnosis on family and parental functioning: Down syndrome versus other disabilities. American journal of mental retardation: AJMR, 101(2), 149-160. Fisman, S., Wolf, L., Ellison, D., Gillis, B., Freeman, T., & Szatmari, P. (1996). Risk and protective factors affecting the adjustment of siblings of children with chronic disabilities. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 35(11), 1532-1541. Gardner, J., & Harmon, T. (2002). Exploring resilience from a parent’s perspective: A qualitative study of six resilient mothers of children with an intellectual disability. Australian Social Work, 55(1), 60-68. Javadian, R. (2011). A comparative study of adaptability and cohesion in families with and without a disabled child. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 30, 2625-2630. Kearney, P. M., & Griffin, T. (2001). Between joy and sorrow: being a parent of a child with developmental disability. Journal of advanced nursing, 34(5), 582-592. Marsh, J. C. (2003). Editorial: Arguments for Family Strengths Research. Social Work, 48(2), 147-149. Murray, J. S. (2000). Attachment theory and adjustment difficulties in siblings of children with cancer. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 21(2), 149-169. Patterson, J. M. (2002). Integrating family resilience and family stress theory. Journal of marriage and family, 64(2), 349-360. Şimşek, T. T., Taşçı, M., & Karabulut, D. (2015). Desire to have other children in families with a chronically disabled child and its effect on the relationship of the parents. Turkish Archives of Pediatrics/Türk Pediatri Arşivi, 50(3), 163. Stoneman, Z., & Gavidia-Payne, S. (2006). Marital adjustment in families of young children with disabilities: Associations with daily hassles and problem-focused coping. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 111(1), 1-14.
Article | parenting, disability, children
2 min read
Children in hospital
When your child has a disability or long-term illness, hospital stays might be a familiar part of your life. But hospitals can be stressful places, and managing a stay can be tough for you as parents [1], both practically and emotionally.  You may worry about leaving your child in the care of hospital staff, particularly if your child has communication difficulties and important decisions are being made [2]. Younger people with learning disabilities can often find it difficult being understood in hospital settings [3]. Dealing with hospital staff If you’re having difficulty accessing the support and services your child needs, it can have a significant impact on you and your partner [4]. It can sometimes feel like hospital staff don’t know how to offer the care your child needs [5] and you may find yourself going over the same things as you are passed from one practitioner to the next. One way to ensure your child’s needs are properly considered is by using a hospital or communication passport for your child. A hospital passport is a booklet that you can use to pass on crucial information about a child or young person with additional needs. It contains information about their condition, medications, likes and dislikes, and essential information if an emergency happens. This can ensure that all the professionals who come into contact with you and your child have the same information without you having to keep explaining things. This can be particularly useful for children with a learning difficulty.  The charity Scope have a template for a communication passport on their website. Look under ‘Free hospital communication resource’ at www.scope.org.uk/support/tips/health/hospital-stays. Mencap also have a hospital passport for children with a learning disability on their website: www.mencap.org.uk/advice-and-support/health/our-health-guides. Even the most well equipped hospitals cannot provide the round-the-clock care that many severely disabled children need, so children might be completely dependent on others to stay comfortable and happy in hospital. As their mum or dad, you may need to be by their side for much of the day to pick up the extra care that nursing and clinical staff can’t offer. This can include practical things, but also just talking to them, and keeping them reassured and entertained. You may need to ask hospital staff to have patience with you. Having a child in hospital can be draining for parents [4] and you may not be at your best when trying to communicate important things to the staff. When you feel that hospital staff aren’t very understanding about your experiences, it can leave you feeling unsupported, and worried about the decisions that are being made while you’re not there [5]. At times like these, you and your partner might need to make a special effort to support each other. It can be helpful to spend five or ten minutes at the end of the day, talking about what you’ve found difficult and what has gone well. This can help give you a better understanding of each other’s experiences, while getting emotional support from the person who is going through this with you. It can also give you a chance to gather your thoughts and reflect on the day. Support while your child is in hospital Having a child in hospital can sometimes open the door to services and support you may not have accessed before. Make sure you enquire about specialist support. Some charities work in hospitals providing condition-specific nurses, such as Roald Dahl nurses who can visit and support you, and provide follow up care when you’ve left the hospital setting. There are also charities who take applications for financial support, like grants to families with a child in hospital. See www.contact.org.uk/general-grants for a list of grant-giving charities, or contact the helpline for a copy on 0808 808 3555 or helpline@contact.org.uk. The hospital’s Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) can offer parents confidential advice, support and information. They can help you with health-related questions and help resolve concerns or problems when you're using the NHS. You can usually find their office in or near the main entrance of the hospital. Contact has parent advisers based at six children's hospitals across the UK, providing families with emotional and practical support. Parents can drop by the information stands or ask someone to come to the ward. Contact currently work at: Birmingham Children's Hospital. Royal Manchester Children's Hospital. Alder Hey Children's Hospital. Great North Children's Hospital. The Evelina Children's Hospital. Great Ormond Street Hospital. The Contact website has details of available days and times. Leaning on friends and family If you are stressed, it can have an impact your child’s health and behaviour [1], so it’s important to make sure that you and your partner are well supported. One of the best ways to cope with stress is to lean on your friends and family [1] [6]. Sometimes talking to someone outside of the situation can help you let off steam in a way that talking to your partner can’t. You may also be able to ask for practical help, like lifts to or from the hospital, picking up other children from school, or helping you out with the housework for a while. It can be hard to ask for help, but try to be kind to yourself and remember that lots of people enjoy feeling needed and will be happy to support you when they know what you’re going through. Staying with your child If your child is having a long stay in hospital, you can help them by keeping things as normal as possible, like making sure they have access to schoolwork and home comforts [1]. If your other life commitments allow it, you may be able to stay in or near the hospital with your child. Most hospitals allow or even encourage this and some have funded schemes to offer low-cost accommodation nearby [7]. There are also centres like Ronald McDonald House which have been set up specifically to allow your family to stay together while your child is in hospital.  Staying close to your child can take some of the worry out of the situation [7] and help you feel more confident about the care your child is receiving [2]. It may also put you in touch with other parents who are in similar situations [7]. Looking after your relationship However you decide to manage things, you and your partner will probably have to make some compromises. Set aside some time to work things through as a couple – make a list of what needs doing and work out where it’s possible to free up time and resources to make things work. You may be able to divide things up equally, or one of you may have to do the majority of the heavy lifting while the other keeps working. Agree a strategy that works for both of you and make a plan to review it and check if it’s working. Talking things through can help you see how each other is involved, and give you both a greater sense of fairness. Coming home Before your child comes home, make sure you contact the hospital social work department to arrange your child’s care needs when they are discharged. The hospital should liaise with your local authority to make sure you and your child have everything in place. If your child’s care needs have changed, be prepared to start a new routine rather than trying to recapture the old one.  No one can pretend that having a child in hospital is anything but a stressful experience, and it’s normal for feelings of stress and worry to continue even after your child is discharged [8], so give yourselves a chance to adjust afterwards.  References [1] Commodari, E. (2010). Children staying in hospital: a research on psychological stress of caregivers. Italian Journal of Pediatrics, 36, 40. http://www.ijponline.net/content/36/1/40  [2] Gumm R, Thomas E, Lloyd C, et al. (2017) Improving communication between staff and disabled children in hospital wards: testing the feasibility of a training intervention developed through intervention mapping. BMJ Paediatrics Open 2017;1:e000103. doi:10.1136/bmjpo-2017-000103 [3] Care Quality Commission (2017) NHS Patient Survey Programme.Children and young people’s inpatient and day case survey 2016: Statistical release. http://www.cqc.org.uk/sites/default/files/20171128_cyp16_statisticalrelease.pdf [4] Care Quality Commission (2012) Health care for disabled children and young people. A review of how the health care needs of disabled children and young people are met by the commissioners and providers of health care in England. https://www.cqc.org.uk/sites/default/files/documents/health_care_for_disabled_children.pdf [5] Hagvall, M., Ehnfors, M. and Anderzn-Carlsson, A. (2016) Experiences of parenting a child with medical complexity in need of acute hospital care. Journal of Child Health Care, 20(1), pp.68-76. DOI: 10.1177/1367493514551308 [6] Kersh, J., Hedvat, T.T., Hauser-Cram, P. and Warfield, M. E. (2006), The contribution of marital quality to the well-being of parents of children with developmental disabilities. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 50: 883–893. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2788.2006.00906.x [7] Franck, L.S., Ferguson, D., Fryda, S., & Rudin, N. (2015). The child and family hospital experience: Is it influenced by family accommodation? Medical Care Research and Review, 72(4), 419-437. [8] Wray, J., Lee, K., Dearmun, N. and Franck, L. (2011) Parental anxiety and stress during children’s hospitalisation: The StayClose study. Journal of Child Health Care, 15(3), pp.163-174. DOI: 10.1177/1367493511408632
Article | parenting, disability
8 min read
Agreeing on parenting styles
If you follow the news, or if you’ve recently picked up one of the many celebrity magazines that thrives on Hollywood breakups, you’ll know about the divorce between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. According to the A lister couple, they made this decision because they couldn’t agree on their parenting styles. Whether or not this is the actual reason is another matter, but it raises an interesting question about the impact that parenting styles can have on couple relationships. Before we explore that, let’s just brush up on parenting styles. What are they? Well, broadly speaking, they’re just choices that you make as a parent for raising your child. And these choices can be wrapped up and categorised as a style. Here are the four most popular style categories [1]. See if you think any of them relate to your own parenting style. You may find that you don’t resonate with a single style, but perhaps fall somewhere inbetween.  1. Authoritarian parenting Authoritarian parenting is a style that is demanding and rigid. The parent puts strict rules in play and expects them to be followed, which echoes a kind of military approach. There’s little room for children to question why the rules are in place. “It is often effective in the short-term but children often rank lower in happiness, social confidence and self-esteem” [1].  2. Authoritative parenting This style is all about rules and guidelines with high levels of parental warmth mixed in. Parents still view themselves as authority figures, but are also responsive, caring and loving. It’s considered the most effective and beneficial style for children. “Authoritative parents are responsive to their children and willing to listen to their questions. They also concentrate more on nurturing than punishment. This style of parenting is generally thought to elicit the best outcomes for children and they are likely to be confident, more autonomous and more socially responsible” [1].  3. Permissive parenting Permissive parents tend to let their children have control most of the time, with little use of routine or boundaries. They don’t tend to view themselves as authority figures. Parents with this style are typically warm and loving and are extremely responsive to their child’s needs. “They tend to be non-traditional and lenient, often taking the role of a friend rather than a parent. This type of parenting has been linked to childhood adjustment difficulties.”[2].  4. Positive parenting This parenting style is authoritative, but it’s about empowering children, fuelling their self-esteem and giving them positive vision for their own future. While there is no agreement as to what constitutes positive parenting [3], positive parenting has been described as “accepting, warm, involved, sensitive, responsive, caring, and empathetic; social-emotional and cognitive growth fostering; and directive” [4]. "So, if me and my partner have different styles, is that a bad thing?"   Not necessarily. As long as you manage your differences by talking them through together and making your decisions together as a couple – your differing parenting styles don’t have to be a bad thing. Of course, this does rely on your communication being very good. If you’re struggling to talk about your relationship issues without falling out, then differing parenting styles could easily become another source of conflict. "So if we have the same parenting style, we’re good?"   Not exactly. You and your partner might share an “authoritative” style, but that doesn’t mean that all of your parenting decisions will align. There are still plenty of parental decisions that you might disagree on, and there are still lots of variations to an authoritative style. For example, you might believe that a child’s bed times needs to be routine-based, and your partner might believe that your child should go to bed when they feel ready to sleep. You both still see yourselves as authority figures, and you’re both adopting a loving approach, but you’re not in agreement here. All that being said, if you’re adopting the same style (in this case authoritative), then in general you will probably find it easier to make compromises and reach decisions together. "What about my child who’s disabled? Doesn’t that change the game for parenting styles?"   Often it does. Sometimes you can’t adopt the approach that you’d like to, perhaps because of different emotional reactions from your child, or because of the way that your child’s behaviour needs to be managed. This means that parents need to be even stronger with their communication, because with all these additional factors being thrown into the mix - it will be even more difficult to reach decisions together. This will require both of you to work hard, but the rewards of solid communication will justify the investment ten times over. This includes being reflective on what has worked and what hasn’t (tip: be critical of your own approach - it can change the dynamic of ‘my way versus your way’). "For disabled children, is one style proven more successful?"   Every disability is different and no two conditions are the same. But in the studies, the research revealed two interesting things.  1. Parents found that the authoritative style was less successful as the children got older. “This may be due to factors related to the children’s disability, the amount of repetition needed, the limited success that may be achieved, and other demands on parental time and energies" [6]. 2. Parents found that “there is an overall beneficial effect of positive parenting upon the functional outcomes of young children with developmental disabilities, regardless of disability type” [5]. In summary, positive parenting scores points across the board, and authoritative parenting scores points in the early days only. But of course, this isn’t by any means a ‘thus says the Lord”, but it’s a worthy discussion point to have with your partner. Talk with your partner about parenting styles, and make it a conscious thing in your relationship. Even by just thinking about one another’s parenting styles, you can get closer to making those decisions together that ultimately will shape your child’s world and your family dynamic.  References [1] Diana Baumrind (1991) [2] Benson, Buehler, & Gerard, (2008) [3] Russell and Russell, (1996) [4] Bornstein, (2003) [5] Dyches et al., (2012). [6] Woolfson and Grant, 2006
Article | parenting styles, disability
4 min read
Coping with disability in the early years
