The Current Situation
Staying at home during lockdown due to coronavirus, is putting a huge strain on all children, young people and families. If LGBT+ children and young people are also feeling unsupported, have mental health or self-esteem issues, are being bullied, or are struggling because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, this can increase the strain of life at home. Add to this any health issues, a lack of indoor or outdoor space, money worries, or general anxiety and it becomes very hard indeed.
Below is some general advice from SAYiT for parents and carers of young people during this time, including some specifics for parents and carers of LGBT+ young people.
For 10-14 year olds, just at the time when they are becoming more independent of parents and carers, they are having to endure enforced separation from friends and being ‘trapped’ with their parents or carers! Developmentally, this period is marked by a deep need to connect, belong, and fit in, as well as a need to assert autonomy, find direction, and also have fun, often involving risk taking. This inevitably will lead to conflict within the home.
For older teenagers and young people the need for independence from parents and carers increases alongside the need for privacy. Peer influence and acceptance is likely to become even more important, as may the desire for romantic and sexual relationships, again potentially leading to conflict during this time of lockdown.
Why is this?
Teenagers’ behaviour can be confusing, stressful, hurtful and often worrying. But in most cases it does not mean there is anything more serious going on than the natural process of becoming an adult – many of the common behaviour issues that parents find hard are an essential part of puberty and growing up. Body changes, growth, hormones, struggling to find an identity (particularly if they are LGBT+), pressures from friends and a developing sense of independence, mean the teenage years can be a really confusing time for your child.
It can mean they become aloof, want time alone, feel misunderstood, reject your attempts to talk or show affection, or appear grumpy, sullen, moody and uncommunicative.
If your child identifies as LGBT+ and they have been accessing support from SAYiT, this time may bring additional feelings of isolation and of not being understood. There is much you can do, however, to support your child.
Tips for supporting your child at this time
- Love, listen and accept – and know that your support and acceptance will make a huge positive impact on your child’s mental health and well-being
- Make time to exclusively listen to your child one to one, and don’t feel you have to answer, or to have the answer – 9 times out of 10 there won’t be one anyway!
- Try to be open with your child and talk together about things – ask ‘what do you need?’ ‘what can I do?’ (but be prepared that they may say ‘nothing’ – listening and asking may be enough)
- As parents we may make assumptions about our child, what’s in their best interests or what they might need – start by asking them
- Try to set aside time every night to take turns listening to each other, non-judgmentally and without interrupting
- Try to step back from the situation, and remember they have physiological and developmental reasons for behaving in ways that can be difficult to live with!
- Eating, sleeping and exercise are obviously essential for everyone, but particularly teenagers – help them to try and get enough of all three
- Boundaries and rules within the family and the house will be more important than ever – sit down together to work these out between all family members rather than impose them, but then it will be up to you to maintain and act on them – revisit them from time to time or if they are being consistently broken!
- Look for opportunities to be kind and appreciate each other. Model it yourself even if you get little in return!
- Try and cultivate a family vibe of kindness, generosity and forgiveness. For example, adopt the mantra – ‘Praise them when they are being good’!
- Let your child have privacy and alone time – and get some yourself!
- But… schedule things to do together too. Maybe watch an old TV series (with LGBT+ characters where possible) from the start again as a family activity, such as Glee Friday Night Lights, Modern Family, Will and Grace. Or try to make sure one meal a day is eaten all together if possible.
- This time could be a brilliant opportunity for young people who feel that their gender does not match with that assigned at birth, to experiment with social transition. Support them with hair change, different clothes, a different name if that is what they wish. Evidence shows that supporting your child in this way can vastly reduce mental distress relating to gender.
- You’re the adult, but guiding them through the difficult times is not easy – do not expect to enjoy your time with them all of the time!
- Remember to look after yourself………
How to look after yourself as a parent or carer
(Model these if you can and pass them on to your children):
- Be safe and stay connected – It’s more important than ever to talk and listen to each other, to share stories, grumbles and advice, and stay in touch with the people who matter to us. Talk with a partner if you have one and it feels appropriate, to get support and share how YOU are feeling. If you are on your own or you cannot talk with your partner, find someone to talk to – a friend, colleague or a professional. Lots of services are offering online support at the moment, or contact your GP.
- Take notice of things that make you feel good – such aseating healthy food and/or a treat, birdsong, flowers, painting, music, putting make up on, lighting a candle, baking, singing, using a nice soap in the shower, having a bath, laughing at a comedy show; and try and build those things into your day – EVERY day!
- Keep moving – by going out for walks, cycling or exercising indoors
- Have an information break – the endless updates from news outlets and people on social media can be completely overwhelming. Pick one trusted source of information and visit it once a day only.
- Stick to a routine – this sounds dull but it will help you get through each day. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time, eat regularly, shower, change your clothes, get some fresh air (whilst of course adhering to social distancing), book in video-chats with colleagues or friends, do your chores. Make time for fun!
- Find ways to relax and distract – you can’t be emotionally generous to anyone else when you’re not looking after yourself. Breathe deeply, consciously setting your worries aside or focusing on the moment to recharge can be helpful. Distracting yourself by watching films or TV programmes, reading or listening to music may help you to set things in context and provide relief from anxious feelings.
- It may seem like this is lasting forever, but this crisis will pass
- You might have your own survival tactics. Why not share them with us and we can share them with others.
- And finally, remember – none of us are perfect it is about doing your best – ‘good enough’ parenting and caring is the best any of us can hope for!
Where can I find more information and support?
SAYiT can offer support to parents and carers – message firstname.lastname@example.org and someone will get back to you
There are several organisations that provide emotional support and practical advice. Try:
- Family Lives is a charity specialising in supporting families. You can call their confidential helpline on 0808 800 2222 (9am to 9pm Monday to Friday, 10am to 3pm Saturday to Sunday). You can also visit their forums
- Relate offers relationship advice and counselling. You can also use Live Chat to talk to a counsellor
- Young Minds, the mental health charity, has a confidential parents’ helpline. Call them on 0808 802 5544 (9.30am to 4pm Monday to Friday)
Further reading & references: