Families under Pressure

May 2020

The Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), South London and Maudsley (SLAM) NHS Foundation Trust and Maudsley Charity have worked together to create a series of films to help families struggling under the pandemic.

‘Families Under Pressure’ is a series of twelve short films offering parenting tips featuring the recognisable voices of a host of well-known parents including Olivia Colman, Rob Brydon, Holly Willoughby, Danny Dyer, Sharon Horgan, Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill, Romesh Ranganathan, Shappi Khorsandi, Alex Jones, David Harewood, Julie Hesmondhalgh and Sandi Toksvig.

The tips are based on decades of research from the UK’s leading experts and rooted in the experience of NHS teams working with families and feedback from parents. IoPPN, SLAM and the Maudsley Charity worked with top creative agency TOAD London and animators Esther Lalanne, Aysha Tengiz, Caitlin McCarthy, Giulia Frixione, Helena Kampen, Jocie Juritz, Phoebe Halstead and Angie Phillips at Arc Studios, and Lily Shaul to turn the tips into short films. These are now available free on the Families Under Pressure website, along with resources, to provide parents and carers with tips on how to respond when children play up.

This comes after interim results from the King’s College London RAMP Study, funded by King’s Together Rapid COVID-19 call, found 70% of parents with children under the age of 16 are reporting an increase in symptoms of anxiety and depression since the COVID-19 pandemic started.

Professor Edmund Sonuga-Barke and collaborators developed the first eight tips, which were originally intended to support families dealing with pressures of ADHD and other behavioural challenges but are relevant for families facing the current challenges too. 

Professor Edmund Sonuga-Barke, Professor of Developmental Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience at King’s College London, explained: ‘We are hearing that many families are struggling with restrictions. This comes as no surprise as research shows that bored and worried children are more likely to play up and cause disruption, and frustrated parents can over-react to these challenges. Very quickly, these sorts of behaviours can escalate and lead to the breakdown of relationships and exacerbation of problems.’

He continued: ‘The idea for Families Under Pressure came when I was thinking about how my poor old mum might have coped with me in this situation, as I was quite a handful as a child. What advice would she have found helpful?’

To help parents support children with emotional symptoms, tips nine to twelve were developed by the National & Specialist CAMHS Trauma, Anxiety and Depression Clinic team at NHS Maudsley Hospital including Professor Andrea DaneseDr Patrick SmithDr Jessica RichardsonDr Zoe MaidenDr Sarah Miles; and part of the evidence base includes research by IoPPN at King’s College London. They are based on evidence-based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) principles for the treatment of anxiety and depression in young people and were released during Mental Health Awareness Week.

Professor Andrea Danese, Professor of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry at the IoPPN commented: ‘My colleagues at the Maudsley National & Specialist CAMHS Clinic for Trauma, Anxiety, and Depression and I have been concerned that children are experiencing increased levels of emotional symptoms in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and are also struggling to access support and services because of the lockdown. In response to these concerns, we have prepared a set of short animations with practical tips that parents can use to help children with emotional symptoms.’

The episodes provide advice on:

TIP 1: Keeping positive and motivated  – Academy Award-winning actor Olivia Colman explains the importance of looking after yourself and staying connected with those you love.

TIP 2: Making sure everyone knows what’s expected of them  – Actor and comedian Sharon Horgan explains how to introduce simple rules that can be applied to everyone in the household.

TIP 3: Building your child’s self-confidence and trust in you – Actor and presenter Danny Dyer talks through advice on how to ensure your children know they are valued.

TIP 4: Getting your child to follow instructions – Comedian and actor Rob Brydon provides advice on ensuring your child listens when you ask them to do something.

TIP 5: Promoting better behaviour – Athlete Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill offers advice on building good behaviour through rewards.

TIP 6: How to limit conflict – TV presenter Holly Willoughby explains how to implement a plan that will help avoid situations that can result in conflict.

TIP 7: Keeping calm when your kids act up – Comedian Romesh Ranganathan shows parents how to take a moment to collect their thoughts when things start to erupt.

TIP 8: Using sanctions carefully – Comedian and author Shappi Khorsandi explains how to deliver sanctions carefully, calmly and consistently.

TIP 9: How to communicate better with your child – Television presenter Alex Jones provides advice on active listening with your child, how to address misinformation and the importance of staying calm whilst discussing with your child.

TIP 10: Helping your child cope with anxiety – Actor David Harewood explains how to reduce your child’s unhelpful thoughts and behaviours when they’re anxious to limit their worry.

TIP 11: Helping your child manage negative feelings – Actor Julie Hesmondhalgh talks through a calming toolkit for your child and explains how to encourage children to reflect on their emotions.

TIP 12: How to boost positive emotions – Broadcaster and comedian Sandi Toksvig discusses the importance of parents being kind to themselves and building new routines when old ones are lost.

The animations are also available to view on the King’s College London YouTube channel.

Rebecca Gray, Chief Executive of Maudsley Charity, stated:  ‘Families Under Pressure brings advice from some of the UK’s leading clinical and research experts on parenting with brilliant creative partners and some of the nation’s best-loved parents. We know that many families are feeling the pressure at the moment, and these resources connect to a wider ambition we have as a charity to improve the mental health of all children and young people.’

Bruce Clark, Clinical Director Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust said in support of the project: ‘As mental health professionals, we are committed to supporting young people and their families, who we know are looking for advice and support at the moment. Parenting plays a vital role in developing resilience and good mental health in young people, and it’s vital that families have access to the right information and resources in order to do this, particularly during times of crisis. The films and website provide families with useful and practical advice that can be easily implemented at home to help support the new challenges we are all facing.’

‘Families Under Pressure’ is funded by Maudsley Charity and the first eight tips received funding from National Institute for Health Research Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre. Tips one to eight are based on ‘Pointers on parenting under pressure (POP-UP); Evidence-based support for families getting through difficult times’. Edmund Sonuga-Barke PhD FMedSci FBA (King’s College London) with Margaret Thompson MD PhD, Jana Kreppner PhD, Hanna Kovshoff PhD, Catherine Thompson MSc and Sam Cortese MD PhD (University of Southampton), David Daley PhD (University of Nottingham) and Johnny Downs MD PhD (King’s College London).

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