We’re delighted that Emily from Happity is nominated for the Petition Campaign of the Year Award!
She is nominated along with James and Jessie Zammit-Garcia and Bethany Power. All four are nominated for their campaigns supporting parents in the pandemic.
Happity’s petition campaign in the pandemic
We began our campaign in May 2020. Shortly after we went into lockdown. Emily was keen to share her own experience of PND, as well as her concerns for new families during Covid – including why parent and child classes are so vital for parental mental health.
More than 70,000 people have since had their say on this issue. As a result the Committee published report was published in July 2020.
The result of this petition is that important clarifications are now added to the Covid guidance for baby and toddler groups. Finally parent and child groups have been added to the guidelines!
The response to our petition campaign
Catherine McKinnell, Chair of the Petitions Committee says:
“Because of these petitioners’ drive for change, many who otherwise might not have had the support they need will be able to access these groups. During what has been, and continues to be, an extremely challenging time for new parents.
These campaigns are a testament to the power of petitions to raise awareness of issues that might otherwise struggle to be heard in Parliament.
The nominees have each shown how to organise a successful campaign. Building on their petitions by gathering support from the wider public, charities and others who share their concerns.
I have been so impressed by our nominees’ passion, determination, and ideas. For how to tackle the problems they’ve set their minds to, and congratulate them on their achievements.”
Happity in the media
Emily spoke on BBC Radio about the award, which you can listen to here (go to 1hr 6mins).
We want to say a HUGE thank you to everyone who supported our mission to get clear guidance for baby & toddler classes. You can do a little happy dance every time you see “parent and child classes” in the Covid Roadmap. And can say “I did that!”
There will be times when your baby or toddler is clingy and demands your attention a lot. It can be tough as a parent to have a clingy toddler. It can be tiring and wearing – we’re all human after all!. Dr Zara Rahemtulla, a clinical psychologist from Gentle Journeys shares her top tips on why little ones can be clingy and how best to deal with it.
What is clinginess?
If you’ve got a clingy toddler, you’re not alone! Clinginess is extremely common and is a behaviour that all children display at some point during their development.
Examples of clinginess are: when a child cries and shouts because they have to separate from their parent (e.g. to go to nursery, or parent goes out to run errands, etc.), they want their parent’s attention more than usual, they are constantly seeking physical contact with their parent (e.g. more hugs or physical touch), they want to be in the same room as their parent all the time and/or they act younger than their age at times.
Clinginess vs Separation Anxiety Disorder
Clinginess is different from separation anxiety disorder, which is a significant fear or anxiety of strangers and the child cries inconsolably and shows extreme distress in these situations. (NICE, 2020). Mild forms of separation anxiety can occur in children and is usually something that naturally passes, however if this is prolonged and is getting in the way of your baby/child having new experiences then it is important to check this out with a health professional.
Clingy toddlers: It is developmentally normal for a child to go through?
Sometimes it can feel like there is no obvious reason for clinginess, and other times there can be clear reasons for the change in your child’s behaviour. Levels of clinginess can also be related to your child’s developmental stage; for example, children can become more clingy around 8-10 months, 2 years and 3 years old.
This is often due to them making big developmental leaps and becoming more independent in various ways. For example, around 8-10 months babies may be crawling or walking, at 2 or 3 years children often become toilet trained and around 2-3 years children may start to separate from their parents, attending nursery or pre-school. All of these events can feel exciting to a toddler, but also overwhelming and strange at the same time, which can trigger increased clinginess to their caregiver.
Another important reason why your child might become more upset when you have to leave their side is when there are significant changes to their routine or daily life. For example, the arrival of a new sibling can be a particularly big upheaval for the first born as they now have to wait longer for their parents’ attention, there is less focus on them and their needs and they have to share their parent’s love. This is a life event that takes some time to adjust to, and it is very common for toddlers to become more clingy, tearful or angry at this point.
The impact of Covid-19 and clinginess in toddlers and children
Of course the single, biggest change to our lives has been that of Covid-19. We have all had to stay at home and stop socialising. What we knew as our familiar, daily routines have been completely turned upside down. We have been at home for a year, and the idea of going out and socialising again can be both exciting and scary at the same time – for both adults and toddlers alike.
