How do care providers’ view and experience supporting people with a learning difficulty and dementia?

Dr Daniel Herron

Dr Daniel Herron discusses his recent research findings on supporting people with an intellectual disability and dementia.

Why is it important?

Supporting the changing needs and increasing dependency of someone with a learning difficulty (also known as learning disability or intellectual disability) and dementia can be challenging for carers and may impact on their wellbeing. Our own study (see Herron & Priest, 2013) has demonstrated carers’ lack of knowledge and understanding of the symptoms and progression of dementia, which may contribute to delay in referral to services, diagnosis, post‐diagnosis support and planning for life with dementia.

It is of the utmost importance that carers’ own needs are planned for and met. In reality, this may not be the case. To address the dual needs of learning difficulties and dementia, and to ensure carers are appropriately supported, some UK NHS services have developed specialised Learning Difficulty Dementia Care Pathways (LDDCPs), where existing learning difficulty staff are employed specifically in multidisciplinary teams to provide services for those service users developing dementia alongside their other non‐dementia services. We know little of how carers’ experience supporting people with a learning difficulty and dementia, and the role of LDDCPs. Therefore, this study aimed to:

  • Explore family and paid carers’ views and experiences of supporting someone with a learning difficulty and dementia.
  • Explore the role of healthcare professionals and support systems, with a focus on one Learning Difficulty Dementia Care Pathway, in the support of family and paid carers and people with a learning difficulty and dementia.

This is the first study to explore family carers, paid carers, and healthcare professionals’ views of the role of a LDDCP.

What did our research involve?

We recruited two family carers, eight paid carers and eight healthcare professionals (six DCP healthcare professionals [including a psychiatrist, community nurses and an occupational therapist] and two working in a housing and care organization [community nurses]). All participants took part in at least one interview each and were asked about their experiences and views of supporting someone with a learning difficulty and dementia, and the role of an LDDCP.

I worked closely with people with a learning difficulty to develop material for this study, which helped the study to reflect their own questions.

Stock image of 2 people talking (https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-men-having-conversation-935949/)

What were the main findings?

We used Constructivist Grounded Theory to thoroughly analyse what participants were telling us in interviews. Several findings were developed from the data.

The difficulty of obtaining a timely diagnosis and its impact on care

There were many factors which contributed to a lengthy, challenging diagnosis process which was underpinned by uncertainty for people with a learning difficulty and their carers. It was common for people to initially attribute any dementia-related changes to the person’s learning difficulty rather than dementia:

…it’s hard to know whether it’s just a problem with their [learning] difficulty…or it’s the start of dementia. I think we had a few years where we were very unsure. (Robin, Family Carer)

Carers’ lack of knowledge of the symptoms and signs of dementia also meant it was not until the later stages of dementia until a referral was made to the LDDCP.

There are many conditions which may mimic some of the symptoms of the dementia, making it a challenge to provide certainty of the underlying cause. At the time of this study, the LDDCP used a reactive approach to the assessment of dementia, which relied on carers and others noticing changes (something they found challenging), and then referring the person to the LDDCP for an assessment. However, reactive assessments may reduce the reliability and usefulness of assessments when baseline information (from when the person is healthy) is not available to compare the assessments against (BPS & RCP, 2015; McKenzie, Metcalfe, Michie, & Murray, 2018). Consequently, within the LDDCP, as baseline assessments had not been proactively obtained, it was sometimes difficult to make a clear diagnosis of dementia

The need for inclusive support

The participants highlighted the importance of meeting the person’s needs through a person-centred approach. However, not all carers found it easy to understand and implement the principles and approaches advocated within dementia support, which sometimes contradicted the support they provided to people with a learning difficulty:

…Coming from a learning difficulty background, when somebody believes or thinks something that’s not true, you try to explain to somebody that it’s not true…it kind of goes against the grain [not correcting person]…that’s a totally different way of supporting somebody…it’s something I found quite hard. (Glen, Paid Carer)

Paid carers were able to draw on a range of formal (LDDCP) and informal (peers) support which alleviated their burden and enabled them to provide the necessary dementia support. In contrast, family carer participants highlighted their challenges with accessing of formal support (LDDCP) and relied heavily on their other family members to share the burden.