When your child has a disability, the stress of parenthood can be amplified. You may still be reeling from the shock of your child’s diagnosis, or from trying to get clarity on what their condition involves. The impact of parental stress on your relationship can be hardest to cope with in the early years [1].  The first few years of your child’s life are essential for the child’s development, and also for you as parents. Learning some coping skills early on can make you more resilient, setting up the way you’ll deal with stressful situations in the future, so it’s worth spending some time getting it right [2]. Learning how to cope Coping is a skill, and – like other skills – it can be learned and improved. Think of coping as the set of thoughts, feelings and behaviours that get you through difficult or stressful situations [3]. It’s much easier to change your thoughts than your emotions, so the first step towards learning to cope with difficult situations is to approach them with the right attitude. When you’re stressed, you might feel like running away and hiding, or you might just wish things were different. While this might help in the short term, you probably already know that it’s not an effective long-term solution. Take the time to talk things through with your partner and look for solutions. Try to take on an attitude of problem-solving as you face each issue – getting into the habit of doing this will help you cope and support each other better in future [4]. For example, if your child is prone to bouts of anger, you may feel tempted to try and placate your child, or avoid situations where an outburst would be particularly embarrassing. This can become extremely stressful for parents who have a child who has, or is developing, behaviour that challenges. It’s so important to seek help early. Discussing problems while they’re not actually happening can make it easier to stay calm when they do happen. With the example above, you might find it gets easier to keep your cool, and hold the space while your child’s anger runs its course, leaving a way through to understanding the cause of the outburst. When you have time, find out about any help you may be entitled to, and strategies you can use to deal with their behaviour. Have a look at Contact's information on behaviour, including their guide to Understanding your child’s behaviour. Then you and your partner can sit down and talk about how you are going to deal with the next outburst. You can also develop a long-term strategy to deal with behaviour issues. This particular issue may not reflect your experience, but it can help you see how you can start to approach your own difficult situations in a different way. Learning to cope with problems this way can help you build your resilience over time, protecting you against some of the stress associated with parenting a disabled child, and making you less prone to argue with your partner. You may have to take it turns being ‘the strong one’ – knowing that you’re looking out for each other will give you a better chance of keeping up this positive attitude as a couple [4]. As an added benefit, you may also find that you can pass these skills on, and teach your children how to cope with anxious feelings and stressful situations. When your children are also equipped to cope with the challenges they face, it can take pressure off the whole family. They will be able to have more independence, and you will feel more confident in their abilities [3]. Learning to be a parent For many of us, becoming a parent will be the first time we ever have to deal with very young children. Parenting is one of the hardest and most rewarding jobs we’ll ever do, and most of us learn ‘on the job’. Parents of disabled children have said that attending a parenting programme has been helpful in improving the quality of their parenting, and their understanding of parent-child relationships. There is also good evidence to show that participation in a parenting programme improves the mental health and wellbeing of the parents themselves as well as of their children [5]. Parenting programmes may be run by local authorities, charities, faith centres, or private individuals. If you feel it would be helpful, you can search for courses near you on the National Institute of Parenting website. Sharing the burden During the early years, it can also be useful to figure out how you’re going to cope with all the extra work that having a young child in the house creates for you and your partner. Much of the conflict between new parents comes from a feeling that household chores and parenting responsibilities aren’t being shared fairly [6].  Talk about how you are going to share these responsibilities. You won’t necessarily be able to divide things up equally, particularly if one of you is working full time and the other spends more time at home, but having the discussion can help you both feel that things are fairer. It can also help you prepare for the lifestyle changes as you learn to adjust to supporting your child’s needs. As time moves on, your child’s needs will change. Keep talking to your partner, and make sure you’re both still happy with the arrangements – if you need more help, ask for it, and if you’re worried about how well your partner is coping, check in to see if what else you can do. Early years education Finally, take some of the burden off by making use of your local service providers. Early years education can help your child learn valuable confidence-building and social skills like playing with other children, taking turns, and sharing [7], all of which supports their cognitive development and independence, and can help you feel more confident and less stressed. All early years education providers must take steps to include and support disabled children, and children who have, or may have, special educational needs. They are required to register with Ofsted if they offer free early years education places. For information about your options, including nurseries, playgroups or childminders, and how your child should be supported up to the age of five, see our information on help in the early years.   References [1] Durtschi, Jared A., Kristy L. Soloski, and Jonathan Kimmes. 2017. ‘The Dyadic Effects of Supportive Coparenting and Parental Stress on Relationship Quality Across the Transition to Parenthood’. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy; Hoboken 43 (2):308–21. [2] Douglas, Tracy, Bernice Redley, and Goetz Ottmann. 2016. ‘The First Year: The Support Needs of Parents Caring for a Child with an Intellectual Disability’. Journal of Advanced Nursing 72 (11):2738–49  [3] Frydenberg, E., Deans, J. and Liang, R. (2014) Families Can Do Coping: Parenting Skills in the Early Years Children Australia, Volume 39, Number 2, pp. 99–10. [4] Peer, Justin W., and Stephen B. Hillman. 2014. ‘Stress and Resilience for Parents of Children With Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: A Review of Key Factors and Recommendations for Practitioners’. Journal of Policy and Practice in Intellectual Disabilities 11 (2):92–98. [5] Parsonage, M., Khan, L., and Saunders, A. (2014). Building a better future: The lifetime costs of childhood behavioural problems and the benefits of early intervention. Centre for Mental Health [6] Newkirk, Katie, Maureen Perry-Jenkins, and Aline G. Sayer. 2017. ‘Division of Household and Childcare Labor and Relationship Conflict Among Low-Income New Parents’. Sex Roles 76 (5–6):319–33. [7] Griggs, J. and Bussard, L. (2017). Study of Early Education and Development (SEED): Meeting the needs of children with special educational needs and disabilities in the early years. London: DfE.
Article | parenting, disability
6 min read
ASD/ADHD diagnosis
What am I dealing with? While some disabilities and conditions can be diagnosed early on in a child’s life (perhaps even during the pregnancy), others can take a lot more time, which can be difficult for parents who are waiting to find out. Sometimes parents have this wait for several months or even years after the baby is born – this is particularly common for children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).This time of limbo can also be a time of friction for divorced or separated parents, as they might argue about what issue the child has or how to cope in the meantime. Why is communication so difficult? ‘Disability’ is a very broad term, and each disability or condition will affect the individual and their families in different ways. Where certain conditions are harder to diagnose like autism or ADHD, studies have shown divorced parents will typically argue over whether or not the child has the condition they suspect(1). They also argue a lot about the steps that need to be taken to getting a diagnosis. As the loving parents of your baby, one (or both) of you might be struggling to accept that your baby could have a disability and feel reluctant about having your baby tested. This form of denial means that, as separated parents, you might also find it difficult to talk about things practically and realistically. Parents that support their child’s additional needs as a couple living together can create routines, rules and a home environment that work for the child. Whereas living apart means that two sets of rules and routines are running separately. For a child that suffers with ADHD or ASD, this can be an even greater problem as they may not adapt well to change. Even following a diagnosis such as ADHD or ASD, it’s not as though there’s then a right or wrong way of raising your child. There’s no rulebook – it’s all about learning about your child as a person and how they handle their condition, then applying the medical knowledge of the condition where you can. And because there’s no right way or wrong way, one parent may think they understand the condition better than the other, which can lead to conflict. If one parent spends more time than the other with their child, they may feel they have closer first-hand experience of the disability. This can cause one parent to feel they are better informed to take lead in the decision-making. How do I help the situation? Learning to communicate better is even more difficult if you’re divorced or separated. But communicating better with your ex could make everyone’s lives a lot easier, including your child’s. Coming to terms with a potential disability is tough for any parent. And if your partner is showing signs of denial, you will need to talk to them sensitively given that they are using this denial as their coping mechanism. Try to approach the subject with care and take it slowly – they may just need some time to come around. Always try to be positive, even though this is a tough conversation to have. While your romantic relationship is over, the relationship still functions in a different capacity as parents – that relationship still needs work and effort. Although this is certainly easier said than done, try to put aside your feelings for the good of your child, and encourage them to do the same. You can still show one other respect, particularly where shared decisions need to be made. A recent US study found that: “In many divorced families, conflicting parental viewpoints are especially apparent when children do not have equal time in both households (1)*.” In other words, when the child spends more balanced time with both parents in their homes, the parents are less likely to clash. This likely comes down to the parents feeling that there’s a shared effort where both parents are playing their parts. Another way you could improve communication is with the help of a parenting plan – one that you don’t have to complete together in the same room. Parenting plans like Put Kids First are online, and enable you to work together separately in a more seamless way to help reach decisions without conflict or fuss.  References: [1] Pickar, Daniel B., and Robert L. Kaufman. “Parenting Plans for Special Needs Children: Applying a Risk-Assessment Model.” Family Court Review 53, no. 1 (January 1, 2015): 113–33. * Note: this research relates specifically to parents that have children diagnosed with ADHD.
Article | disability, children
4 min read
Disabled children and sex education
Talking to your children about sex and relationships can feel scary, especially if you have a disabled child. But while it might be tempting to put it off, it’s best to start sooner rather than later. Most parents want their children to be well-informed on the subject of sex and relationships [1], and parents of disabled children and young people have a special role in providing support and guidance to enable their children to embrace the challenges of adolescence and grow into informed and confident adults.Throughout this article we use terms such as 'talk to’ and 'discuss' Not all children are able to communicate verbally, and you will know best how to explain some of these ideas to your child. Why do we need to talk about sex and relationships?  There is a tendency to think that disabled people, including those with severe disabilities, do not have sexual feelings, sexual needs and sexual capabilities. But they do. As a parent, you may sometimes feel uncomfortable about this. You may worry that your child will be vulnerable to exploitation, abuse or may become pregnant.Many parents worry that teaching children about sex will encourage them to become sexually active at a younger age. However, children who have received sound sex education are likely to become sexually active later than their peers. There is strong evidence to suggest that children have better outcomes around sexual health when there is good communication with their parents about sex and relationships [2].Defining sexuality as wider than just a physical function is particularly important for young disabled people. A person who is not able to use part of his or her body still has an equal right to full sexual expression. Similarly, a disabled young person should have the same access to sex education, sexual health care, and opportunities for socialising and sexual expression as other young people.Accepting that your child has these sexual feelings, and talking about sex, will help them to understand the difference between a loving relationship and abuse. It may also make it easier for your child to discuss difficult and painful feelings with you. Not knowing and understanding bodily changes and developments can be frightening and bewildering for your child.Remember that, even without ‘formal’ sex education, your child will still learn about sex and relationships in the playground, from the television, or online, where they may pick up any number of myths, misunderstandings and misconceptions. Avoiding the issue of sex and sex education will not make your child’s sexual development, feelings or desires go away, but it may cause unnecessary confusion and worry. When should I start talking about sex and relationships with my child? Sex education in schools is changing to keep up with the way young people form relationships, and you can support your child’s learning by talking to them at home. Think back to your own education – were your school lessons helpful? Did your parents talk to you? Or did you have to learn everything the hard way? What would you like to have learned that you didn’t? Starting the conversation before your child goes through puberty can take the embarrassment out of the subject, and open the door for future conversations. Children are more likely to want to talk to you about sex if they are used to talking openly to you – not just about their condition in general, but other things like money, school work, friends, and so on. Showing an interest in what your child does and says will boost their self-esteem. Encourage your children to talk to you about anything that worries them. Even children with severe communication difficulties may be able to indicate to a family member who knows them well that there are things they are worried about or which make them unhappy.  Start talking to your child early so that problems are less likely to arise – certainly before puberty. Talk openly and casually – while you’re doing something else, like washing up or driving the car – as this gives the message that it is not something secretive or to be afraid of. Be open about your own beliefs and attitudes, but be prepared to discuss them and listen to your child’s point of view. Read books and leaflets and watch videos to inform yourself. When talking about sex, take your child’s condition into account and be realistic. For example, it might take longer; it might mean experimenting a little. Reinforce the fact that the most important aspects of a relationship are love, friendship and mutual respect. Listen without judgement. Try asking your child what they think. Answer questions and don’t be afraid to say: ‘I really don’t know – let’s look it up together’. Don’t bombard your child with questions or talk too much. Many children say it is awful to get a formal lecture on sex or have questions fired at them: ‘I asked a question and she immediately came back with, “Are you having sex then?”. Try and hold onto your anxieties. Answer their questions and respect their privacy. Remember that disabled people have relationships with other disabled people and with non-disabled people. Remember that same sex relationships are as common for disabled people as for non-disabled people. As they get older and become more interested in sex, they’ll find it easier to come to you for support as you’ve already shown that you’re available to talk about it. You’ll also feel more confident about answering their questions [3]. “At special school it was terrible. The assumption was that we wouldn’t have and didn’t deserve sexual relationships”.“I received sex education at home and my disability was not really discussed as an issue. My mum once said to me that she thought it might take me longer than most to get a boyfriend but she was sure I would eventually and she was right!”  Understanding relationships and sex education  Relationships are changing. As young people spend more time interacting online [4] [5], they face new challenges around sex and relationships like sexting, cyberbullying, and the ready availability of online pornography. The way relationships education is taught in schools is changing too. The switch from SRE (Sex and Relationships Education) to RSE (Relationships and Sex Education) is not just an arbitrary name change – it reflects the importance of learning about sex within the context of understanding how relationships work and how to stay safe. As well as factual knowledge about sex and sexual health, your child’s education at school may include lessons about: Different types of relationships. How to recognise and understand healthy and unhealthy relationships. Staying safe online. How relationships can affect health and wellbeing [1].  RSE lessons at school can be a good opportunity for you to build on what your child is learning by starting your own conversations at home.  The changing nature of relationships With the rising costs of living and of higher education, young people face greater challenges to becoming financially independent and are living at home later than previous generations [6]. With reduced funding for social and healthcare services, it may be even harder for disabled young people to access independent living and you may find your children live with you well into adulthood. Staying at home for longer can put further pressure on young people when they start forming relationships of their own. They will have less private time to spend together during important stages of their relationships and long-distance relationships may become more likely [6]. Access to social media can ease a lot of this pressure, providing positive outlets for social interaction. Being able to chat online can be invaluable to people who are shy or struggle to get out and interact with others. It may make it easier for disabled young people to talk to friends, express themselves, and be creative [5]. Understanding how young people use the internet can help you to be a guiding light in their online lives. While there are risks and vulnerabilities associated with being online, such as cyberbullying and controlling behaviour, social media is usually a positive force in young people’s relationships, allowing them to stay in touch more often than they might otherwise have been able to [7]. By being aware of the benefits as well as the risks, you can put yourself in a better position to support your child’s use of online social networks which may improve their experiences of relationships [5]. So, start young. Talk about the positives as well as the risks. Answer their questions honestly; accept that, like most adults, they will become interested in sex; and give them the knowledge that will help them make smart decisions about relationships. Further help If this is a difficult topic for you, you might want to look into the Speakeasy programme and the information provided by the sexual health charity FPA, which aims to increase your knowledge and confidence so that you can develop a more open approach to talking about sex and relationships at home. It is designed to be accessible and considers physical disabilities and learning disabilities in the way it is delivered [8].You can also read Contact’s in-depth guide for parents on Growing up, sex and relationships. Written with parents and young disabled people, it has information on developing your child’s self-esteem, talking about sex and relationships, sexual development and puberty, contraception and STIs, protection from abuse and more. They also have a guide for young disabled people. References [1] Changes to the teaching of Sex and Relationship Education and PSHE A call for evidence - Launch date 19 December 2017. Respond by 12 February 2018 (DfE: London) [2] Kirby, D. (2008). Increasing communication between parents and their children about sex. British Medical Journal, 337, a206. [3] Feldman, S.S., and D.A. Rosenthal. (2000). The effect of communication characteristics on family members’ perceptions of parents as sex educators. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 10, 119–50. [4] Ofcom. (2017). Internet use and attitudes: 2017 Metrics Bulletin. Retrieved from https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0018/105507/internet-use-attitudes-bulletin-2017.pdf [5] Frifth, E. (2017). Social media and children’s mental health: a review of the evidence. Education Policy Institute. [6] Coleman, J. (2010), the Nature of Adolesence. Routledge: London.  [7] Stonard, K. E., Bowen, E., Walker, K., & Price, S. A. (2015). ‘They’ll Always Find a Way to Get to You’: Technology Use in Adolescent Romantic Relationships and Its Role in Dating Violence and Abuse. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260515590787 [8] Kesterton, D, and Coleman, L. (2010). Speakeasy: a UK-wide initiative raising parents' confidence and ability to talk about sex and relationships with their children. Sex Education, 10, 437-448.