As we gradually come out of lockdown, it is normal and expected for babies and toddlers to show more clingy behaviours and become more upset or distressed when their parent(s) tries to separate from them. For those babies whom have spent over a year in the care of only their parents or a few close adults, going to a baby group, nursery or a social gathering may feel a little daunting and it will take time for them to integrate these situations into their ‘new normal’ and feel at ease within them.
Ways to support your toddler through clinginess
1. Start by leaving them with someone familiar
If you know you will be separating from your toddler soon, build up to this and start by leaving them with someone who is familiar to them. Start by leaving them for a few hours, then gradually longer, for an afternoon and then the whole day. Similarly, when at home, try popping out of the room for a very small amount of time and coming back, whilst at the same time saying “mummy is just going into the kitchen and then I will be back”. Talk to your child whilst in the kitchen so they know you are still there.
2. Talk to your child beforehand
No matter what age they are, always try and talk to your child about what will happen, before you are due to leave them. This gives them time to process what will be happening and ask questions or get reassurance from you before they separate from you. Bringing up the topic a week in advance and then mentioning what will happen in the few days running up to the event will help children prepare.
For example, “tomorrow mummy is going to be out for the day and grandma will be looking after you. She is going to play with you lots while mummy goes out. Then I will come back and make your dinner and put you to bed”. Giving children a reference point to when you will be back is really important. If they know that you will be back at dinner time, they will hold this in their mind.
3. Do not sneak out on your child
It can be tempting to sneak out and avoid saying goodbye to your little one when you leave. Letting them know you are going and will be coming back is so important to them so they can hold this in their mind while you are away. If they don’t get to say goodbye to you they will be wondering where you are, why you left and if you are coming back, which can distress them even further.
4. Don’t dismiss or ignore their clinginess
Dismissing or ignoring your child’s plea for you will actually just make their clinginess worse. This is because clinginess is triggered when a child is feeling more vulnerable or less confident, therefore they need the extra support and acknowledgement from their caregivers at this time. Giving them those extra cuddles, instead of pushing them away, will actually reassure them and give them more confidence in the long run, leading them to be less clingy!
5. Use a transitional object
A transitional object is an object that your child can have in replace of you while you are gone. It is often an object that smells of you, so your child can be comforted and reminded of you if they miss you. A scarf, t-shirt or another item that has your scent is useful here.
6. Use games and play
Play is such an important tool for children. They will often ‘play out’ their difficulties or worries and this can be really cathartic for them. For example, it might be peek-a-boo for your 10 month old helps them establish when mummy/daddy disappears she/he comes back, or your toddler pretending to be a baby helps them come to terms with jealous feelings about a new sister or brother arriving and sharing their parent(s).
7. Listen and acknowledge their feelings
Your child may tell you with their cries or words that they don’t want to leave you. One of the most helpful things you can do to help a clingy toddler is genuinely listen to your child as they express themselves to you, and acknowledge their experience. Their feelings are so big for them in these moments, but research has shown that when a child’s feelings can be heard and empathised with by their caregiver, feelings of distress do decrease. If you can get down on your child’s level, touch them in a gentle way and say, “you really don’t want mummy to go. I understand darling. It is hard to leave mummy/daddy sometimes”, “you’re feeling so sad that mummy has to go out. You will miss me. It’s normal to feel like this.”
8. Being aware and managing your own response
Try to make saying goodbye to your child a positive experience, however worried or sad you might be feeling about your child’s tears. By giving your child a positive experience of a goodbye and reunion they will remember this and feel more confident during the next separation. Perhaps separations are tricky for you as a parent in some way and this might be important to reflect on, so you can be aware when these feelings arise for you.
If you feel like you would like more support with understanding your child’s clinginess, or you have worries about separating from your child, please get in touch with us at Gentle Journeys, www.gentlejourneys.org. Instagram Gentle_Journeys or Facebook GentleJourneys
Parenting in the pandemic has had a huge impact on thousands of new parents. Feelings of isolation and loneliness have been heightened. And, for many it has a negative impact on their mental health. Dr Kerri Walster, from Gentle Journeys, wanted to share some current themes amongst parents embarking on motherhood and suggest some ways of overcoming challenges.