Stock image of two women on a beach (https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-standing-beside-woman-on-white-wooden-chair-facing-body-of-water-160767/)

Carer knowledge and training needs

Effective dementia care relied on understanding both dementia and learning difficulty. Carers and healthcare professionals illustrated the importance of proper training. Though paid carers had a developing understand of dementia care, prior to training they had poor knowledge of dementia and dementia care, and how this translated into caring for the person’s dementia needs; this had implications for support:

I didn’t understand much about dementia…in our heads it was just something that happened to old people, not younger people with learning disability and Down syndrome…I think we just managed. (Glen, Paid Carer)

Family carers, who had no support from the LDDCP, had a poorer understanding of dementia, which was reflected in their sometimes lack of understanding of how to appropriately care for their family member’s dementia needs.

Achieving “ageing in place”

Those providing care felt that the wellbeing of the person with a learning difficulty and dementia was best achieved by adapting care to the individual’s changing needs within their own home- this is referred to as ageing in place (Watchman, 2008). Participants had a strong commitment, strengthened by their close relationship the person, to ensuring they remained within their home for as long as possible, and felt that moving the individual would have a negative impact of the person’s wellbeing:

…it’s not home for them [dementia home]…they’ve all said it would have such a dramatic negative effect on their well‐being, it’s likely to increase the deterioration. (Pat, Paid Carer).

There was recognition that keeping the individual in their home was not always possible, and there may be times when the individual would need to be moved, to ensure their wellbeing. Without the necessary support, family carers did not feel they had the ability to safely support their family member in their home, and had to move them into a residential home with 24-hour support:

It was the best thing for them, you know. [Family member] was much better off. (Robin, Family Carer)

Stock image of two people walking (https://pixabay.com/photos/dependent-dementia-woman-old-age-441408/)

What are the recommendations of this study

  • There is a need for local health services to develop inclusive specialized learning difficulty Dementia Care Pathways.
  • There is the need to development of a comprehensive, accessible training package, which is informed by the study findings and the concept of person‐centred care (Brooker & Latham, 2016; Kitwood, 1997).
  • Organizations and services need to address the reactive culture that is sometimes seen and implement processes for effective dementia care planning.
  • To better ensure a reliable, timely diagnosis and early dementia care planning, there is a need for a combination of reactive assessments, proactive baselining and screening, and associated guidance.

If you would like to discuss any of this blog and/or my paper further, please do contact me at daniel.herron1@staffs.ac.uk or on Twitter @DannyLeeHerron


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How do teachers perceive and respond to cyberbullying in the school environment?

Our Peter Macaulay writes about his recent publication on cyberbullying, looking at teachers’ perceptions of its severity and publicity, and how these influence their intervention behaviour in the school environment.

Why is this important?

Bullying in the school environment is a challenge that teachers have been expected to address within their role. There are growing fears about the rise of cyberbullying and its impact on children. My article in The Conversation suggests that children need help dealing with it and teachers have a role in addressing the issue.

The aim of this study is to explore teachers’ perceptions towards cyberbullying, specifically addressing the roles of publicity and severity. This is the first known study to address teachers’ perceptions in this area.

What did our research involve?

We recruited teachers from 10 schools in England, across primary (5 focus groups, 31 teachers), secondary (2 focus groups, 11 teachers), and college (3 focus groups, 21 teachers) educational levels. A total of 63 teachers (10 males) participated across the 10 focus groups.

The focus groups explored teachers’ perceptions and responses towards cyberbullying, particularly around the roles of publicity and severity in cyberbullying. Prompt questions included: ‘Would you respond differently depending on how severe the cyberbullying act was, and why would you respond that way?’ and ‘What circumstances would you be more likely to intervene in an act of cyberbullying?’. 


What were our main findings?

Three themes were identified from the reflexive thematic analysis: (a) role of severity, (b) differential roles of publicity, and (c) bystander intentions.

Theme 1: Role of Severity

We found teachers perceived visual acts of cyberbullying as more severe, although the content of the act was more important in determining perceived severity.

“I think if it’s relentless as well. If it’s happened over and over again, then that would be treated more seriously than if somebody had said one comment, it’s still bad, but if its, more relentless then its more severe” (P7, focus group 4)

Differences in reported management strategies according to the type of cyberbullying was also suggested by primary school teachers.