Article | sex education, children
6 min read
Acknowledging stress with disabled children
Becoming parents is often the most stressful thing any couple can go through. The new demands you face as parents can change the entire dynamic of your household and you may need a whole new set of coping strategies [3]. Stress is part of life – it can be a motivator, driving us forward, and giving us the push we need to make positive changes in our lives. But, when it gets overwhelming, it can hinder us and make us less effective. You can’t make stressful situations disappear, but you can learn to make them more manageable by changing the way you react to them. Acknowledging your stress is the first step towards this.  As the parent of a disabled child, it’s likely that you may face higher levels of stress than other parents – daily tasks like bathing and dressing your child can be more stressful [1] [2].  It can be hard to detach yourself emotionally from whatever is going on with your child, particularly if they have a condition that requires constant management [3]. When your chosen coping methods haven’t worked and things don’t seem to be improving, your stress can start to feed itself and it might feel like things will never improve [4]. If you’ve been hiding from your stress, or hoping it will go away, it’s time to look it in the eye, acknowledge that it’s there, and let it know who’s boss.  The value of acknowledging your stress  As a parent, your instinct might be to set your stress aside and push forward to get everything done. It might feel like you don’t have time to acknowledge your stress, but doing so can allow you to take hold of the reins and give yourself more power to deal with it [3].  As you become more aware of stress, you become more able to deal with challenging situations. You may notice that your stress levels start to ease, making you a more effective parent, and a happier partner [4]. You can even start letting go of the stress caused by past incidents and building a route to recovery [3]. Keep a mood journal Make a note of all the times you feel stressed. What happened, how did you feel, and what did you do about it? Approach this as a curious observer, and avoid making judgements. For the moment, you just want to gather a record so that you know what you’re dealing with. Avoiding judgement means you can be more honest with yourself about how you’re feeling. Notice your reactions to stress Do you grind your teeth, hunch your shoulders, or bite your nails? Are you drinking or smoking more than usual? Whatever you do as a reaction to stress, make a note of it, and how you felt afterwards. You may notice that your reaction to the stress doesn’t actually make it go away and, in some cases, can make it worse. The more you understand this, the better equipped you’ll be to start adjusting your coping strategies. Describe the physical symptoms Naming your feelings can make them feel less abstract and more like something you can deal with. As well as emotional words like ‘anxious’ or ‘miserable’, write down the physical feelings like ‘tight stomach’ or ‘jelly legs’.  Do a health check Take note of how you’re eating, sleeping, and exercising. Your physical and mental health are linked, so look out for patterns in the way your health habits affect your reactions to stressful situations. Try some breathing exercises If you’re finding it hard to acknowledge your stress, stop and take a deep, slow breath in through your nose. Release it gently through your mouth. Do this again. Close your eyes and focus on your breath for a few moments. Investing this time will be worth it for the time you win back by learning to deal with your stress. Accept that there are some things you can’t change Even though you can’t always change your circumstances, you can often change the way you respond to them. This starts with your internal, emotional response, which is what you’ve been learning about through your mood journal. Recognising your current responses can be enough to nudge you towards making a different response in future, such as stopping and taking a few calming breaths before continuing. Tell someone else Talking to someone can help you articulate your stress, and understand it better. If things have been difficult in your relationship, describing your stressful reactions to your partner can help them understand what you’re dealing with. Sit down with your partner, let them know you’ve been feeling stressed, and talk through the steps you’re taking to understand and conquer your stress. Involve your partner Be aware that your partner may also be under pressure, and encourage them to share their experiences with you too. If it feels appropriate, you can even keep a journal of your experiences together. In times when one of you is feeling stronger than the other, having an established process can make it easier to offer support. Moving on As you begin to develop a picture of your usual response to stress, you may notice patterns and links. Sometimes, just being aware of these is enough to start shifting them, but you may find it also helps to vary your routine and try to vary your responses. Start with small changes and notice what happens as you mix things up. Does replacing your second cup of coffee with a green tea make the morning feel less manic? Does stopping to breathe in the middle of hanging out the washing make it feel less like it’s taking the whole afternoon? Little things can make a big difference. One of the most powerful steps you can take is to reach out to others and ask for help. This can include social support from your partner or other people close to you, and support from professionals like therapists and counsellors [3]. If you feel you could benefit from some extra help, even if only for a little while, it’s important to seek help. Speak to your GP, or a member of your child’s support team, and let them know you’re finding it hard to cope. Keep asking until you get the right support for you – as a wise parent once said, “you can’t pour from an empty cup… look after yourself as well!” For more advice, including where you can go for support, visit Contacts advice page on coping with stress.  References [1] Estes, A., Munson, J., Dawson, G., Koehler, E., Zhou, X., & Abbott, R. (2009). Parenting stress and psychological functioning among mothers of preschool children with autism and developmental delay. Autism, 13(4), 375-387. [2] Zablotsky, B., Bradshaw, C., P., & Stuart, E., A. (2013). The Association between Mental Health, Stress, and Coping Supports in Mothers of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 43(6), 1380-1393. [3] Dardas, L., & Ahmad, M. (2015). Coping Strategies as Mediators and Moderators between Stress and Quality of Life among Parents of Children with Autistic Disorder. Stress and Health, 31(1), 5-12. [4] Hayes, S., A., & Watson, S., L. (2013). The Impact of Parenting Stress: A Meta-Analysis of Studies Comparing the Experience of Parenting Stress in Parents of Children with and without Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 43(3), 629-642.
Article | stress, disability
6 min read
Moving house with a disabled child
Moving house is one of the most stressful things a family can go through. When you have a disabled child there are many extra factors to consider, on top of the usual expense and logistics of moving to a new location.  One of your biggest considerations will be your child’s support network, which includes not only schools, medical care and other local services, but also the support you get from family and friends. Even if you’re moving specifically to be closer to family, you may be moving away from other support that you’ve learned to rely on. When moving to a new location, you can help make the transition smoother by setting up as much as possible in advance. You may find it helpful to consider the following areas of support [1]. Access and information Find out where your new local services will be and how to access them. You should be able to find information about services and support for disabled children on any local authority website. If you are receiving services and support from the local authority where you live now, make sure you talk to them about transferring to your new local authority, as you may have to undergo a new assessment. There’s an expectation that the local authority where you live will at least liaise with the new authority about your child’s needs and support in the interim. You may also want to find out about what any registration processes and what you will have to do. If there is a waiting list, find out how long you are likely to have to wait and, if appropriate, get on the list as soon as possible. Cost Affordability is one of the main barriers between parents and services. Check if there are cost differences in services between where you live now and where you are moving to. Unfortunately, if you are receiving payments or funding for certain services now, your new local authority is not under any obligation to provide the same level of support or help in the interim while waiting for a new assessment to be carried out. Seek advice about this from the Contact helpline on 0808 808 3555, helpline@contact.org.uk. You may wish to factor this into your budget if you are able, and, if necessary, work out where you can make savings. Schools One of the biggest challenges you are likely to face is how to integrate your child into school and the wider community. How easy or hard this is for you will depend largely on where you are moving, and the age of your child.  Many parents find it difficult to push back against the status quo, concerned that they might be thought of as a ‘trouble parent’ [1], but it’s important to find a balance. Your child’s school experience is an essential part of their wellbeing and will help them to develop social skills for forming relationships as they get older. If there’s anything you’re not happy with, ask for something to be done about it, or consider other options. You’ll probably have started looking at schools as soon as you started considering the move. It’s also worth investigating community activities and other social opportunities for your child. If your child is receiving extra help at school, for example they have a statement of special educational needs, Education, Health and Care plan or Coordinated Support Plan, speak to the teacher responsible at school, and find out how the move to a new school will be managed. Again, seek advice from Contact’s education advice line about this on 0808 808 3555, email helpline@contact.org.uk Family support The work that goes into parenting a child with disabilities can take up so much of your time and energy that friends and family end up taking a back seat [2], but it’s impossible to put a value on having people living nearby whom you can rely on. Support from friends and extended family support can help you cope with the additional time demands and unpredictability of parenting [1] and, most of the time, it doesn’t cost anything. If you haven’t yet decided where to move, consider areas that are near supportive friends and family. They may even be able to offer advice on local services. Don’t assume they’ll always be able to support you though – other people shouldn’t be the only reason you move. Remember that if they decide to move away in a year’s time, you’ll still have to live in the new location.  It’s important to access whatever support is available, as it can allow you to spend quality time with your other children, and with each other as a couple [1]. If you are moving somewhere you won’t have family locally, make sure you check out options for respite care and other support such as counselling, sibling support and childcare. If funded support isn’t available, calculate the likely costs of any support you would have to pay for, and factor this into your moving plans. General tips Moving is stressful for everyone. These general tips may help to take some of the pressure off once you are ready to make the move. Look after yourselves Remember that you and your partner will also be affected by the upheaval of the move. During the build-up, eat well and try to get enough sleep. Don’t forget to think about activities that you can do in your new place, and make plans to explore the new area together. Clear your schedule During the week of the move, take some time off work and arrange for someone to look after the children, so that you can focus on getting everything else sorted. Let yourself off the hook You’re probably going to feel anxious and stressed for a bit, so don’t beat yourself up for not being perfect. Give yourself some space. Do some slow breathing. Talk to someone. Accept help If anyone offers practical support with your move, say, yes! Hand over a copy of your to-do list if you have to – just let people help. Focus on the positives Remind yourself of why you are moving – better job prospects, a nicer location, or perhaps just a home that suits your family’s needs better. Whatever it was that led you to make the decision to move, keep it in mind, and look forward to the things that matter most. References [1] Resch, J. A., Mireles, G. Benz, M. R., Grenwelge, C., Peterson, R., & Zhang, D. (2010). Giving Parents a Voice: A Qualitative Study of the Challenges Experienced by Parents of Children With Disabilities. Rehabilitation Psychology, 2010, 55(2), 139-150.  [2] Brannen, M. A., & Heflinger, C. A. (2006). Caregiver, child, family, and service system contributors to caregiver strain in two mental health service systems. The Journal of Behavioral Health Services and Research, 33, 408 – 422.