A ‘double-lockdown’ for new mothers
Becoming a parent under the most optimal conditions can raise feelings of loneliness, identity loss, and uncertainty about how to care for this little life in front of you.
Embarking on maternity leave, with friends perhaps in different life stages, we can naturally become more isolated. A walk in the park or a trip to the shops may be a weekly highlight. You may breathe a sigh of relief when your partner returns home in the evening to assist with bath time.
Here we are faced with parenting in a pandemic. We are being told to ‘stay at home’, bombarded with news headlines on the dangers of contracting Coronavirus, and perhaps it all feels a bit overwhelming and stressful.
The common feelings women experience when having a baby are inevitably intensified in the current context. One way to think about this is it has been a ‘double lockdown’ for new mothers – with the confinement that pregnancy may include, alongside the national rules and restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus.
This increases the number of parents struggling with mental health difficulties and loneliness.
The impact of Covid-19 on new parents
The Children’s Commissioner (2020) released a paper citing approximately 1,688 babies are born in the UK each day. Over one hundred thousand babies have been born during lockdown and many parents are adjusting to the psychological, emotional and physical challenges.
A decrease in support
Services that were once available to support women are being facilitated online, paused or reduced. Typically one in five mothers and one in ten fathers can experience perinatal mental health difficulties (Bauer, et al., 2016).
Redeployed midwives, online health visiting appointments and closed children’s centres have restricted typical discussions and opportunities for reassurance.
According to a new UK study of six hundred women with babies up to twelve weeks old, forty three per cent met criteria for clinical depression and sixty one per cent for anxiety (Fallon & Harrold, 2021). This is in comparison to twenty per cent of women meeting criteria for anxiety and depression in typical circumstances.
An increase in loneliness
Figures from a study in lockdown found parental loneliness was more common in deprived locations, with 13% feeling lonely often or always, nearly three times more than the 5% indicated in the least deprived areas (Guardian, 2020).
Hospitals adapting to keep wards safe has meant many partners have not been allowed to be present until the end of the labour and the first few hours of the baby’s life.
As such, women have been left to labour without their birthing partner for many hours, making childbirth a very different experience to the one they had hoped for. Parents giving birth have reflected on reduced or overwhelmed staff, unconsidered birth plans, delays to discharge, and less support post birth such as with breast feeding.
Working clinically as a psychologist, it is notable that there has been an increase in post-traumatic stress relating to birth experiences. Researchers have previously described the negative impact traumatic births can have on the mother-infant relationship, including feelings of rejection from the mother towards her baby increasing over time (Ayers et al., 2006; Kendall-Tackett and Barnes, 2014).
From Alloparenting to Alone Parenting in the pandemic
There is a term, ‘alloparenting’, which captures how as humans we have evolved to raise children in groups, such as with immediate or extended family, friends, and local communities. ‘Allo’ has greek roots in meaning ‘other’.
In the study of Hadza, a hunter gatherer group in Tanzania, in times of food shortages children were likely to survive when they had grandmothers on hand, as mothers could leave their infants to forage for food and return to breast feed (Hawkes and Coxworth, 2013).
It takes a village to raise a child
Societies vary in the amount of alloparenting used, but in some form it appears to be universal. In Efe society, babies are said to be transferred between eight people in an average hour (Tronick et al., 1987). Studies have identified that for first-time mothers, social support has a significant impact, particularly for those affected by low parental self-efficacy (Shorey et al., 2013).
Self efficacy is of huge significance as it is the belief or confidence in one’s own capacity to carry out behaviours or perform as required. Peer support groups, or problem solving with family members, help to boost confidence and normalise experiences. Here, comments like “my baby only sleeps three hours at night too” can be natural remedies for over coming low moments in parenting.
The pandemic has heightened our instinct to protect our babies
The presence of Covid-19 jars with the maternal instinct to protect. Seeing people with masks and adhering to social distancing triggers an adrenaline response, eliciting fight, flight and freeze reactions.