“There’s a difference, text-messaging, in which we would meet and do a cyberbullying session and have a chat. But then that’s different to a photo being sent over which is sexually explicit and actually needs a criminal investigation as well” (P6, focus group 5)

3 people looking and smiling at content on a phone from pexels

Theme 2: Differential Roles of Publicity

We found that teachers tailored their response strategies across levels of publicity, using discussion-based solutions for private incidents compared to whole school strategies (e.g., assemblies) for cyberbullying incidents of wider publicity.

“[Public] has the potential to literally go viral and to go global, but a WhatsApp message between six friends, its semi-public. But, but more containable. Somebody would have to step outside of that and share it elsewhere, to become more public” (P5, focus group 2)

Although some primary teachers respond immediately to public acts of cyberbullying due to the wider audience and potential impact for the victim, other teachers suggested cyberbullying perpetrated privately is just as important to address.

“Yeah, I was just thinking like it might be a bit more, deep-seated if it’s just between the two people and you might need to unpick it a bit more than something as obvious as like a group and everybody’s just joined in, jumped on the bandwagon” (P2, focus group 4)

Theme 3: Bystander Intentions

We found that while most teachers recognised the propensity for negative or positive bystander intentions when victims are targeted in the public domain, primary teachers suggested the challenge to support victims targeted privately.

“Although, if its private it’s just between them, those two individuals, then nobody else knows about it. If its public, yes, you’ve got lots of negative from other people but there’s also the option to have support from other people as well. Whereas if it’s just you and them, nobody else might know about it, nobody’s there to help you” (P3, focus group 5)


What do the findings mean for implications?

  1. Our findings suggest those in the educational community responsible for addressing cyberbullying should take a more cautious approach when interpreting cyberbullying.
  2. They also suggest that schools need to ensure all teachers respond to cyberbullying immediately, through appropriate reporting mechanisms. Teachers should also review the contextual information when managing different types of cyberbullying behaviours.
  3. Our findings suggest a need for strategies to mobilise bystander support in the online environment.

The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Theory of Mind experiments to do at home with your children

Last week Dr Sarah Rose, course leader for BSc Psychology and Child Development Award blogged about recreating some of the Piagetian Experiments with her children.

This week they have been having a go at some Theory of Mind tasks. These tasks are particularly suitable for children between the ages of about 3- and 7-years-old. We would love to hear how your children got on with these experiments, please tweet us @StaffsPsych or add your comments to this post!

Background

Psychologists are interested in how humans make sense of the world, this includes how they make sense of what others think. This ability to theorise and predict what someone else might be thinking develops with age and is called ‘Theory of Mind’.

This skill of predicting what another person may desire, believe, or feel usually develops between 3 and 7 years of age. The more psychologists have studied the development of theory of mind the more they have realised that it is not a single skill, instead it is a series of complex skills which develop over time.


False Belief Task 1: Sally and Ann

First we have had a go at recreating some of the classic Theory of Mind tasks testing ‘false beliefs’. These tasks require a child to understand that others may not have knowledge that they do, and which is correct. Therefore, they are called ‘false belief’ tasks as they require the child to recognise that someone else may have a ‘false belief’ about a situation.

One of the most famous of these false belief tasks is the story about two dolls, Sally and Anne:

Sally has a marble which she puts in a basket. She then goes on a walk. While she is on the walk Anne moves the marble to a box. Sally comes back from her walk and the child is asked where Sally will look for her marble.

To ‘pass’ this task the child needs to respond that Sally will look in the basket as she doesn’t know that the marble has been moved to the box.

Both my 4- and 6-year old seemed to enjoy this and found it relatively easy. If you would like to see the videos do have a look here. I used a paper prompt for the story about Sally and Anne, if you look on google you will find a few to choose from.


False Belief Task 2: Smarties Tube

Other versions of the false belief task have also been developed. Probably the most famous of these is the Smarties tube task. In this a child is shown a smarties tube (or some other familiar container, we used a pencil box).

The child is asked what they think is inside, as long as you have chosen something the child is familiar with, they should give you the expected answer, e.g. Smarties (or in my case pencils).