Article | parenting, disability
7 min read
If your child isn't sleeping well
A child who does not sleep well can affect the whole family. Parents can be left exhausted, unable to think clearly and struggling to cope with their daily activities. The child can be left feeling over tired or over-active, both signs of lack of sleep. Brothers and sisters are also affected, feeling tired at school, and sometimes resentful towards the sibling disturbing their sleep. If this continues over a long period of time, it can have an adverse effect on the health and wellbeing of all members of the family. For you and your partner, sleep may become a kind of currency for your day-to-day living, that you need to make everything else in your life work and click together. Without sleep, it’s harder to manage our emotions, to be logical, to complete daily tasks, and to be loving to each other. There’s not much energy leftover for you as a couple. How you can help your relationship: Whatever the cause of your child’s sleep difficulties, it’s wouldn’t be normal if you didn’t feel stressed and irritable when you’ve both been losing sleep [1]. Sleep deprivation can also make you worse at managing your own emotions. This is partly due to being more easily irritated - you’re more likely to quick-fire an emotion before you’ve allowed yourself the space to think through your reaction. If you’re in this situation, it can be helpful to: Recognize when you’re on a hair-trigger. Allow yourselves the space to respond to each other in a slower manner. By being aware and mindful of your tendency to fire from the hip, you can encourage one another to take more time, and even give yourselves a few seconds delay – it could help stop you saying something you regret. Put difficult conversations on hold. At times, it may be worth saying to your partner “I’m not in the right place to have this conversation, can we talk about this later?”, or “I need to not talk about this right now, can we just not?” Stopping a conversation you just can’t manage, in a respectful way, is sometimes the right thing to do. Dealing with difficult issues often comes down to choosing the right moments. Be sensitive to your partner. If tiredness is taking its toll on your partner and you can see they’re over tired and stressed, sometimes it’s not wise to launch a conversation, even if you’ve got an issue that you really want to discuss. Play the long game. The reason these actions are so worthwhile is because your child’s sleeping difficulties may be an ongoing issue. And, as with any ongoing issue, the small things you say and do will rack up over time. So play the long game; if you both make sure that you use kind words, assure each other that there are solutions, remind them that you’ll make it through together as a family, bring them tea, offer them things, and try to show each other that you’re considering them. By staying positive and being loving in small ways, you’d be surprised how much difference this can make over time. Be prepared that you may not be rewarded for this in the short-term – sleep deprivation can cause us to miss the kind deeds that are happening right in front of us – but it will help in the long term. How you can help your child  86% of children with additional needs have issues with sleep, so if you’re experiencing difficulties, you’re not alone. There can be various reasons for this. It is important to seek medical advice to make sure there is not a medical cause for your child’s problem sleeping. There are also many different strategies and approaches to helping children sleep. We recommend that you always consult a GP or relevant health practitioner before attempting to change a child’s sleeping habits. And it may be worth seeking help from a sleep specialist, ideally one that understands sleep disorders in relation to your child’s condition. Regardless of what techniques you are advised on, or whatever techniques you’re currently trying, remember that improvements in a child’s sleep may take some time. Research suggests that after changes are made, improvements in a child’s sleep often occur gradually, and for some parents their child’s sleep problems become more challenging before improvements are reported [2]. If you’re trying new things, (for example, a new bedtime routine, withdrawal of attention during the night), you may also find that there is also an initial resistance from your child. In other words, it can be darkest right before the dawn, and parents may need to endure a short-term worsening of the problem [3]. Whatever your situation, you can read more about techniques, resources and organisations that can help you and your child sleep in Contact's guide for parents, Helping your child sleep available free to parents who contact their freephone helpline on 0808 808 3555, helpline@contact.org.uk References   [1] Tietze et al., 2014 [2] Stuttard et al, 2015  [3] Beresford et al., 2012
Article | children, disability, communication
4 min read
Choosing childcare
Choosing childcare that suits your child’s specific needs can feel overwhelming. Whatever your circumstances, the following information can help you figure out what you should be thinking about with your partner when you start looking at childcare options. To learn more about where to find childcare for disabled children, how to pay for it, and how you can qualify for free childcare places, visit Contact’s website. There is also have information on your legal rights to childcare, what to do if a childcare setting is not inclusive, and what to do if you’re refused your chosen childcare place. How to choose a childcare setting Childcare settings can provide valuable early education, including the social skills that come from forming positive relationships with other children and adults. This positive real-world experience can help your child to be better prepared for the wider world, whatever their specific needs.When choosing between available childcare options, your decision may be largely instinctive – most parents are drawn to caregivers who seem warm and friendly [1]. This makes sense, given that they are going to be looking after your child. You could also consider the caregiver’s education and the type of curriculum they offer [1]. As you look for a childcare provider who can meet your child’s unique needs and abilities, consider the following questions: Will your child be given the freedom to explore new experiences? Will their curiosity be encouraged? Will they be provided with choices that support their learning and development? [2]. Does the provider have the appropriate training to take your child? Consider things like Makaton language, health and safety, dealing with medication and equipment, and disability awareness training.  As well as finding a childcare provider who offers the best education and support for your child, you will need to find something that fits your family’s schedule [3]. You and your partner will need to agree on what days and times you need the childcare, what you can afford, who works on what days, and how you will drop off and pick up your child. Be prepared to make a bit of a trade-off between your ideal setting and what you can realistically choose. Making decisions together  When you’re making these vital decisions, it’s important to respect each other’s views so you can come to a decision that feels right for both of you. Arguments often happen because we stop listening to each other. If, during an important conversation, you find your thoughts drifting towards what you want to say next, and how to get your own point of view across, you may need to practise your listening skills.Good listening is about taking the time to understand where someone is coming from. If you don’t take the time to listen, your partner won’t feel heard and tension can escalate quickly. Under these circumstances, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to listen to you in return and the conversation will go nowhere. You might find it helpful to draw up a list of pros and cons for each situation you’re considering so you can weigh these up against each other’s personal preferences, and reach a decision that feels logical and fair. What if you disagree? You won’t agree on everything all of the time. If you feel tensions rising, there are ways you can diffuse the situation. It can be hard put yourself in someone else’s shoes during a disagreement because it requires you to step outside of yourself and all your own feelings for a moment. But, if you manage to pull it off, you can often see why your partner’s view makes sense to them, even if it doesn’t make sense to you.  Sometimes you might just need to agree to take some time on your own and pick the conversation up again when you both feel a bit calmer. This can help you to see each other’s viewpoints, which can make your discussions more effective and constructive. Getting the right place  Parents say they often have to be creative and flexible in their approach to finding childcare for their disabled child. It can involve negotiations with local providers that they may not otherwise have had to make. For more information about the law and childcare, including template letters for childcare and funding providers, see Contact. “As Lillie-Mae’s needs increased as she got older, it was mutually agreed between the nursery management and myself that they should apply for top-up finding from the local council to provide one-to-one care services for my daughter”. “My son needs to be fed through a gastrostomy tube so when he started at nursery the staff all received the relevant training from a local community nurse. As a result, I have full confidence in their ability to provide safe and good quality childcare for him”.  “I managed to find a local nursery that was wheelchair accessible and offered one-to-one care, 35 hours a week at no additional cost. This was all funded by the local council”. “I currently pay for a full-time nanny for my children rather than take up the government’s offer of free childcare per week due to a lack of suitable facilities in my local area”.  References [1] Rose, K. K., & Elicker, J. (2008). Parental decision making about child care. Journal of Family Issues, 29(9), 1161-1184. [2] Gamble, W., Ewing, C., & Wilhlem, A. (2009). Parental Perceptions of Characteristics of Non-Parental Child Care: Belief Dimensions, Family and Child Correlates. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 18(1), 70-82.  [3] Rose, K., Johnson, A., Muro, J., & Buckley, R. (2016). Decision Making About Nonparental Child Care by Fathers: What Is Important to Fathers in a Nonparental Child Care Program. Journal of Family Issues, 1-29.
Article | children, disability
4 min read
Being parents to disabled children: part 1
There’s a common cultural assumption that having a disabled child is a negative thing [1]. This is perhaps most noticeable when the child is born and friends and family offer sympathy rather than celebrate your parenthood. This usually comes from a good place, of course - people’s first thoughts might be about how you’ll cope with the challenges coming your way. These expected challenges will vary from parent to parent depending on the individual needs of the child. Here are some common hardships that parents face: Intensive or unpredictable childcare demands. Difficulty getting the right support. Changes to working arrangements (which can link to financial strains). [1] But, despite all of these challenges and negative assumptions, two out of three parents say having a disabled child has been positive for their family, according to a 2015 study by the University of Alberta, Canada [1]. So what are the upsides? What do these parents mean by ‘positive’? Here are some common responses: “Personal growth and stronger relationships between family members” [1] It’s sometimes difficult to know how far people are willing to go to help you, especially when it comes at a personal cost to them. It’s times like this when you can really find out what your family are made of, and what they’re capable of in terms of support. Some family members can surprise you! Having more help can also mean that you build better relationships with wider family members. Unlike the way families live in other parts of Europe, where wider families share more of everyday life together, in the UK we typically have what’s known as ‘nuclear’ families. That means we keep our ‘immediate’ family very close and the extended family at a distance, meeting up with them only at special events like weddings, birthdays and Christmas time. If your wider family break the nuclear pattern, you might find you have access to a wider pool of support. Another thing about being British is that some of us might not be so good at accepting help; we often reject offers out of politeness or worry that we’re putting people out. By accepting help though, the relationship has a chance to develop in a way that it otherwise might not. Family members might even relish the opportunity to care for you in a practical way that they know you’ll appreciate. Of course, this isn’t limited to family in the blood relative sense. This extends to friends that become very much part of your family network and community. For your child, broadening your community like this can really help them as they grow. “Changes in perspective (e.g. understanding what is important in life and making the most of each day)” [1] Some parents in the study described their perspective as ‘simplified’ (which is a goal that many self-help books are trying to accomplish), and were empowered with a stronger sense of priority. This could be down to the higher demands of attention and focus, which can cause all the fluff and minutiae of life to fade into the background. This fresh perspective is especially helpful for an “always connected” society of people whose attention is often pulled in a million different directions. If you’re experiencing this perspective shift, you might find that it extends to your relationship, giving you and your partner a new realisation of your strength as a couple.   References   [1] David McConnell, Amber Savage, Dick Sobsey & Bruce Uditsky (2015) Benefit-finding or finding benefits? The positive impact of having a disabled child, Disability & Society, 30(1), pp.29-45.
Article | parenting together, disability, family
3 min read
Back to school blues?
It’s back to school for the kids.Many parents will feel a deep sense of relief when they read that sentence.But for parents with disabled children (and for the family as a whole), September can be stressful [1]. This might be for a few reasons. Any transition is generally more difficult By the time your children are of school age, you’ll have come a long way to understanding their difficulties and complexities, and figured out some kind of schedule and process to deal with those difficulties. Any change to the routine, and entering a new phase away from the norm can be a challenge. New start = new people If your child is moving up a year in school, transitioning to another stage or going to a new school, they may be working with new teachers, classroom professionals, helpers or carers. This can be challenging for two reasons. First, your child needs to readjust to new people, and second, you might feel that you’re pressing the reset button on the experience and learnings that your child made with previous carers and teachers. There’s more to think about If your child is starting a new school, then you also have the pressure of learning about the school system, school routines, and the knock-on effect of these routines [3]. You may also need to consider the role of related service providers, such as physical therapists or speech therapists.If you and your partner are tackling these September challenges together, you might find that the resulting stress has been testing on your relationship. As with any upcoming stressful event, feelings of worry or anxiety can creep in gradually. You may have found that the last couple of weeks have been progressively more difficult between you.You may also find that one of you is more stressed than the other when it comes to your child going back to (or starting) school. According to research, this is very commonly the primary care giver (the person who spends the most time caring for their child). Which makes sense because they’re the ones more likely to carry the lion’s share of responsibility. This can also be a point of conflict in the relationship, because it can feel quite isolating and lonely if you’re anxious alone and carrying that stress by yourself.All of this is normal. But here are three things you can both do: Carry your partner’s concerns, and ask them to carry yours This is about removing feelings of isolation and that feeling of carrying a burden by yourself. If your partner is struggling more than you, it’s really helpful to listen to their fears and worries rather than discounting them. So make sure you empathise with them, even if you feel they’re getting unnecessarily worked up. While humour is a good mechanism to use, make sure you don’t make fun of their anxiety. This can backfire massively and will undo all of your empathy work. If you make light of it, you’re not with them on it. And if you’re not ‘with’ them on it, they’re alone with their stress again. Use the time to see friends and family Evidence has repeatedly shown that keeping connections open with family and friends will strengthen your ability as a couple to handle challenges and stresses. So when your child goes back to (or starts) school, make sure you block out some time for this. Maybe even leave the house to visit them rather than letting them come to you. That way, you can change your environment - an excuse to leave the house is sometimes helpful. Talk about what you’re going to do with your time Planning how you’re going to spend your time will help you switch the mind-set to a more positive one, and to think about yourselves a little. Because getting time together is important. We know parents often have to juggle their leave to look after the children, but if one of you works full-time, you could think about planning some time off work in the week to do something you enjoy together. This could be anything from lunch at the pub, a trip to a museum, walk in the park or just a super-relaxing duvet day together, where you can relax and feel restored. Getting this down-time together is great for you as a couple and as parents. You’ll improve your overall mood and functioning, and you’ll find yourself more able to cope with the back to school blues.   References: [1] Myers and Effgen, 2006 [2] Podvey et al, 2010 [3] Hanson et al., 2001; Dockett and Perry, 2002
Article | parenting, school
4 min read
Children with behavioural issues
If you have a child with challenging behaviour, you are not alone. There are many reasons disabled children exhibit challenging behaviour, and there are often complex reasons behind a child’s behaviour. In many ways, parents of disabled children lead similar lives to parents of non-disabled children, but the differences can be a source of increased mental distress and exhaustion for parents [1] [2]. When our children have behaviours that challenge us, we have to learn to think outside the box in ways most parents don’t have to contemplate. You may feel under a lot of pressure. The feeling of being to blame, worry about not parenting well, and the feat that others think you are a bad parent are all too common. Parents can feel very alone and it can be a relief to discover that other parents are facing the same issues. If your child has behavioural issues, you are probably investing a lot of energy trying to keep things under control. This requires great organisation skills, and you may be left feeling that you don’t have the time to get everything done [3] [4]. This lack of time and energy can get in the way of your relationship with your partner, [5] [6], so it’s important to make sure you have adequate support in place to help you manage your child’s behavioural issues – not just for your child, but for your whole family. Talk to your partner Talk to your partner about what you’re going through, and the support you’d like to have. If one of you works and the other takes on the main caring duties, you may each feel that the other doesn’t understand what you’re dealing with every day. You may be able to give each other a few new ideas about how to ease the pressure. Or, it may help just to be able to talk about your day. Keep a journal While your child’s behavioural issues might be a result of their condition, there could be social factors at play too [7]. Try keeping a journal of your child’s behaviour and the social situations that surround it. Are there certain times of day, or certain groups of people that make things better or worse? Look for the links between your child’s social interactions and their behaviour so you can identify risk factors and make plans.  Beef up your parenting skills Studies have shown that working on your parenting skills can make things easier for you [7]. Some parenting courses are free but you may have to pay a fee, depending on the provider. Search online for courses in your area, or contact your local Children’s Centre or council to ask what’s available.  Get help from other family members Parents who have support from their extended families tend to cope better [8]. One of the toughest things for parents of children with behavioural issues is the sense of social isolation – speak to friends and family members and let them know that you would benefit from their support. Spend time with other parents One of the greatest sources of support for parents of children with behavioural issues is other parents in similar situations. Seek out other parents in your community, perhaps through your child’s support networks or school. This might feel like something you don’t have time for, but it could deliver its own reward, as community support helps break down your sense of isolation [7]. Being among other parents can also help you decompress by talking about your experiences, and learning from others’ successes [8].  Talk to your child’s school If your child is of school age, speak to their teacher or SENCO. The school is a big part of your child’s support network, so the staff should be aware of any behavioural issues. Ask them to work collaboratively with you and to keep an eye on things while you can’t. Parents tend to cope better when they have positive experiences with schools [8], so this is an important relationship to maintain.  It might take a while to build up a support network, so go one step at a time, and be easy on yourself. Lean on those closest to you for support first, and then branch out slowly. As things ease up, and your child’s support network grows, you and your partner will start to feel more in control. You may even find a few moments to dedicate to yourselves and each other. Contact a Family has a free guide for parents available from our helpline on 0808 808 3555 or free to download. Understanding your child's behaviour looks at: Why children behave in different ways. How to set the scene for good behaviour, recognising triggers and finding strategies. Managing specific issues, like tantrums or biting. Looking after yourself - people and organisations who can support you and your family. Puberty and the teenage years, plus much more. References [1] Parish, S. L., Rose, R. A., Grinstein-Weiss, M., Richman, E. L., & Andrews, M. E. (2008). Material hardship among U.S. families raising children with disabilities. Exceptional Children, 75, 72–91. [2] Plant, K. M., & Sanders, M. R. (2007). Predictors of care-giver stress in families of preschool aged children with developmental disabilities. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 51, 109 –124. [3] Worcester, J. A., Nesman, T. M., Raffaele Mendez, L., M., & Keller, H. R. (2008). Giving voice to parents of young children with challenging behavior. Exceptional Children, 74, 509–525. [4] Resch, J. A., Mireles, G., Benz, M. R., Grenwelge, C., Peterson, & R., Zhang, D. (2010). Giving Parents a Voice: A Qualitative Study of the Challenges Experienced by Parents of Children With Disabilities.  Rehabilitation Psychology, Vol.55(2), 139-150. [5] Brannen, M. A., & Heflinger, C. A. (2006). Caregiver, child, family, and service system contributors to caregiver strain in two mental health service systems. The Journal of Behavioral Health Services and Research, 33, 408 – 422. [6] Seltzer, M. M., & Heller, T. (1997). Families and caregiving across the life course: Research advances on the influence of context. Family Relations, 46, 395– 405. [7] Sanders, M. (1999). Triple P-Positive Parenting Program: Towards an Empirically Validated Multilevel Parenting and Family Support Strategy for the Prevention of Behavior and Emotional Problems in Children. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, Vol.2(2), 71-9. [8] Ludlow, A., Skelly, C., Rohleder, P. (2012). Challenges faced by parents of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Health Psychology, Vol.17(5), pp.702-71.