Many women may have struggled to leave the house. We know that when a mother holds, feeds, or has skin to skin contact with their baby, oxytocin is released; this is partly how parents love and bond with their babies. This is reciprocal, leading to mutual feelings in the baby (Music, 2017). The capacity to bond with a baby is increased when mothers feel emotionally safe and cared for, reducing the chance of postnatal depression (Sockol et al., 2013). It is worth noting that bonding is not a linear process – it is a gradual, circular process, helped by supportive others.
When partners return to work, it is typically overwhelming and daunting, but this is now coupled with limitations on other support systems. Spending a lot of time at home and enhanced emotions may have triggered relationship tension.
Mums have been feeling guilty
Guilty feelings about your baby’s first few months of life not being as they should may also be commonplace. For those women coming to the end of their maternity leave, there may be grievances about the lost time, outings and family contact. Because of this context, it might be harder to connect with resentment and frustration that can come up in relation to parenting. For instance, breast feeding can be idealised as a time of closeness and intimacy, but it can also be a sacrificing and relentless process that women do have to do alone.
Positives about parenting in the pandemic
Some women have reported positives relating to the pandemic. For instance, partners working from home are able to spend more time with the baby, and relatives not working can help in significant moments. The new formats of online classes may have allowed women to attend a postnatal yoga class whilst their baby sleeps. Although online baby classes may have limitations, such as reduced opportunities for socialising with someone other than a baby, some have enjoyed the convenience of not having to travel to join baby massage and sensory time. Some have appreciated the slower pace of life during the pandemic. It could feel a little too early to think of the light at the end of the tunnel, however, vaccination programmes, and talk of reduced lockdown measures glimmers a sense of hopefulness.
6 top tips to support mums in a pandemic
1. Keep in mind there is no such thing as perfect parenting
You are learning as you go. Try not to compare yourself to friends or others, who may have had a very different set of circumstances and a baby with a different temperament to yours. Aim to be a good enough parent in those early few months. Being a parent is a huge learning curve particularly in a pandemic with reduced support. Feelings of loneliness and uncertainty are bound to come up
2. Trust your instincts
if you notice a problem, try not to put off seeing the doctor, phoning the midwife, or going to the hospital. Your needs, and your baby’s, are important and you may need to advocate for these. Sore nipples or breasts, or reductions in your baby’s weight are important to check out. You are never wasting professionals time, they are there to help.
3. Look after yourself in order to look after your baby
Eating and drinking plenty, taking a moment of self care when your baby sleeps to have a cup of tea or a bath are ways of replenishing. This is so you have that needed strength to tend to your baby. Try and be open with friends, family and partner about how you feel. Sharing can help even if the context around you has not shifted remarkably. If you had a difficult birth experience, like many women in the pandemic, it helps to process this through talking about it, reflecting on your feelings and what the significant moments were for you. If this still feels challenging after talking, do seek some professional advice
4. Make the most of outdoor walks and online activities
It is helpful for both to go out for a walk to break up the day. You can say hello to other parents or smile – this may invite socially distanced chatter or feeling shared parenthood in passing. Delaying going out may invite a cycle of avoidance where it becomes even harder to go out in the longterm. Online classes can add variation and a structure to the day until those valued in-person classes resume. Make use of your social bubble with friends/relatives and if they come over, don’t feel you have to look after them, allow them to look after you.
5. Limit your time scrolling social media
Try not to spend too much time on social media or googling headlines. Anxiety can have a rippling effect and excessive internet scrolling can enhance rather than alleviate feelings.
6. Practice positive affirmations
Develop some positive statements to tell yourself which can help you in new parenthood e.g. “I am doing everything I can to nurture, care for and look after my baby”. “I am strong, calm and confident”. Even if you do not feel this way at the time, these statements shape the stories we hold about ourselves and can reframe how we feel.
Where to turn for help
If you would like more support with how you are feeling, or in processing your birth or early motherhood experiences, please get in touch with Gentle Journeys. We offer support with parental mental health and well being and have specialist training in this area. You can follow Gentle Journeys on Instagram.
Ayers, S., Eagle, A., & Waring, H. (2006). The effects of childbirth-related post-traumatic stress disorder on women and their relationships: a qualitative study. Psychology, health & medicine, 11(4), 389-398.
Bauer, A., Knapp, M., & Parsonage, M. (2016). Lifetime costs of perinatal anxiety and depression. Journal of affective disorders, 192, 83-90.