However, what the child doesn’t know is that prior to the experiment you have taken the expected contents out and replaced them with something unexpected! You then show the child the unexpected contents, this often gives them a good giggle. Then you close the container again and ask them what someone else, who hasn’t seen inside the container, would think was inside.

My 6-year old really enjoyed this task as he found it very funny. My 4-year old was a little more confused by it though (video can be found here). She thought that Nana would think there were sweeties in the pencil box! I did wonder if this might reflected the box that I had chosen as maybe she thought Nana would not be familiar with the box and therefore that it contained pencils Alternatively, maybe there is something about this task that she just found more difficult than the task about Sally and Anne?


Diverse Desire Task

Since the development of the false belief tasks it has become recognised that these tasks test just one aspect of Theory of Mind. If we are interested in children’s understanding of the minds of others, then we need more tasks as people’s minds are very complex. We need tasks that test children’s understanding of different types of thoughts, not just someone’s knowledge and beliefs.

One of these more recent tasks has been designed to test children’s understanding that the likes and desires of others may differ to their own. To test this, you will need a picture of two possible snacks (we used pictures of a cookie and a carrot) and a soft toy who can be the character in the story.
Now you are ready to engage in the following conversation with your child.

  • Here are two different snacks, a carrot, and a cookie (show them the pictures). Which would you like best?
  • Here is Farmer Tom (the name of the toy we used), and it is his snack time!
  • Farmer Tom really likes (opposite to what child said). He does not like (what the child says), he likes (opposite to what the child said).
  • So now it is snack time, Farmer Tom can choose what he would like to eat. Which snack will they choose, a cookie or a carrot?

To ‘pass’ this task the child needs to choose the snack for the toy character that the character likes – rather than the one that they would choose. Both of my children found this quite easy, you can see them having a go here. I was not surprised by this as understanding of diverse desires has been found to be one of the first Theory of Mind skills to develop, usually before the understanding of false belief


Real – Apparent Emotion Task

As well has having beliefs and desires we have emotions too. Some more recent Theory of Mind tasks, such as this story about Sam have aimed to investigate children’s understanding of the emotions that another person might feel and show – and that these may not always be the same as people can try and hide their emotions.

To test this understanding of emotion you will need a couple of paper props: a silhouette, or outline of a boy, and three face emojis (happy, neutral and sad). Make sure that your child is confident about the feelings that each of three faces represent and introduce the silhouette of the boy explaining that it is ‘Sam’ the boy in the story that you are about to read.

Now you are ready to read the story:

This story is about Sam. I am going to ask you some questions about how Sam is feeling, how he is really feeling on the inside, and how he looks on his face. He might feel one way inside but look a different way on his face. I want you to tell me how he really feels inside AND then how he looks on his face, okay?

  • Sam’s friends were playing together and telling jokes.
  • One of the older children, Rosie, told a mean, unkind joke about Sam and everyone laughed.
  • Everyone thought it was very funny but Sam didn’t.
  • But he didn’t want the other children to see how he felt about the joke, so Sam tried to hide how he felt.
  • So, how do you think Sam felt on the inside when everyone else laughed at the joke?
  • AND how did Sam try to look on his face?

To pass this test children need to recognise that although Sam felt sad inside, he tried to disguise his feelings by looking neutral or happy. I was surprised at how easy both of my children found this task as understanding of emotion has generally been found to be one of the later Theory of Mind skills to develop. This led me to wonder whether maybe taking the ‘test’ in a familiar environment with a familiar adult who they are used to listening to made it easier for them to pass the test?


Finally, some reflections on these tests…

Although the theory of mind tasks are tests of social cognition they also require good language skills as children really have to listen and understand what you are saying otherwise they would be likely to give the wrong answers. I think, like the Piagetian tasks I wrote about last week, that when we are able to present these tasks in a child friendly way that makes sense to the child we may find that some abilities develop slightly sooner than the theorist originally thought. These reminds us how important the environment and context is for children, if they feel comfortable and relaxed they may be better able to show us their true cognitive abilities.

Let us know what you think!


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Experiences of lockdown during Covid-19: Recruiting for an online research study

Dr Jade Elliott and Dr Amy Burton would like to invite you to participate in a research project that is being conducted in the department of Psychology at Staffordshire Univeristy.