Article | parenting, disability
6 min read
Making the most of the school holidays
When you have a disabled child, the approach of the school holidays can feel like a daunting time. But you may find it helpful to know that your disabled child or young person has certain rights relating to play and leisure, and holidays. Taking a family holiday needn’t be out of the question - it needs more planning and research of course, but there are many organisations that provide holidays and holiday accommodation for families with disabled children. There are also organisations who can help you fund a holiday or leisure activities, see our guide to Holidays, play and leisure below. While the additional planning that goes into arranging a holiday might seem to take away some of the spontaneity of planning a break [3], there are a few different options for families wanting a holiday. One study looking at holidays for families with a disabled child [2] looked at three different ways families can go on holiday:  Individual holidays, where just one parent goes away Joint holidays, where the couple goes away together without the children Family holidays, where both partners and the children all go away together Many parents in the study seemed to enjoy the opportunity to have holidays on their own, making the most of having a bit of personal time and space, without the need to plan too rigorously. If you’d love to get away without the children (and we all need a break from time to time!), there are organisations who run great summer camps for disabled children, with activities like canoeing, biking or archery to suit all levels of ability.Some cater for children with complex health needs and have 24 hour nursing staff and carers on site. This can be a great way for your child to have fun, try new experiences and make friends. Siblings may be able to go too, or may be able to access other holiday camps or activities with their friends. Young carers projects often provide summer holiday activities for siblings - find your local young carers project at: http://www.youngcarer.com/young-carers-services Even if you can’t get away for a longer break, one study found that the majority of disabled children had very similar summer holiday experiences to non-disabled children. For example, ‘buddying’ system pairing disabled children with non-disabled children, helped break down the barriers between disabled children and mainstream activities. Having a non-disabled friend allowed disabled children easier access to youth clubs, cinemas, sports centres, etc. Another example is of two learning disabled teenagers who volunteered in a Saturday club and a holiday club for younger people. They described it as a ‘rewarding’ experience and said it allowed them to integrate more with other children. One 9-year-old boy interviewed in the study said: I wanted to go to the Saturday club… I like spending time with my friends. Once Friday’s over you won’t see them [friends], so I decided to go to Saturday club to be with my friends. [4] Disabled children also talked about going camping with scout groups, or taking family day trips to the beach or to theme parks as highlights of their school holidays. Half of the children in the study had attended organised play schemes, run by local children’s services or by voluntary services. All of them were generally positive about their experiences of the school holidays. But for many of us, going away as a family is key, because it gives us a stronger sense of connection with our family and friends, and also a feeling of being in control, and having more freedom and independence [2]. Leisure and recreational activities can give you a chance to get out and spend time together, which has been proven to improve quality of life [Jo et al]. In fact, memorable and meaningful experiences can be more valuable to your quality of life than material goods. The things you do are more important than the things you have [1].  Whatever your situation, and your needs at this time, Contact's guide to Holidays, play and leisure has information on what play and leisure options may be available, including days out, camping holidays for children, and wish-granting charities, who may fund a disabled child’s ‘wish’, which could be a holiday. It also has information about arranging holidays with disabled children, help to pay for holidays and finding holiday and travel insurance. References: [1] Oppermann, M., & Cooper, M. (1999). Outbound travel and quality of life: The effect of airline price wars. Journal of Business Research, 44(3), 179-188.  [2] Mactavish, J. B., MacKay, K. J., Iwasaki, Y., & Betteridge, D. (2007). Family caregivers of individuals with intellectual disability: Perspectives on life quality and the role of vacations. Journal of Leisure Research, 39(1), 127.  [3] Jo, S., Huh, C., Kosciulek, J. F., & Holecek, D. F. (2004). Comparison of travel patterns of families with and without a member with a disability.Journal of Rehabilitation, 70(4), 38. [4] Knight, A., Petrie, P., Zuurmond, M., & Potts, P. (2009). ‘Mingling together’: promoting the social inclusion of disabled children and young people during the school holidays. Child & Family Social Work, 14(1), 15-24.
Article | parenting together, children, school
5 min read
Stress and disabled children
Finding out that your child has additional needs can bring about a whole array of emotions. Getting a diagnosis might take some time – according to the Genetic Alliance UK, about 50% of children with a learning disability don't have a definitive diagnosis. Parents may worry or feel guilty that their child has a disability, but it is important to remember that it is rarely anyone’s 'fault'. Whether you have a diagnosis for your child, or are waiting for one, it is likely that dealing with the practicalities of everyday life can seem to bring a lot of new stress into your life. Parents of disabled children often describe a constant battle for services and feeling unable to cope, dealing with professionals and the thoughts and opinions of friends and family. It’s natural for all parents to feel overwhelmed at times, but when you have a disabled child simple things like a trip to the supermarket can be fraught with anxiety, and getting your child out of the house can mean packing extra equipment or planning for bathroom or feeding breaks. While you may not be able to make stress go away completely, it’s worth learning some tips to manage it. This will help stop it spilling over to your relationship with your partner and other children (if you have them). How to manage stress Sharing your worries with your partner can create a sense of solidarity and togetherness, reminding you that you’re not alone and giving you strength to cope with the challenges you face [1]:  Talk to your partner about the things causing stress in your life. Perhaps you’ve had a bad experience where your child has had a very public meltdown. Maybe you’ve felt judged, or had to abandon your shopping for the safety of home. Tell your partner the story, but also talk about the feelings you had going through it. Look for solutions. Maybe it’s worth paying a little extra for online shopping or waiting for the weekend so one of you can stay home with your child while the other shops. If you can’t see a solution, try reframing the issue. Even if you’ve had to abandon a shopping trip, you’ve still made a brave attempt to get out. Learning something the hard way is still learning, and every tough experience makes you a little better at doing what you have to do. Reframing experiences like this can make it easier to cope in general. Find ways to relax together. You can search online, or ask your child’s professional caregivers for local organisations who offer breaks to carers, but even just making a half-hour weekly window to unwind can help you manage the day-to-day stress. Supporting each other helps you maintain your relationship during stressful times, making it easier to reduce stress and cope with negative emotions [2]. Approaching things as a couple, rather than as an individual, increases your capacity to deal with stress [3]. How to help your partner cope with stress If your partner is feeling stressed, you may need to step up and offer support. As an example, let’s take one of the big worries for parents of disabled children – money. Your situation may have changed dramatically since the birth of your child. Perhaps one of you has had to take on extra shifts to make ends meet while the other has stopped working to take on childcare. This can put a big strain on both of you. When your partner hits a bump in the road, it’s easy to become affected yourself or to shut the stress out, but you can help your partner cope by engaging and responding positively [4]:  Make some time and space for your partner to share their feelings. Stop what you’re doing and give your full attention, even if you find it stressful too. Take your partner seriously. Show an interest in what’s going on – while you can help your partner to reframe the situation, it’s important not to downplay the stress itself. Let your partner know you are there to support them, but also that you have faith in their ability to cope. Work with your partner to find a solution. For example, anyone who has attempted to fill in a claim form for Disability Living Allowance will know that it’s a stressful process that pries into some of the most difficult areas of your life. Though you’re probably tired and stressed yourself, helping out with something like this can ease the burden on both of you [1]. Many parents tell us that the best support and advice comes from other parents. There may be a local support group where you and other parent carers can share experiences and support each other. Parents describe meeting other parents of disabled children as a huge relief, finding out they’re not alone. Local support groups are also great way to find out what is happening in your area and get tips from other parents about local services. To find a support group near you, try the Contact helpline on freephone 0808 808 3555 or helpline@contact.org.uk. It can also be helpful to know that you have a right to taking a break from caring for your child. Short breaks allow you to spend time either with your other children or alone, so you can recharge your batteries, catch up on sleep, do vital jobs, and spend time with your partner. Remember, asking for help is not a sign of weakness or being a bad parent. Spending time away from your disabled child can also help foster a sense of independence in your child. This is particularly helpful for them as they grow up. You can find out how to go about getting a much-needed break on the Contact website. We all go through times of relative calm, and changes and challenges. If you feel you’re experiencing overwhelming stress it’s important to reach out to others for support – either a local voluntary organisation you’re in contact with, friends and family or your GP. Take advantage of all the support available. References [1] Bodenmann, G., & Shantinath, S. D. (2004). The Couples Coping Enhancement Training (CCET): A new approach to prevention of marital distress based upon stress and coping. Family relations, 53(5), 477-484. [2] Herzberg, P. Y. (2013). Coping in relationships: The interplay between individual and dyadic coping and their effects on relationship satisfaction. Anxiety, Stress & Coping, 26(2), 136-153. [3] Badr, H., Carmack, C. L., Kashy, D. A., Cristofanilli, M., & Revenson, T. A. (2010). Dyadic coping in metastatic breast cancer. Health Psychology, 29(2), 169. [4] Bodenmann, G. (1997). Dyadic coping-a systematic-transactional view of stress and coping among couples: Theory and empirical findings. European Review of Applied Psychology, 47, 137-140. [5] Crouter, A. C., Perry-Jenkins, M., Huston, T. L., & Crawford, D. W. (1989). The influence of work-induced psychological states on behavior at home. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 10(3), 273-292. [6] Fergus, K. D. (2011). The rupture and repair of the couple's communal body with prostate cancer. Families, Systems, & Health, 29(2), 95. [7] Lazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Coping and adaptation. The handbook of behavioral medicine, 282-325. [8] Repetti, R. L. (1989). Effects of daily workload on subsequent behavior during marital interaction: The roles of social withdrawal and spouse support. Journal of personality and social psychology, 57(4), 651. [9] Stanton, A. L., Revenson, T. A., & Tennen, H. (2007). Health psychology: psychological adjustment to chronic disease. Annu. Rev. Psychol., 58, 565-592.
Article | stress, parenting, disability
7 min read
Benefits of family recreational activity
We all know it’s important to get out, have fun and enjoy ourselves, but research suggests it’s actually good for our relationships and our families. Here we take a look at the evidence, and signpost to some helpful resources.For parents of disabled children, heading out for the day or enjoying a recreational activity outside the house usually requires a lot of organisation and planning ahead. It’s not always possible to just jump in the car and go, especially if your child needs supportive equipment or relies heavily on a rigorous routine.Having to plan everything to the letter can take the fun out of days out, and breaking routines can make things more difficult, but recent research suggests that doing an activity out of the house together as a family might well be worth the effort. “While the study has positive implications for the family as a whole, these outcomes were emphasized as particularly important for the children with a developmental disability.” A 2004 study from Mactavish & Schleien [1] found this to be especially true if families can: get a change of environment/scenery experience some spontaneity, and get a chance to socialise.    “Recreational activity” is just a catch-all term for a range of social, play, entertainment, and sporting activities. In the study, parents said the most popular activities by far were the physical ones, which included swimming; roughhousing games like catch or basketball; walking; and bike rides.Here are a few experiences from parents trying out more recreational activities as a family:  I give my child my undivided attention when we do activities together – where else is he going to get that? A chance to learn things, and a chance to feel more connected – for him and the rest of the family. Also, I do things in the hope that what we’ve done together will carry over to other things he does later on in life. Sam, as a 4-year-old, has a life almost as scheduled as mine – and I’m a lawyer! Needless to say, he’s exhausted by everything else that he’s programmed into . . . so although we think that activities that help him work on basic skills are beneficial . . . just as important to us, and probably more important to him, is that he gets to escape back to the life of a 4-year-old. Planning, planning, planning! That’s what it takes to get any family recreation activity going in our family – probably in any family with a kid with a disability. On the upside this is one way of making sure that everybody has a good time. On the downside, nothing is ever very spontaneous . . . so family recreation tends to get boring. Getting out of the house and doing things out in the community helps to make things feel a little less routine, less predictable. When those parents were asked about the main benefits of recreational activity together, here’s what came up as the most popular: “It makes us closer as a family” “It gives us something fun to do as a family” “It improves parents’ communication with the children” “It improves quality of family life” “Our children learn family values” Parents also said that family recreation time helped improve the quality of the couple relationship. Monotony can be a bit of a drain on couples just like it can with families - a simple change of scenery and a break from the norm can really create some space to enjoy one another’s company in a family context. It also builds on something known as ‘feelings of togetherness’ which make you resilient and help you cope with stressful situations. Together you form the foundation of the family setup, so getting some focused and intentional time together (away from the house, phones and computers) to just be together as a family will help solidify and strengthen that foundation.  References [1] Mactavish, J., & Schleien, S. (2004). Re-injecting spontaneity and balance in family life: Parents’ perspectives on recreation in families that include children with developmental disability. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 48, 123-141.