Fallon, V., Davies, S. M., Silverio, S. A., Jackson, L., De Pascalis, L., & Harrold, J. A. (2021). Psychosocial experiences of postnatal women during the COVID-19 pandemic. A UK-wide study of prevalence rates and risk factors for clinically relevant depression and anxiety. Journal of psychiatric research.
Guardian, Hill, A. (2020, November 27). Kate warns of impact on children of parents’ lockdown loneliness.
Hawkes, K., & Coxworth, J. E. (2013). Grandmothers and the evolution of human longevity: a review of findings and future directions. Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews, 22(6), 294-302.
Kendall-Tackett, K. (2014). Birth trauma: the causes and consequences of childbirth-related trauma and PTSD. In Women’s Reproductive Mental Health Across the Lifespan (pp. 177-191). Springer, Cham.
Music, G. (2017) Nurturing natures: Attachment and children’s emotional, sociocultural and brain development. Psychology Press.
Shorey, S., Chan, S. W. C., Chong, Y. S., & He, H. G. (2015). A randomized controlled trial of the effectiveness of a postnatal psychoeducation programme on self‐efficacy, social support and postnatal depression among primiparas. Journal of advanced nursing, 71(6), 1260-1273.
Sockol, L. E., Epperson, C. N., & Barber, J. P. (2013). Preventing postpartum depression: a meta-analytic review. Clinical psychology review, 33(8), 1205-1217.
The Children’s Commissioner (2020, May). Lockdown babies: Children born during the coronavirus crisis.
As soon as we become parents we can be vulnerable and feel our anxiety rising. As wonderful as it is to give birth and bring a new baby into the world, it can be scary too. And it can feel overwhelming at times. Here are some practical ways you can manage your anxiety when it hits you. Simple and actionable ways you can feel calmer and more in control.
Parents are feeling anxiety three times more since we experienced the first lockdown and the start of the pandemic a year ago. But anxiety has been felt by parents since the dawn of time and we are no strangers to it. However, if it increases, it can present mental and physical health problems, which is an additional threat to our children too. So finding ways to manage anxiety has never been more important for us and also our families.
So what is anxiety and how can we manage it?
Believe it or not, anxiety is a normal part of us. It’s there to keep us safe when we think or experience something is going to happen. I like to think of my anxiety like an inner lioness. A fierce protector that is getting me into high alert should I need to defend myself or my children. However, she is hyper vigilant and often appears when I don’t actually need her. So those thoughts that tell me there is danger (or has been), may not be so realistic. But my lioness doesn’t differentiate between fact and imagination, and by realising that, we are able to take the first steps to tame her.
In essence, if we can welcome anxiety and see it for what it is, it often lessens as soon as we do so. By recognising anxiety for what it is, we in effect, take back a smidgen of control and can process in a more healthy way. Once we see anxiety for what it is; our inner protector, we can take steps to become more rational-minded and calm again.
So what does anxiety feel like?
Often anxiety feels like a racing heart, a tight chest, sweaty palms, dry mouth and a feeling of wanting to run, hide or an inability to think clearly. It is triggered by a thought, or by an experience. Once we notice it, we can take steps to master it, although at first, we may have an inner experience that would have us believe it’s the other way around (it is master of us!).
As with everything in life, if we practice it enough, it becomes habit. So here are my top tips to practice when you are feeling fine as well as when you start to notice anxiety standing guard and creeping into your thoughts and feelings.
5 steps to manage your anxiety
Notice the thought/anxiety – Say to yourself “I notice that I am having the thought that…. or “I notice I am feeling…”.
Name it – This is anxiety/anger/frustration/fear, etc.
Ground yourself with a hand on heart anchor – Cross your arms around your chest – really allow yourself to feel held. Say to yourself “I am held, I am safe” . Take as long as you need until you feel your calm mode kicking in. Visualise being held and safe too.
Breathe – Take 5 deep breaths in through your nose and out of your mouth – with a longer exhale. Think about the oxygen coming in, and the stress going out…
Affirm – Say to yourself: “These are just thoughts and I know my reality is…. It will be okay/ I know I can do this / I am safe”
If you can, get used to this when you are feeling normal, so that you can be conditioned to spring from anxious to calm when you really need to. But also, practice befriending your inner protector, as you never know when you really will need it and it’s there to guard you and keep you safe.