As a thank you, participants who complete the study will be entered into a prize draw to win one of 2 x £50 Amazon gift vouchers.

The research team are interested in the experiences of individuals (aged 18 years or over) during the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions that have been imposed across the UK.

The research will involve providing some information about yourself, answering a questionnaire online about your wellbeing and coping, before taking photographs (using a phone or digital camera) over one week that represent your experiences of life during the Covid-19 pandemic.

You will be asked to choose and send 4-7 of these photographs to the research team and complete a further questionnaire about your wellbeing.

A selection of participants will subsequently be invited to have an interview with a member of the research team to talk about your photographs and develop an understanding of your experiences.

To get further information and take part in this study please click: covid19 photo study. If you have any questions about the research, please contact the research team at covid19photostudy@staffs.ac.uk

Opportunity for Band 6 Health Psychology Trainee at Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital and place on Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology at Staffordshire University

An exciting opportunity has arisen through collaborations between the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital and the Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University for a Band 6 trainee health psychologist. The trainee will be based within the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital for two years and will undertake Stage 2 training as a full-time student on the highly successful Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology at Staffordshire University

The role includes outpatient psychological assessment and therapy contributing towards the psychological component of the inpatient pain management programmes at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital. The 0.8 w.t.e post presents a unique opportunity for a highly motivated and professional person who has already completed their Stage 1 health psychology training, to complete competences required for their Stage 2 training, directly supported by the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital. (Please note that the full-time fees of £6,300 per annum and writing up fees will be payable from the salary provided).

The Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Trust (RNOH) is the largest orthopaedic hospital in the UK and is regarded as a leader in the field of orthopaedics both in the UK and world-wide. The RNOH provides a comprehensive range of neuro-musculoskeletal health care, ranging from acute spinal injury or complex bone tumour to orthopaedic medicine and specialist rehabilitation for people with chronic pain. This broad range of services is unique within the NHS.

Dr Rachel Povey, Co-Director of the Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology said:

Dr Rachel Povey

“We are very excited about this new collaboration between the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital and Staffordshire University.  The two-year Band 6 post at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital will be a unique opportunity for a trainee to complete their competences in an applied and stimulating environment, whilst studying with us on the Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology.”


For details of how to apply, please go to: https://www.jobs.nhs.uk/xi/vacancy/916050178

Please note that the closing date is: Thursday, 4th June, 2020.

For further information about this exciting opportunity please contact: Dr Rachel Povey, Co-Director of the Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology at Staffordshire University: r.povey@staffs.ac.uk; or Dr Andrew Lucas, Consultant Lead Health Psychologist at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital (Andrew.lucas3@nhs.net).


Staffordshire University – The Home of Health Psychology

Staffordshire University has a history of excellence in teaching and research in Health Psychology, and is home to Staffordshire’s BPS Accredited Stage 1 MSc in Health Psychology and Stage 2 Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology. The Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research has active team of Health Psychologists who conduct research and provide consultancy in a range of health-related issues.

Keep updated with the latest Health Psychology news from Staffordshire University via following us on @StaffsPsych and via the #HealthPsychStaffs hashtag.

For further information about Health Psychology courses and research at Staffordshire University please visit the following webpages:

Experiments to do at home with your children

I am Sarah Rose, the Course Leader for the BSc Psychology and Child Development Award and while I have been at home with my children, I have been having a go at recreating some classic cognitive psychology experiments with them. Today we had a go at some of the classical Piagetian Tasks. These tasks are particularly suitable for children between the ages of about 4 and 8 years old. We would love to hear how your children got on with these experiments, please tweet us @StaffsPsych or add your comments to this post!

Background

Jean Piaget developed an influential theory of cognitive development, suggesting that as children grow older the way that they understand and think about the world alters. He was one of the first the argue that the way that young children understand the world is not just an immature version of adult understanding, instead he argued that it was fundamentally different. He developed a series of tasks, known as conservation tasks, which demonstrated this. I have had a go at recreating these tasks at home with my 4- and 6-year-old. If you cannot load any of the videos within the blog piece please watch them here.

Task 1: Conservation of quantity

Materials: Traditionally this task is done with water, but to make tidying up easier we used rice. In addition to this some plastic glasses (ideally transparent) of different shapes and sizes, although two of them need to be the same size, are needed.