Article | family, disability
4 min read
Adapting to stress as a couple
Handling stress is a huge key to a high quality of relationship with your partner, and a happier family life [1]. This may be somewhat obvious, as stress is never a good thing, and no couple thrives on stressful situations. Unless you do, in which case, please teach us your ways! If you’ve never heard the term “locus of control” before, it refers to how individuals believe they can control their situation. In other words, how much control you THINK you have over any given situation in your life. Why are we telling you this? Well, your locus of control has been shown to directly impact the way you handle stress [2]. And as we’ve already established, how you handle stress is important for you, your relationships and your family.  So where do you fall on the locus of control scale? Here’s how you work it out. If you’re INTERNAL, you’re more likely to believe that events and circumstances are in your control. If you’re EXTERNAL, you’re more likely to believe that external forces like luck and fate determine your outcomes.   These are two ends of the spectrum of course, and most of us fall somewhere in-between. But according to research, you’ll be better at handling stress if you’re more INTERNAL. “Parental locus of control has also been recognized as an important component in influencing parental stress. Researchers have found that a family's perception of having internal control* over outcomes is related to reduced stress and greater positive adjustment in families of children with a disability [2].” For those of you who need to adapt to incoming stress right now, shifting your mind to think more with an internal locus of control might serve you well. If you’re parents and you’re struggling with stress throughout the summer holidays, then this might be useful for you to try out. How can you become more INTERNAL? Here are a few things you can do to get started: 1. Make a list of things you can control, and things you can’t. For example, if you’re a parent and your kids have been really demanding and tiring over the summer holidays, what you CANNOT control is their energy levels. But what you CAN control is how you respond to that energy. You CANNOT control bad behaviour, but you CAN control how you manage that behaviour. (for more on this subject, have a read of Contact'sguide on understanding your child’s behaviour). By doing this, you might begin to realise that you’re actually in a position of more influence and control than you first thought. If you can’t control certain situations, you CAN control your attitude to them, and you CAN control how you behave towards them. This might be worth doing with your partner so you can compare notes. Even just recognising the controls that you have can help you shift your mindset (you might find our information on mindfulness for parents of disabled children helpful). 2. Let your partner and others to help you If you’re insisting on tackling difficult situations alone and you don’t like asking for help, then you’re actually less likely to feel in control, because you reach burnout point. You might feel in control in the short term, but it’s difficult to maintain it the long-term. With more energy, you’ll feel more in control and better rooted. So reach out, and draw on your partner, your friends and family for their support. If they’ve let you down in the past, maybe it’s time to give them another chance. If you don’t have friends or family nearby, or relationships are strained, see the links below for information on how to get in touch with people who may help. 3. Look back at situations that felt out of control, but turned out alright in the end. It can be helpful to remind yourself that you’ve already come through so much, and you and your partner have survived to tell the tale. Getting extra support Please see the links below for information on how to get in touch with support, including other parents. These places should also have information on low cost or free things happening in your local area over the summer holidays: Your local parent support group – search for yours at: https://contact.org.uk/supportgroups In England Your local parent carer forum – find yours at: www.nnpcf.org.uk/who-we-are/find-your-local-forum/ The local offer on your local authority website – search for ‘local offer’ Your local carer’s centre - www.carers.org In Northern Ireland Family Support Norther Ireland can tell you what services are available in your area. This includes information about play and leisure. www.familysupportni.gov.uk/ You can also call Contact for more information about leisure and sports for children and young people in your area. Contact Northern Ireland: 028 9262 7552 In Scotland The Scottish Family Information Service can tell you what services are available in your area. This includes information about play and leisure. www.scottishfamilies.gov.uk/  You can also call Contact for more information about leisure and sports for children and young people in your area. Contact Scotland: 0131 659 2930 In Wales Your local Family Information Service can tell you what services are available in your area. This includes information about play and leisure. www.childreninwales.org.uk/in-your-area/family-information-services/ You can also call Contact for more information about leisure and sports for children and young people in your area. Contact Cymru: 029 20 39 6624 For ideas and help with holiday activities see Contact's holidays, play and leisure guide. References [1] The role of stress on close relationships and marital satisfaction, Ashley K. Randall & Guy Bodenmann, 2008 [2] Hastings and Brown, 2002
Article | stress
6 min read
Mindfulness for parents of disabled children
If you’re the parent of a disabled child, you might benefit from practising mindfulness in: Your relationship with your partner. Your role as a parent. But before we get into its usefulness and what the research says about it, let’s first take a look at what mindfulness actually is. Mindfulness is a moment-to-moment awareness of thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness has become a popular way for people to let go of their stress, and to ‘find’ themselves in the midst of their daily (and often very busy) lives. Studies have shown that practising mindfulness helps foster positive feelings like contentment, self-awareness, empathy and self-control. It soothes the parts of the brain that produce stress hormones and builds those areas that lift mood [1]. The practice of mindfulness is usually a guided process, and there are a number of exercises that can be used by everyone; you don’t need to attend a class. But you can also practice mindfulness simply by concentrating on your own breathing. There are lots of mobile apps with guided processes for mindfulness. Apps are a helpful option because they can sit in your pocket for the opportune moment – if you are busy looking after your disabled child, convenience is everything. Even if you only have time for 5-10 minutes it can still be very beneficial. It’s well worth doing a bit of research to find an app that you enjoy using, as the practice of mindfulness becomes more powerful when it becomes a daily habit. If you don’t like the sound of the person’s voice or what they are saying, you’ll be less likely to want to listen to the app! Now, let’s get back to the two ways that it can help you, and what the research actually tells us. 1. Your relationship with your partner We all face stressful, difficult and challenging situations, and our relationships would probably be a lot stronger without them. But it’s far too idealistic to expect stressful moments will completely go away; they are a fact of life in any relationship. Families with disabled children have to cope with significant emotional, social, physical and financial pressures, and everyone has different coping styles. Some people cope by focusing on a problem and finding solutions and strategies to improve the situation. Other people focus on finding ways to feel better about a situation by reinterpreting it, distancing themselves, or even denying or avoiding it. Partners can find these differences frustrating. Mindfulness can help us with our reaction to stressful events. By mentally preparing the mind and the body, we can be less controlled by situations when they occur, and we can handle conflict better. This creates some space for us to be the best versions of ourselves for our partners [2]. Mindfulness is also very much geared towards experiencing the present moment, and having a moment-to-moment awareness of the world around us. By being truly ‘present’ with our partners, this can help us become better listeners and focus on how to improve the problems we face. 2. Your role as a parent From a carried out on mothers with children who have autism (65%) and other disabilities (35%), mindfulness led to “significant improvements” in: Stress. Depression and anxiety. Sleep quality. Life satisfaction [3]. While this particular study carried out by the The American Academy of Pediatrics was aimed at mothers, the nature of the results suggest that fathers would also benefit. There’s more research to be done, but for now, the benefits are encouraging. If you want to try out some mindfulness, search for ‘mindfulness apps’ in your search engine to bring up information about free and paid Apps for iPhone or Android, plus reviews for them. Some focus on topics such as relationships, health or sleep. Try out a few to find the right one for you. Have you tried mindfulness for yourself, with your partner or with your family? Did you find that it made a difference? Or are you a little skeptical? We’d love to hear your thoughts – so please do leave us a comment or get in touch via our Facebook page. References [1] http://franticworld.com/what-can-mindfulness-do-for-you/ [2] Carson, J. W., Carson, K. M., Gil, K. M., & Baucom, D. H. (2004). Mindfulness-based relationship enhancement. Behavior therapy, 35(3), 471-494 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0005789404800285 [3] Dykens, E. M., Fisher, M. H., Taylor, J. L., Lambert, W., & Miodrag, N. (2014). Reducing distress in mothers of children with autism and other disabilities: a randomized trial. Pediatrics, 134(2), e454-e463 http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2014/07/16/peds.2013-3164
Article | parenting, disability, mindfulness
5 min read
Respite: better for the rest
If you can take a break from caring for your disabled child it can strengthen your couple relationship. Here we take a look at some of the research and explain how to go about getting some ‘you-time’.  Short breaks have been the key to our survival. They have allowed us to re-charge our batteries and have time for our other children and each other. This is necessary for any relationship but crucial for those with a disabled child in their family when having to cope with so many other pressures. When we asked parents what, if anything, had Imost helped their relationship since having their disabled child, the single most important factor was seen as time away from their disabled child - time to be with the partner and/or other child or children. [1]  Taking a break from caring for your child is not an admission of failure or a way of saying you don't care. A break is an opportunity to recharge batteries, spend time with others or pursue a particular interest. Short breaks (sometimes called ‘respite care’) may also allow your child to have a change of scene, try different experiences, have fun and make friends.Short breaks can include: Care at home - includes sitting or care attendant schemes, which provide someone to sit with or 'mind' your child. Day care away from home - includes nurseries, playgroups, out of school and weekend clubs and, during school holidays, access to playschemes. Overnight short breaks - includes an overnight sitting or nursing service if your child needs it. Residential breaks - includes residential homes, special units in hospitals and hospices. Family link schemes - where your child stays with another family on a regular basis or occasionally. What are the long term benefits for you, your relationship and your family life? A study from Oklahoma University found that psychological distress and anxiety of parents showed a notable decrease - even six months after having a break, parents’general well-being improved. [2] “When our child is looked after we spend quality time together”  Other research, with parents of children who have autistic spectrum disorder, found a direct link between the number of short break hours taken and relationship quality. In other words, for every hour of a break taken, the better the relationship. [3]  The researchers gave a very simple explanation for this: “Respite care helps reduce stress, which in turn affects marital quality.” It might just be that straight forward. How do I get a short break?  You should be able to find out information about short breaks and how to access them on your local authority website. Some short break schemes may be described as 'universal', which means they are available to all children and you don't need an assessment to access them. To see what short breaks may be available, you can also try contacting your local Family Information Service or use SENDirect to search for short breaks in your area. Families in Scotland can search for services at Shared Care Scotland, the national third sector organisation providing information on short breaks.   What if I’m refused a short break? It is quite common to hear statements like, ‘Our local authority no longer provides short breaks’ or, ‘We don’t do carers assessments in this local authority.’ If you find yourself in this situation, see Contact's guide to Challenging cuts to short breaks services (England), which has template letters you can use to write to your local authority: https://contact.org.uk/media/962264/challenging-cuts-to-short-break-services-final-3.pdf We are also encouraging families to write to their local council, to tell them why short breaks matter and to ask them to increase funding - see: https://contact.org.uk/news-and-blogs/short-breaks-matter-challenging-cuts-to-short-breaks-services/http://e-activist.com/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=1918&ea.campaign.id=48496&ea.tracking.id=FB  “Taking time to be with yourself, your partner and your ‘normal’ child can re-establish relationships that are buried under doctors’ appointments, being told what they can’t do, and hopes and disappointments of life” “Find time for yourselves. Grab any help you can get!”  We’d love to hear about your experiences with respite and short breaks, and how you’ve managed them in the past. Have you found that your relationship has improved through using it? Has it helped you to lower your stress levels? Or did you find it hard to let someone else take care of your child? Do let us know and get in touch with us via Contact's Facebook page.  References [1] Contact a Family, No Time for Us – relationships between parents who have a disabled child December 2003 [2] The Influence of Respite Care on Psychological Distress in Parents of Children With Developmental Disabilities: A Longitudinal Study Larry L. Mullins, Karen Aniol, Misty L. Boyd, Melanie C. Page, and John M. Chaney, Oklahoma State University. [3] Harper, Amber; Dyches, Tina Taylor; Harper, James; Roper, Susanne Olsen; and South, Mikle, "Respite Care, Marital Quality, and Stress in Parents of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders" (2013). All Faculty Publications. Paper 1497. http://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/facpub/1497
Article | parenting together, disability
4 min read
Disabled children and behaviour issues
What is happening? Having a child with a disability is challenging for all members of a family. And as parents, adapting to a new set of circumstances like this can be difficult – even stressful. This stress may be impacting your relationship with your partner.  Why is this stress affecting our relationship so much? First of all, a decline in relationship quality is quite typical for any parent [1], and this is largely due to the stresses of becoming a parent. A lack of sleep, fatigue and having less quality time together are a few of the most obvious factors of this stress, which in turn make it more difficult to communicate, resolve issues and manage situations. Such stresses are exacerbated for parents that have children with disabilities. They sometimes behave in a way that is hard to control (if you’d like to learn more about managing behaviours, please click here.) According to research, stress levels for parents raising a child with autism tend to be higher than other disabilities [2]. This is partly due to the fact that the senses of ASD children are elevated, which sometimes makes behaviour even harder to handle. (If your child has ASD and you’d like to talk to someone, please click here to find out more) Another reason that this may be affecting you both is because you’re probably still adjusting to brand new routines, which might not come easy. Of course, adjusting to new routines is a challenge for any parent, but certain disabilities can cause behaviours to be unpredictable which is why adjusting can present even more of a challenge.    How can we help the situation? Remember that couples have gone through similar experiences to what you're going through right now, and they may have valuable tips and advice to offer. Consider checking out Contact's family group support pages and reach out to people who have children with a similar condition. Depending on the age of your child and your circumstances, you may find that you’re already beginning to adjust and form new routines. But even if that’s the case, it can still really helpful to talk to each other about how well you’re coping. You may even find that you can help others. If you’re struggling, don’t harbour it for the sake of staying positive. While a positive outlook is helpful, it’s also necessary to be real and honest. Hold on to the fact that, although raising your baby will be challenging, your roles as parents can still be fun, exciting and very rewarding. If the relationship stays strong and you’re committed to working together, there’s a much greater chance of that becoming a reality.  [3] References [1] Twenge et al., 2003; Mitnick et al., 2009 [2] Bouma & Schweitzer, 1990; Hastings & Johnson, 2001; Silva & Schalock, 2011; Zablotsky, Bradshaw, & Stuart, 2013. [3] Houlston, C., Coleman, L., Milford, L., Platts, N., and Mansfield, P. (2013) Sleep, sex and sacrifice: The transition to parenthood, a testing time for relationships? OnePlusOne: London.
Article | parenting, disability
3 min read
Financial pressures with a disabled child
What is happening to us? Many parents caring for a disabled child will tell you outright: the costs are greater. If that’s you, you might be finding that these extra financial stresses are causing a strain on your relationship. If, as a couple, you’ve never dealt with financial struggles or argued about money before, this may be new territory for you both. This can be tough to work through with your partner because the impact of financial worry is so consuming. And of course, it has an impact on almost every aspect of daily life, which makes it harder for your relationship to thrive. Why is this happening? Many families endure financial hardships but, financially speaking, is it really more difficult for families with disabled children? The short answer to this is yes. This is mainly due to the fact that many items need to be specialised – the 'bog-standard' versions simply won’t be fit for purpose, and specialised items can cost significantly more. The specifics are obviously dependent on the disability in question, but many parents can expect to face several expenses on: Special dietary requirements Specialised equipment and toys Some items and equipment costs may never have occurred to you as requiring modifications, but for some disabled children, specialised versions of the same item are absolutely essential for their safety and usage.  These are not lifestyle costs, but basic costs for the same living standards. Here’s a quote from a dad that had to shell out a lot of extra cash so that his child could have a similar experience to other kids: “Our current battle is trying to get a bicycle for our young son, a disabled 11-year-old. My older son’s bikes have never cost more than £50 and have generally been second hand. Getting Isaac, our disabled lad, a bike is a very different ball game. The cheapest we have found is £800 because he needs two wheels at the back, a waist cradle and harness to support him, and it needs to be a tag-along bike so my husband can pull him with his bike. So, Isaac can’t have a bike, because we can’t afford it. It just makes me mad that things are so much more expensive when you have a child who has disabilities. He longs for a bike and to be able to join in!” For many parents in similar situations, this is on top of other expenses too, including additional care needs, additional heating, clothing and laundry needs, and travel to appointments [1]. Unfortunately for some parents, financial strains don’t stop there. Parents are often entitled to financial support through the government, but because the word ‘disability’ is a large umbrella term for many circumstances and needs, the process for getting support is not always straightforward. Many parents with disabled children aren’t sure of exactly what they qualify for. This uncertainty will just add to the frustrations felt by many. This extra financial pressure can impact the family as a whole, but also the relationship on parenting couples. But why does financial stress specifically impact the relationship so much? Here's a few of the main reasons: Couples may never have faced the strain before, so they are not experienced with handling disagreements on the subject. The main provider can feel an increased sense of pressure to earn more. Feelings of guilt can fester and this can be quite negative for the relationship. Expectations of 'family life' might be different to what new parents had imagined, which can result in feeling somewhat disenchanted. This feeling can cause some to withdraw from their partners and the people around them. When families are ‘comfortable’ financially, it usually means they have freedom and options. In a relationship or family where you’re limited by finance, it can feel like you’re restricted or trapped. These feelings can really affect your behaviour towards one another. How can we help our relationship thrive through financial stress? 1. By talking to each other As a couple, one of the most useful things you can do is to get some clarity on your wants, needs, hopes and fears. Anticipating potential problems can give you more realistic expectations about the future, and allow you to find a more relaxed way to discuss problems together. [1] Set some ground rules about what you will do next time an argument breaks out. You may want to decide to take a break from the conversation and return to it when you’re both feeling a bit calmer. Try saying something like “Can we talk about this in a different way once we’ve calmed down a bit?” Although this may be a given, try to avoid having these discussions in a supermarket, the bank or other public places where the money pressures are suddenly most apparent. You’ll have a much better chance of getting a positive outcome if your conversations take place privately in your own home. Be honest with yourselves and kind to each other and you’ll significantly improve the chances of talking about money without an argument. 2. By taking practical steps For many couples who are struggling with financial strains, the idea of money planning goes out the window. For some, their focus goes into simply surviving and putting food on the table. But even if money is very tight and there’s little or no chance of saving, money planning can still help you. A budget is still a sensible idea – even if it only helps you realise how much extra help you need. You can find a free planner through Money Advice Service, along with a few really helpful online guides. It may be useful to keep a spending log over a month or two to see what you’re really spending. When you can see the whole picture, you’re in a better position to make decisions about which costs are essential and where you might be able to cut costs. Remember to really consider all of your extra expenses like those in the table above. If you’ve got some friends who’ve been through something similar or adopted a child with a disability, it might be an idea to ask them for guidance. Your midwife or doctor may also be able to offer recommendations. Use the people around you and don’t be afraid of reaching out. 3. By seeking out entitlements Benefits and financial support can be a tricky field to navigate as they are liable to change over time, and as we’ve already mentioned, it will depend on your family circumstances and your child’s disability. For more advice on benefits, tax credits and other sources of financial help, visit Contact’s help page. Also, check out the current situation through services such as the Citizens Advice and the Money Advice Service, who will be able to talk through your budget and help you learn what you might be entitled to.  While financial pressure can be quite heavy, the relationship and family can still grow and develop. If money were no object, of course building up your relationship and family would be easier, but the most important thing is to function as a unit, and face the challenges together. Reference [1] Pancer, S. M., Pratt, M., Hunsberger, B. & Gallant, M. Thinking ahead: Complexity of expectations and the transition to parenthood. J. Pers.68, 253–279 (2000). [2] Contact (2014), Counting the Costs.
