Written: July 2020
Although we wrote this article early on in the coronavirus pandemic, it will still be helpful for your family if you have young carers.
The pandemic has unsettled millions of households across the UK, and billions more across the world. We have all become quite accustomed to hearing a few key buzzwords, like ‘unprecedented’, ‘uncertain’, ‘moment in time’, or maybe others like ‘banana bread’ and ‘toilet paper’ will go down in the history books!
One thing for sure however, is that we recognise that the pandemic has changed family dynamics, particularly for young people who are responsible for the welfare of others. You might have heard this be referred to as ‘young carers’ - or maybe you haven’t come across this term before. This is where a child, under 18, helps to look after a relative with an illness, disability, or substance abuse problem. They might undertake tasks such as doing the shopping, picking up medicines, doing the school runs, washing, cleaning, cooking and so on, to help a parent in the household.
We know that for families who have young people with caring responsibilities, and might even be shielding during the pandemic, the pressures have greatly increased - or maybe this is you, and you are caring for another adult. We want you to know that you don’t have to deal with this alone - and at Barnardo’s, we’re committed to helping any family who might need extra support with this, however we can.
Here are some quick tips we wanted to share with you as a parent:
Small steps at a time
There’s nothing wrong with thinking big, like planning future exotic holidays for example, but in the midst of uncertainty, perhaps taking smaller steps, like taking each day at a time can help to alleviate any anxieties you might have about what the future might practically look like, especially when you are feeling really stressed. Set smaller daily goals you want to achieve, but remember, it’s okay if you don’t always get there - they can always roll over into the next day.
Make time for yourself
Parents have often told us that they have felt ‘guilty’ for making time for themselves, but we want you to know that you should never feel guilty for taking some time out to breathe, reflect and regroup if you ever feel that things might be getting too much. Your emotional wellbeing is incredibly important. You can use the controlled breathing exercise or muscle relaxation exercise from the Samaritans to help you with this.
Yep - here comes the portion of the article telling you to get your exercise in! Even if it's a stroll to the bottom of your road, if you can, it really helps both your emotional and physical health. Again, if you can't always get to it, that's totally fine - don't be hard on yourself - everything at your own pace.
It's okay to disconnect
You might have read a lot of content online which rightly talks about keeping in contact with family, friends and networks, but we also wanted to let you know that it’s totally fine to have days where you completely switch off from the wider world, and focus your attention on you and your children. Give yourself the permission to do that - you deserve it! Just remember to let your networks know you're having some time to yourself so they don’t worry.
Speaking to a young carer
We also spoke to a young carer, LJ, who shared some tips for other young people who also might have some caring responsibilities in the home - whilst some might work for your child, others might not - and that’s okay. It’s important to remember that uncertainty and change affects children differently, and as such each child will respond differently, and at their own pace. You can download LJ's infographic here. If you decide to share it with your child, ask them questions as you go, such as what they think; if they will adapt any of the tips; if they have any of their own tips; and whether they might like to create their own infographic, or express themselves in their own creative way.
There are a lot of unknowns about the future, and it’s clear that we will have to do things differently to how we done things before, which will feel really unsettling to anyone at first - which is a normal emotion to feel in such a circumstance; and it’s completely natural that such change can affect people’s emotional wellbeing, how they behave, think and act too, especially for children.
We are all living in extraordinary times, some days feeling better than others; especially when we might be feeling the effects of increased pressures inside the home. What’s important is recognising this, and reaching out to someone to get the help you and your family deserve, should you need it.
For more information on young carers, please visit our Young Carers Sub Hub.