Instructions:

  1. First, put an approximately equal amount of rice in the two glasses that are the same size.
  2. Ask your child if there is the same amount of rice in both.
  3. If they say ‘no’ encourage them to move a little from one to the other until they are happy that there is the same amount in both.
  4. Once they are happy with this ask them to pour the rice from one of the glasses into another one (ideally one that is noticeably taller and narrower, or fatter and wider).
  5. Now ask them if there is the same amount in both glasses, or if one glass now has more rice in than the other.
  6. You might be surprised by their answer, you could ask them to explain it to you.

Results: According to Piaget, and also my recreation of this experiment with my own children, under the age of about 6-years might struggle with this, and believe that by pouring the rice from one container to another the amount has actually changed. This suggests that their mental representation and understanding of quantity might be quite different to ours. I was interested to see how my 6-year old’s understanding was clearly still shifting and developing as he explained why it looked like there was more in one glass than the other but actually it was the same amount.

This is how my two children got on:

Conservation of quantity – 4-years old
Conservation of quantity – 6-years old

Task 2: Conservation of number

Materials: 14 counters of equal size, we used pennies as I could not find the counters. You might also like a Teddy Bear to act as an assistant!

Instructions:

  1. Place the counters in two rows so that both rows have the same number of counters and they are equally spaced.
  2. Ask your child if both rows have the same number of counters (hopefully, they will agree that they do but if they do not, just remove a counter from both rows until they agree that there is the same number).
  3. Now either you, or that cheeky Teddy assisting you, could move the counters in one of the rows so that they are spaced further apart. This will make one of the rows appear to be longer.
  4. Now ask your child whether there are the same number of counters in both rows, or whether one row has more counters than the other.
  5. Again, you might be surprised by their answer and you could ask them to explain their thinking to you.

Results: Again, children under the age of about 6-years old may struggle with this. It has been found that making slight adaptions to Piaget’s original task, such as having a naughty Teddy assist, can help children of a younger age to pass this task. It was still a bit tricky for my 4-year-old though!

Conservation of number – 4-year old

Task 3: Conservation of mass

Materials: Two balls of play dough that are different colours. A surface that you can roll the play dough on.

Instructions: Take the two balls of play dough and roll them into balls. These two balls should be the same size, and you should check with your child to make sure that they think they are the same size too! If they do not adjust the size by removing small amounts from the one that they think is biggest until they are happy that they are both the same size. Now, while your child watches, take one of the balls and roll it so that it becomes more of a cylinder shape. Once you have done this ask your child whether both shapes have the same amount of playdough, or whether one has more than the other. Again, you might be surprised by their answer and you could ask them to explain their thinking to you.

Results: Children younger than about 7-years-old are likely to tell you that the amount has changed. Piaget found that children did not show adult understanding all his conservation tasks at the same point, rather as they developed, they would ‘pass’ some before they passed others. This task involving mass is often passed later than those involving quantity or number. Again I found it really interesting to see the difference in my 4 and 6-year olds understanding.

Conservation of mass – 6-year old
Conservation of mass – 4-year old

We would love to hear how your children got on with these experiments. Please tweet us @StaffsPsych!

If you have not been able to view the videos within the blog piece you can find them all here.


The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Positive Parenting in a Pandemic: 6 tips

I am Dr. Sarah Rose, Senior Lecturer in Psychology and Child Development, and Course Leader for our BSc Undergraduate course in Psychology and Child Development. Also, I am mum to a 4- and 6-year-old, who knows that parenting is hard. Especially, in the time of a pandemic when usual routines and support networks are suddenly taken away.

Although this has been going on for several weeks now and it looks like restrictions are beginning to relax, possibly even with some children going back to school next month, this is not necessarily making the strain on families any easier.

So, I am going to give you six tips based on psychology evidence and theory.

They won’t necessarily make parenting any easier, but I hope they may give you something useful to think about – and maybe make you feel a little more confident about some of the decisions that you make as a parent.


Tip 1: Show connection

A large body of evidence suggests that feeling “securely attached”, connected and loved is important for children’s development and wellbeing.