Article | parenting, disability, finance
7 min read
We've lost our quality time as a couple
New babies are very demanding of parents in the beginning, and babies with a disability can be even more so. Depending on the disability, parents may be required to spend extra time and energy trying to help them and nurture them. All this time spent helping your baby obviously couldn’t be put to better use and, in many cases, there’s nothing that can be done about it. But you may find yourselves being so busy that you’re not getting much quality time together, which can in turn have a negative impact on the relationship quality.Estimates suggest that more than half a million children in England alone have a disability [1], so lots of parents across the country are also facing this extra strain.  Why might we have less quality time? This is largely a practical matter - if you’re really busy looking after your baby and supporting them through a disability, then that’s just the way it is. But sometimes there are other reasons that quality time together gets lost. Consider if any of these apply to you: A large part of quality time is talking through the things that matter. But during more difficult times, such as being told that you’re going to have a child that has a disability, some people use keeping busy as a coping mechanism, and the conversation might feel just too difficult to have. For some, this news can be really hard to process, and you or your partner may be experiencing a certain degree of denial. Rather than face the problem and discuss your fears and expectations for the child and family life, you might instead be busying yourself away with other tasks. You and your partner may have had certain expectations in mind when it came to starting and raising a family of your own. When you discovered your child will be born with a disability, this perhaps changed some of those expectations. This internal struggle of expectation versus reality might affect you emotionally, which could in turn affect how you interact with your partner. Children quite rightly become the priorities of their parents. And when a child has a disability or vulnerability, they often warrant even more focus and attention. While this is the heart of any good parent, it can sometimes cause their relationship to descend down the list of priorities. In other words, the quality of the couple’s relationship becomes less important. How can I help myself and my partner? You and your partner might find it difficult to discuss how your baby’s disability or health complication might negatively affect your family dynamic and how you will work together to support them. By burying the issue, tiptoeing around it, or even pretending it isn’t there, you’re at risk of leaving yourselves unprepared. It takes courage to talk about the issues that frighten us, so maybe try writing down what you’re feeling first and reading it to your partner.  As things progress, try to have regular discussions and start making preparations together.The existing research on couples raising a child with additional needs says that: “Couples caring for a disabled child are at greater risk of marital problems and divorce.” While this relates to married couples, it’s likely of course that the findings also relate to those in long-term relationships. It simply serves  to show that any extra challenges to your lives as parents will challenge your relationship too, and therefore it’s important to value your couple time, even if, day-to-day, it doesn’t take priority over your child’s needs.If you and your partner are talking about the difficulties you will face, you are more likely to have realistic expectations and be able to deal with difficult situations when they come up [2]. For this reason it’s really important for parents to work on talking openly and positively about their fears and expectations [3]. References  [1] Glenn, F. (2007). Growing together, or drifting apart. London: One Plus One. [2] Pancer, S. M., Pratt, M., Hunsberger, B. & Gallant, M. Thinking ahead: Complexity of expectations and the transition to parenthood. J. Pers.68, 253–279 (2000). [3] Stamp, G. H. The appropriation of the parental role through communication during the transition to parenthood. Commun. Monogr.61, 89–112 (1994). [4] Shapiro, A. F., & Gottman, J. M. (2005). Effects on marriage of a psycho-communicative-educational intervention with couples undergoing the transition to parenthood, evaluation at 1-year post intervention. The Journal of Family Communication, 5(1), 1-24.
Article | disability, parenting together, communication
4 min read
Relationship problems with a disabled child
What is going on? Every couple will face challenges in their relationship long before a baby comes onto the scene. Whether it’s trust issues, repetitive household arguments, in-law grievances, or one feeling unvalued by the other, all couples fall out about something from time to time. When a baby arrives, these relationship issues and challenges do not disappear. On the contrary, they sometimes become harder to deal with.  Why might this be happening? Whether you’re the mum or the dad, the transition to parenthood is a time of increased stress for many, if not most, parents [1] – this has been affirmed by decades of research. The stress of parenthood can be exacerbated and intensified if your child has a disability, or if their additional needs require more of your time, patience and attention. It's not easy to compartmentalise stress in one aspect of your life, and it's likely that this stress will spill over into other areas, including your relationship. On a very practical note, a lack of sleep – a state almost guaranteed for a new parent – is enough to disrupt the equilibrium of life and increase stress all by itself. “Despite some parents describing their ability to normalize constant sleep interruptions, the sleep deprivation experienced by parents of children with complex needs is both relentless and draining.” (McCann et al) How can I improve things? If you and your partner know and anticipate the kind of difficulties you will face, you are more likely to have realistic expectations and be able to deal with difficult situations when they come up [3]. For this reason it’s really important for parents-to-be to work on talking openly and positively about their fears and expectations of their child’s disability or additional needs – even if it feels like you’re weighing too much on the negatives [4]. If you know what your biggest worries are as a couple, you can work together to support one another. While you are both adjusting to your new roles and circumstances, it’s also important to take care not to lose sight of your individuality. Perhaps it’s worth drawing on family and friends to help you take some time for yourselves to visit your hobbies or just listen to silence. It’s not selfish to do that, and it’s likely that your support networks will understand the importance of you having downtime. Equally, spending quality time with your partner is an important reminder that you are still a couple as well as parents. References [1] Shapiro, A. F. & Gottman, J. M. Effects on Marriage of a Psycho-Communicative-Educational Intervention With Couples Undergoing the Transition to Parenthood, Evaluation at 1-Year Post Intervention. J. Fam. Commun.5, 1–24 (2005). [2] McCann, Damhnat, Rosalind Bull, and Tania Winzenberg. (2015) Sleep Deprivation in Parents Caring for Children With Complex Needs at Home A Mixed Methods Systematic Review. Journal of Family Nursing 21(1), 86–118. [3] Pancer, S. M., Pratt, M., Hunsberger, B. & Gallant, M. Thinking ahead: Complexity of expectations and the transition to parenthood. J. Pers.68, 253–279 (2000). [4] Stamp, G. H. The appropriation of the parental role through communication during the transition to parenthood. Commun. Monogr.61, 89–112 (1994).
Article | disability, parenting
2 min read
Tiredness and disabled children
What is happening? When couples become parents, they wave goodbye to their seven-hour sleep cycles, and accept that it’s a normal part of early parenting. When you have a baby with additional needs, sometimes it means being even more sleep deprived. Babies with complex needs might struggle more with feeding and resting, or they may require extra diligence from their parents throughout the night. Couples undergoing sleep deprivation might find it harder to talk to each other, and find that their relationship struggles under these conditions [1].  Why is a lack of sleep affecting us so much? Sleep deprivation is not to be underestimated. Just getting through the day can feel like an episode of The Crystal Maze and your communication with your partner can really suffer [1], even with generous pots of coffee on the go. For some parents it can be a draining and relentless experience. In one study, the majority of the parents who had a child with additional needs reported feeling: Tired during the day (87%). Tired when they woke up (77%). Too tired to do the things they like to do (63%). Too tired to finish household tasks (73%). [1] If you’re finding it difficult to function as a parent, a partner and a person, you’re not alone. What’s more, studies have shown us that couples in their first year of parenthood generally see a 40-67% drop in relationship quality. So, even without the extra challenges, parenthood tends to put a significant strain on the relationship. How do we help with this? When you’re both busy and exhausted, you may feel that you’re not fulfilling one another’s needs or demonstrating your love to each other. If that is the case, it can be tempting to put your relationship on hold until life gets less hectic, especially if you’re an ‘all or nothing’ kind of person. But, in times like this, it might be an idea to focus on small gestures like a note on the fridge, sending a text, or running a bath for when your partner gets home. Placing value on these small things can sometimes have a stabilising effect that helps you through the tougher time periods. Because tiredness and fatigue limits what you can fit into your day, you might have to change or reset your expectations of one another. For example, if you both agreed to a household chore routine before the baby came, there’s a good chance you now won’t be able to maintain the level of cleaning that you did before. Or during your conversations together, maybe there was an expectation on one another for undivided listening and attention. It’s worth talking with your partner about what expectations you have of one another, and which of those expectations you would both like to change. You might think that your expectations would automatically adjust, but sometimes it’s hard to let go of habits and routines. Research has shown that if your expectations are more realistic, you are better able to deal with difficult situations when they come up [3]. References  [1] UK – Questionnaire of 2,312 parent carers (incl. mothers, fathers & grandparents) of child with disability. Hock, Robert M., Tina M. Timm, and Julie L. Ramisch. (2012) Parenting Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Crucible for Couple Relationships. Child & Family Social Work, 17(4), 406–15. [2] Caicedo, Carmen. (2014) Families With Special Needs Children: Family Health, Functioning, and Care Burden. Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association 20(6), 398–407. [3] Pancer, S. M., Pratt, M., Hunsberger, B. & Gallant, M. Thinking ahead: Complexity of expectations and the transition to parenthood. J. Pers.68, 253–279 (2000).
Article | disability, parenting
3 min read
Coming to terms with having a disabled child
What is happening? If you’ve just found out that your child has a disability that may affect them temporarily or perhaps more permanently, it can be quite a bombshell. This knowledge will undoubtedly be upsetting, and coming to terms with it might also put strain on your relationship. Why is this affecting our relationship? 1. Support When you learn that your child has a disability, you need as much support as you can get from professionals, friends and your wider family network. It’s that support which takes a bit of strain off the family unit, so if this support isn't in place, the frustration and the challenges can affect you, both as individuals, and as a couple. 2. Feeling redundant One of the overriding feelings in this situation is powerlessness, particularly during the pregnancy phase. Sometimes there’s little or nothing you can really do to help your child. This feeling can be quite overwhelming, and although the sentiment of wanting to help comes from a good place, it can actually cause parents to withdraw. 3. Coming to terms with reality You may both be struggling to come to terms with the situation, which is perfectly normal and understandable. It’s difficult to talk about and you may need some time to come around to the way things are now, but if you’ve not discussed the diagnosis and its potential impact, neither you nor your partner will be granted the opportunity to voice your concerns for the future of your child. Furthermore, you won’t have the opportunity to discuss the implications that raising a child with additional needs will have on your relationship. How can I help myself and my partner? 1. Support Talking to a doctor or even a specialist can be helpful. They should be able to provide you with more information on your child’s needs and refer you on to other organisations for further support. There are more than half a million children in England alone living with a mild to seriously disabling condition or chronic illness [1], so don’t assume that you’re alone or that support is unavailable. External organisations can be helpful. Contact can put you in touch with a number of local groups that support parents of children with additional needs. 2. Feeling redundant The difficulty here is recognising what you can control, and accepting what you can’t. Understanding this might well help to limit your frustrations and allow you to focus on what you can actually do – for both your baby and your partner. If it helps you, write a list with two columns – one for what you can help with and one for what you can’t – and talk the list through with your partner. That way, they'll know what you’re trying to accomplish and can support you in it. They may also point out where you’re putting too many expectations on yourself. 3. Coming to terms with reality Although it’s a basic sentiment, establishing an open, honest and supportive way of communicating with one another is really important as a way of strengthening that ‘togetherness’ that you’re both going to need. If, in your past relationships, you’ve had the habit of sweeping issues under the carpet, this might be especially difficult for you. Now is probably a good time to buck that trend. Again, it may be worth a visit to www.contact.org.uk who will be able to provide you with support options. References [1] Glenn (2007) UK Glenn, F. (2007). Growing together, or drifting apart. London: One Plus One.