If you would like to know more about my work as The Mamma Coach and how I can support you 1:1 or with Beyond Birth: A Mindful Guide to Early Parenting and the groups and Mental Wellbeing Practitioner Training, then please see the website www.themammacoach.com or get in touch with me here [email protected]
Are you worried about how lockdown is affecting your baby or toddler’s mental health? If so, you’re not alone.
Recently there was a viral video of a little girl walking along the street, stopping every few steps to ‘clean her hands’. It had the caption: ‘When your first year of life is 2020 was all about HAND SANITIZING’.
She’s adorable, as toddlers are when they copy what they see Mummy or Daddy do in their play. The video taps into one of the biggest things parents worry about right now, which is how growing up in a pandemic will affect our babies and toddlers.
Growing up in this ‘new normal’
The world our babies and toddlers are growing up in one where adults wear masks and keep their distance. It’s a world based within their own homes, where they only have their parents for company: a world where they only see Grandma and Grandad on Zoom or through a window.
In many ways it is one of the invisible costs of the pandemic. Will growing up in this strange new ‘normal’ have a lasting effect on our baby or toddler’s development and mental health?
Mums and dads are feeling the stress too
Living through a pandemic has taken its toll on us all. Some days feel OK but others feel rubbish.
Parental guilt is not a new thing. Right now we are feeling it in spades, worrying about whether our children will pick up on our anxiety and if it will it damage them?
We always urge mums and dads to banish any guilt they feel. Right now – that’s even more important.
One of the best things we can do to help our children is to take care of ourselves and make sure we are OK. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed at times. So when you do, take time to escape in whatever way you can. That might be taking a few deep breaths. Or it might be carving out time in your day to unwind in whatever way you can.
Emily Tredget, from Team Happity says:
It is important to remember that in keeping our babies healthy and well, we need to first remember to keep ourselves healthy and well. Often we forget about ourselves, but like on an airplane, we need to put our oxygen mask on first.
Your baby and toddler’s mental health
Little ones don’t have the vocabulary or the emotional maturity to explain their feelings. Often they show you their feelings through their behaviour.
You are enough!
One of the most important things to remember is that you are the centre of your baby or child’s world. Your love, time and attention is what they need. And it’s what will make them thrive.
Lockdown days have a peculiar sense of time. Spending it together can benefit your child.
You are enough. None of us expected to be parenting in a pandemic and we have to be kind to ourselves.
Top tips to help support your baby & toddler with their mental health:
When you pass people in the street on your daily walk say ‘Hello’, smile and wave. Chances are they’ll greet you back. Even though we’re all keeping a distance you will be teaching your child to welcome the people they meet in their day to day lives and showing them how friendly they are.
Welcome everyone who knocks on your door with a big smile and tell your child who they are and why they are at your door – whether it’s the postman delivering letters or the delivery man dropping off food. Even in a mask and at a safe distance they will more than likely enjoy getting such a warm welcome and chat to your little one.
Your baby or toddler often shows their feelings in their play. Watch what they do and join in. For example, if your toddler pretends a toy cat or dog is sad and needs care, get down and play along with them – talking about how the toy is feeling and how you both can help them feel better.
Verbalise their feelings. If your child is sad or withdrawn put their feelings into words. This shows that you understand and care. For example you might say: ‘I can see you feel cross right now because we can’t go out and play. Why don’t we choose a jigsaw or toy to play with together?’
Talk about the people you see in books and on TV. Focusing on how friendly they are and talking about all the kind people we meet, who help us.
Show your child photos of their extended family. Babies and toddlers are drawn to faces and can recognise them if you show them often. Say the names of your family as you point to the photos. Your baby and child might not get much out of a Zoom call or Facetime with Gran and Grandad but it’s another way of showing them the faces that will be an important part of their lives.
Join in online baby & toddler classes. We KNOW they’re not the same as face to face classes but they are the next best thing in lockdown. And your baby or toddler will be super engaged and love them. They also break up the long and lonely lockdown days for you too. Find loads to choose from and book them on Happity.