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'Families Under Pressure' in a post-pandemic world

While we hope we have now seen the worst of COVID-19, the emotional and behavioural challenges that arose during this unprecedented time are ongoing. As a result, the advice and support for parents provided by Families Under Pressure remains invaluable while families adjust to a post-pandemic world.

Following early concerns about the disruption to families that resulted from the first lockdown, the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), South London & Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM), and Maudsley Charity created Families Under Pressure – a series of twelve bite-sized animations designed to support families during lockdown by providing evidence-based parenting tips.

Research has now largely confirmed these concerns, finding that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to increased levels of emotional and behavioural difficulties for children. Not only did the pandemic expose children to common risk factors for mental illness, including social isolation, bereavement, and economic instability, but support services were also seriously disrupted. With the closure of schools, routines were disturbed, referrals to mental health and special educational services declined, and the opportunity to form peer relationships was lost. Parents faced new challenges in supporting their children’s mental wellbeing, as well as becoming particularly at risk for experiencing mental health difficulties themselves.

Following its launch nearly two years ago, the Families Under Pressure series received an overwhelmingly positive response, with parents appreciating the light-hearted but informative animations. It is estimated that the animations were watched by millions of parents around the world.

families under pressure still

The series is split into two parts: ‘Help with difficult behaviour’ consists of eight tips and tricks formulated by Professor Edmund Sonuga-Barke and the Pointers on Parenting Under Pressure (POP-UP) team to help parents promote good behaviour. ‘Help with negative emotions’ consists of four videos formulated by Professor Andrea Danese and colleagues at the Maudsley CAMHS Trauma, Anxiety and Depression clinic which provide tips to reduce negative emotions, such as anxiety, and boost positive emotions at home.

Professor Edmund Sonuga-Barke and Professor Andrea Danese are continuing to create effective interventions and digital support for families. Following the success of Families Under Pressure, Professor Andrea Danese collaborated with young people to create KeepCool, a series of educational videos designed to give young people a platform to share their experiences of difficult emotions and discuss how they cope with them.

The Families Under Pressure animations are now also being used in a new parenting app called Parent Positive which was created by Professor Edmund Sonuga-Barke and the SPARKLE (Supporting Parents and Kids through Lockdown Experiences) team. The app has completed its trial period and the researchers are hoping to publish the results later this year. Professor Sonuga-Barke is currently leading the OPTIMA (Online Parent Training for the Initial Management of ADHD referral) programme. As part of OPTIMA, the team are trialling STEPS (Structured E-Parenting Support), an app-based training course for parents of children with behavioural problems. He has also recently launched RE-STAR (Regulating Emotions, Strengthening Adolescent Resilience), a project which focuses on understanding and preventing the development of depression in adolescents with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Although the pandemic has been challenging for many, it has highlighted the importance of psycho-educational and digital interventions in providing support for families and young people. The emotional and behavioural impact of the pandemic on children and young people will take time to resolve, and it is crucial that resources such as Families Under Pressure continue to be distributed far and wide to reach as many families as possible.


In this story

Edmund Sonuga-Barke

Edmund Sonuga-Barke

Professor of Developmental Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience

Andrea Danese

Andrea Danese

Professor of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

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