Article | disability, parenting
3 min read
Normal issues are amplified in pregnancy
Since finding out you’re pregnant, you might have noticed that issues you’ve always been able to cope with are much harder to deal with now. You might be arguing with your partner more than usual or getting stressed out more easily. Becoming parents   Your relationship is going through a big transition – where you used to just be a couple, you’re now becoming parents. This transition is a time of increased stress for most parents and it’s one of the most significant changes you’ll ever have to deal with [1]. Even if your baby was planned, you’ve got a lot to get your heads around. Parenting is a lifelong commitment, with new responsibilities and huge demands on your time, money, and other areas of your lives. As your pregnancy progresses, the realities of your new roles can become daunting and may lead to more worry. When you’re about to become parents, you might reflect on your own childhood and your experiences of being parented. While it can be healthy to learn from the past, any difficult memories may have an effect on your emotional wellbeing. All of this can cause previously mundane issues to become far more significant [2]. Managing expectations   If you and your partner know and anticipate the kinds of difficulties you will face, you are more likely to have realistic expectations. This can mean you’re better able to deal with difficult situations when they come up [3]. Talk openly and positively about your fears and expectations, and make use of the support and information on offer. If you’re aware of your biggest worries as a couple, you can work together to prepare solutions in advance. Although your sense of identity might be shifting, you don’t have to lose sight of who you were before. Taking time for yourself to keep in touch with friends and maintain hobbies can help remind you that, even though your life is changing, you can still be the same person you always were. Equally, spending quality time with your partner is an important reminder that, as well as being expectant parents, you are still a couple too.  References   [1] Shapiro, A. F. & Gottman, J. M. Effects on Marriage of a Psycho-Communicative-Educational Intervention With Couples Undergoing the Transition to Parenthood, Evaluation at 1-Year Post Intervention. J. Fam. Commun.5, 1–24 (2005). [2] Claxton, A. & Perry-Jenkins, M. No Fun Anymore: Leisure and Marital Quality Across the Transition to Parenthood. J. Marriage Fam.70, 28–43 (2008). [3] Pancer, S. M., Pratt, M., Hunsberger, B. & Gallant, M. Thinking ahead: Complexity of expectations and the transition to parenthood. J. Pers.68, 253–279 (2000).
Article | pregnancy, parenting
2 min read
Parents, technology and relationships
For new parents, technology is great for keeping in touch – texting your partner during the day, facetiming with your baby, or catching up with friends you no longer have time to see. Smartphones and social media have broken down many communication barriers but they’ve also thrown a few new stones on the path. Learning to navigate this territory can help protect you against the risks that an overreliance on technology can put on your relationship. Work-life balance Technology makes it easier for your partner to get in touch with you at work, but also for your colleagues to get in touch with you when you’re at home. This blurring of the lines between work and family can be stressful, making you feel like you have to deal with work matters at home, or family matters at work [1]. Phones and intimacy One study showed that simply having mobiles in the house can get in the way of couples developing intimacy and trust, even on an unconscious level. You don’t know it’s happening, but the presence of your phone in your pocket, or on the counter, or on the bedside table, can create a barrier to the trust and intimacy you might otherwise be building up [2]. Talking through text It’s easy for meanings and nuances to be lost in the written word – especially when you’re firing off messages in the middle of a busy day. Words can take on new meanings when presented without tone of voice. A hurried response can be taken as a lack of consideration. Even a cheeky emoji can be read wrong. Over the course of a day, this can build up into a big heap of mixed messages and unnecessary resentment, bleeding over into the way you talk to each other at home [3] and leading to unnecessary bickering. The following tips can help make sure technology plays a healthier role in your lives: Agree some ground rules. Decide what constitutes acceptable internet and phone use. You might want to agree on some designated phone-free time for catching up, or just plan to switch off after a certain hour. Whatever you decide, make sure it works for both of you. Avoid assumptions. If your partner texts or emails something that feels like a dig or a rejection, clarify it before you leap to a reaction. Pay attention. When your partner is talking about something important, put your screen away and give them your full attention. Save your news. If you’ve got something important to share, wait and do it face to face. That way, you won’t miss out on all the benefits of your partner’s reaction. Switch off at bedtime. Make your bedroom a temple of sleep (and sex too, if you have time). Turn your phone off, or leave it out of the bedroom. Buy an old-fashioned alarm clock and don’t check your messages until you’re up and about. Switch off on date nights. If you’ve set up a time to share together, turn off your phone and concentrate on enjoying each other’s company. Leave social media out of arguments. If you’re arguing with your partner, don’t drop in that a friend on Facebook agrees with you. Keep your private conversations private. Be understanding. Try to understand what your partner finds so valuable about their online life. They may be receiving important support and advice from a forum or a WhatsApp group. Understanding this can help you make peace with the time they spend online. Talk about your feelings. If you feel neglected, say something. People often don't realise the impact of their behaviour, so a little nudge can be helpful to start the conversation. Remember to focus on your feelings, and not on your partner’s behaviour! Set an example. As a parent, you may be trying to limit your children’s screen time. Lead by example, and take your own eyes off the screen a bit more often. Your children are learning from you about how to have positive, healthy relationships – let them see you interacting in real life too.    References   [1] Chesley, N. (2005). Blurring Boundaries? Linking Technology Use, Spillover, Individual Distress, and Family Satisfaction. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67: 1237–1248. [2] Przybylski, A. K., & Weinstein, N. (2012). Can you connect with me now? How the presence of mobile communication technology influences face-to-face conversation quality? Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 30(3), 237–246. [3] Hertlein, K., & Stevenson, A. (2010). The Seven “As” Contributing to Internet-Related Intimacy Problems: A Literature Review. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 4(1), article 3. Retrieved from https://cyberpsychology.eu/article/view/4230/3273
Article | parenting together, communication
4 min read
Pregnant and worried about your relationship
If your partner didn’t respond well to the news of your pregnancy, or if he seems reluctant to make plans for the baby, you may wonder how he will cope with the pressures of fatherhood. When you’re pregnant and worrying about the future, it’s not uncommon to worry that your relationship will suffer. You might be afraid that your partner is going to disengage – or worse, that he might panic and run off! It’s important to remind yourself that your fears don’t necessarily reflect reality, and this may not be how your partner feels. But it’s also worth examining these fears to see where they come from. If your partner doesn’t want to talk about the baby Generally speaking, men are slower than women to come to terms with the reality of having a baby, especially if the pregnancy wasn’t planned. If your partner is struggling to come to terms with the idea of being a dad, it may be difficult for him to have long conversations about the baby. An overload of baby-focused talk could lead him to switch off. Try to be patient – he may just need a little more time to get his head around it. It might be helpful to vary the topics of conversation and remind your partner that some aspects of your lives are going to remain the same when the baby arrives. Encourage your partner to focus on the positive role he’s going to play. Even if he’s scared about becoming a dad, he won’t necessarily communicate his fears to you. Talk to him about your own hopes and worries, and then leave a space open for him to talk about how he feels. He may be pulling away because he’s not sure he is up to the task of parenthood. He may also be afraid that he will be sidelined, or that you will love the baby more than him. Not everything will change, and it may be helpful to tell him that. If you’ve faced rejection or abandonment before If you’ve faced issues in your past where someone important has left or abandoned you, you might be more sensitive to the idea that it will happen again. Your fears could be triggered by things like your partner walking off during an argument, not showing up for dinner, or being impossible to get hold of for some time. Let your partner know that this is a real worry for you – you may find he becomes more reassuring and more careful about how he communicates with you. Sometimes it’s helpful to remind your partner of how your past experiences can affect you. If your relationship feels unstable If your relationship has been going through difficulties, the idea of bringing a child into the mix can feel like a recipe for disaster. However, there’s no such thing as a perfect relationship and very few people would say they are constantly happy when they start a family. Having children will undoubtedly place some stress on the relationship, but it can also be a powerful bonding experiences. It might be a little more difficult when you have extra family responsibilities but, whatever stage you’re at, you can always work on improving your relationship as a couple. Let the arrival of your baby motivate you to be better together.
Article | pregnancy, parenting together
3 min read
Getting dads involved with their babies
Most new dads are aware of the responsibilities that are coming their way well before the baby is born. But, unfortunately, not all of them step up to the plate when the times comes. If your baby’s dad isn’t helping out, three things can happen: The baby can miss out on vital care. Your partner can miss opportunities to bond with the baby. You might feel let down and resentful. Your partner might assume that his role is to provide for the family, and not necessarily to offer care [1]. By putting food on the table, and clothes on backs, he may feel that his job is done, leaving the nurturing side of things to you. If his parents followed a similar family structure, he may be influenced by his own upbringing. The support that parents offer each other is at its strongest during birth, and then steadily drops for both mothers and fathers. Fatigue and tiredness probably have a part to play in this, and it’s quite likely that this time will not accurately represent the supportiveness that you normally show each other in your relationship. Most couples return to their standard level of supportiveness within a year of the baby being born [2].   Boosting the bond   If your partner has embraced the provider role and not the carer role, it might be helpful for him to try and bond more with your baby. If he bonds with the child early on, he’s more likely to develop a stronger attachment, which can encourage him to play more of his caring role. Try to provide regular opportunities for him to bond – feeding times, going for walks, and skin-to-skin contact are all great ways to support this. The more the father engages himself during the delivery and postnatal period, the stronger will be his attachment to the baby [1]. It might be worth having a conversation with your partner and asking him how he sees his role. Be sensitive in your approach – he may not feel he’s neglecting the caring aspect of fatherhood, or he may feel that you don’t appreciate how hard he works to be the provider. Lead with how you feel and how it appears to you, rather than throw any accusations. Use “I feel” more than “You make me feel”. Ask him about his expectations of fatherhood: What did he expect it to be like? Is it what he imagined? What could you do to make him feel more involved? Does he feel like he’s connecting with the baby? Explore these questions together and see if you can start to find some solutions together. References   [1] Plantin, L., Olukoya, A. and Ny, P. (2011) Positive Health Outcomes of Fathers’ Involvment in Pregnancy and Childbirth Paternal Support: A Scope Study Literature Review. Fathering: A Journal of Theory, Research, and Practice about Men as Fathers, 9(1), 87–102. [2] Howard, K. and Brooks-Gunn, J. (2009) Relationship Supportiveness During the Transition to Parenting Among Married and Unmarried Parents. Parenting, 9(1–2), 123–42.
Article | fathers, parenting, new parents
2 min read
Trusting each other with the baby
Most parents usually feel an innate sense of responsibility to protect their babies, but sometimes mums take the lead in this department, leaving dads worrying that they’re not as capable. This can kick off a vicious cycle where dads don’t feel confident with the baby and mums feel like they have to do everything. If this goes on for a long time, it can create a lasting sense of tension, so it’s important to try and address it early on. The vicious cycle   This conflict between mums and dads is quite common. It can start during pregnancy when mums have a very real experience of protecting the baby, and making sure it has everything it needs. Because of this, mums often – but not always – already have a close bond by the time the baby is born. If breastfeeding, this bond can be deepened even further. For dads, the bond usually take longer to develop. Dads have to take time to get to know their babies and develop a sense of their roles as they adjust to the new responsibility. This doesn’t undermine all the effort and support that dads put in during pregnancy – providing comfort and encouragement, singing to the baby, attending pre-natal classes, – but it can leave them feeling like they’re on the back foot. In the majority of parent couples, women are the primary caregivers, meaning they spend the most time at home with the baby: 76 per cent of women and 56 per cent of men state that in reality, women have the responsibility of primary caregiver [1]. Whichever of you spends the most time at home is likely to get to know the baby better sooner and be better at responding to what the baby needs. If, as in the majority of families, that’s the mum, then it may feel quite natural for her to take the lead, especially if she’s had more practice with tasks like changing nappies and is able to get them done more efficiently. This can often mean that the other parent, usually the dad, doesn’t have as many opportunities to care for the baby, and might need longer to develop these essential parenting skills. The dad can start to feel less confident, which can lead him to avoid parenting tasks, and the mum can start to trust him less, and just do everything herself. As these factors start to feed into each other, the cycle begins. Developing trust as parents   The first thing to do is acknowledge it to each other. Try to avoid making any accusations or blaming each other and instead talk about it from your own perspectives, starting your sentences with “I feel”, rather than “You make me feel”.  Even if you’re annoyed and wound up, try to keep the resentment out of your conversation, and focus on finding solutions together. To make sure you’re more equally involved, you’re going to need to make an active decision to trust each other. Although one of you may be the primary carer in the most practical sense, you can still share most parenting responsibilities. You both deserve opportunities to bond with your baby and you’re both capable of delivering the best care. To back that up, here’s a snippet from an extensive study on mums and dads as caregivers: Both men and women seem to be equally competent caregivers and exhibit high degrees of similarity as caregivers [2]. If one of you is struggling with certain tasks, like changing nappies or putting the baby to bed, then ask the other for a demonstration – don’t just give up and fall back into the patterns you’ve developed so far. The entire family will benefit from having both of you skilled up. The more a father engages himself during the delivery and postnatal period, the stronger his attachment to the baby [3]. As with anything in life, it’s easy to lose confidence in the face of criticism. It can take a few goes to get these things right, particularly in front of someone who already does it well. Being a new parent can be a scary time, certainly in the beginning, but by trusting and encouraging each other, you can help you build this confidence together as a couple. References   [1] EHRC (2009) Research Report 15 - Work and Care: A Study of Modern Parents. Retrieved from: http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/publication/research-report-15-work-and-care-a-study-of-modern-parents [2] Kovner Kline, K. and Bradford Wilcox, W. (2014) IAV | Report: Mother Bodies, Father Bodies: How Parenthood Changes Us from the Inside Out, p. 25 [3] Litton Fox, G., Bruce, C. and Combs-Orme, T. (2000) Parenting Expectations and Concerns of Fathers and Mothers of Newborn Infants. Family Relations, 49(2), 123–31.
Article | parenting, trust, baby
4 min read
“Confronting my stepchildren's mother”
This post was published by a Click user. Please feel free to respond in the comments below. We sometimes edit posts to ensure Click is a safe, respectful place to share stories and questions. _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________   I have been in a relationship for one and a half years I am pregnant and due in July. My significant other has other children from other women (which I can handle). I have been battling with my emotions on a subject that has been haunting me for almost a year now. My hunny's ex-wife had been informed that there were bed bugs at her job the middle of last year, well i guess not thinking anything of it until her daughter (his daughter) was sleeping on the couch many months down the rd and woke up with bites all over her. Turns up she found out she had them. Not really taking any action to solve the problem, I found out and being the freak that I am about pests I tried to take every precaution that I could without saying hey well the kids cant come to the house (even though that's what I wanted to say) I didn't want to be considered the bad guy, but I also don't want the bugs at my home with my kids. Well needless to say i said how I felt numerous of times stating she needed to do something about it before it became out of hand and it spread(but nothing was really done) so now this woman has an infestation I have the bugs because of course the kids as well as her would come over to my house. I don't know how to react or what to do, I don't want my immediate family to get them. I have been spraying and reading on how to take care of the situation, but as soon as i feel like i have it somewhat under control i feel like they are just bringing more over!!!!!!! Help!!!!! Just some opinions, suggestions would be great. I have not reacted how deep down inside i would like to because i don't care for confrontation i have spoke out in a nice manner but obviously am being ignored by not only her but my boyfriend which is her ex-husband.
Ask the community | parenting, stepfamily