For young children, physical touch is very important and can reduce stress. Furthermore, there is no evidence that being more affectionate with your children will make them clingy, in fact to the contrary it will help them feel safe and build their emotional resilience.

Older children may not want you to show them physical affection, but it is important to still find time to connect with them. Maybe making some time to exercise together, or sitting down to watch a film as family, may provide an opportunity for this.

Tip 2: Be a balanced parent

While it is important that we listen to and respond to our children’s needs it is also important that we place reasonable, age appropriate demands on them. Psychology evidence suggests that we should aim to be an “authoritative” parent who sets the boundaries and has clear expectations of our children while also being supportive and responsive to our children.


Tip 3: Manage anger (own, child and between children!)

It is completely normal for both us and our children to feel angry sometimes, especially during the stress of a pandemic. Remember that anger is often a symptom of stress and the demands of the environment we find ourselves in.

This means that you should not feel cross with yourself, or your child for showing signs of anger. Instead see it as a symptom, a sign that you, or your child, need to try and take some time to calm down and reduce your stress levels. Maybe now would be a good time to go outside and run around the garden (whatever your age) or lock yourself in the toilet (maybe just for adults this one!).


Tip 4: Develop routine

This pandemic is affecting everybody, but it is affecting people in different ways.

  • You might be at home trying to work or worrying about whether you will have a job to go back to after furlough while also feeling pressured to entertain your children and support their learning.
  • Or you might be a key worker, working extra hours, feeling stressed about the risks to yourself and your family as you drop your child off at school or nursery.

Whatever your circumstances, all our experiences, both as parents and as children, are likely to be very different to what they were. This can be very unsettling for everyone. However, routines can help to give us a sense of control and a sense of predictability within our lives. So, try and develop a routine that works for your family.

There may have to be adjustments and flexibility but knowing that there are certain times during the day when parents will focus on work, children will focus on school work, entertain themselves or everyone will focus on having fun, or maybe exercising together, can be very reassuring for everyone. This can also help with those feelings of parent guilt as you try and meet the demands of working and meeting your children’s needs.


Tip 5: Manage screen time

Something that you may be worrying about is the amount of time that your child is spending in front of a screen, especially as more and more providers are making educational resources available online for free.
Evidence suggests that screen time can be part of a balanced childhood, and indeed it may be very useful to make it part of your daily routine.

I have heard some lovely stories of extended family and friends interacting with children over screens, for example helping out with some schoolwork or reading a story, and evidence suggest that connecting with others in this way is very positive for children.

Furthermore, evidence suggests that although children learn best through interacting with others screen content can support their development. So do not feel guilty about using screen time within your daily routine. With children and young people spending more time online, many parents may be worried about their online safety. Through talking to your child, voicing your concerns and regularly checking in with them when they are online you can support them through promoting dialogue about online safety and what they should do if they feel unsure or threatened.


Tip 6: Build “emotional resilience

It is a fact of life that things are not always easy, we want to try and develop our children so that they have the inner strength to cope with this, I think my dad would have called this having a thick skin!

The suggestions that I have given already will help your child to develop this emotional resilience, or thick skin. Other things that are important are talking to your child, try and let them know what to expect:

  • Talk about times of change that they have experienced – explain that this will be a time of change.
  • Provide clear answers to questions, that are as truthful and as age appropriate as possible.
  • It is okay to tell them that you are worried too, or that you do not know when the virus will end or when they will be able to see Nana and Grandad again.
  • But also reassure them that you will look after them and help them feel safe and help them to keep perspective, for example by shifting beyond the current situation to a time when families will be able to be together again.

Of course, talking may not be easy, but try and open conversations and look for opportunities when your child may feel under less pressure, for example maybe while you are watching TV, taking some exercise together or engaging in a craft activity. Ask them their opinion about what is happening and listen to their answer.


Finally…

Parenting is hard and I certainly make lots of mistakes. But do not be hard on yourself, try and praise yourself and your children when things are going well. Notice and remember the good times as evidence suggests that praise and positive memories are much better for promoting good behaviour than punishment.

Here are some resources that you might find useful:


The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Interested in a Psychology degree? Come to an Open Day – for further details and to book your place at an open day please click here.

The impact that lockdown might be having on body image

Dr Alison Owen appeared on BBC Radio Ulster on May 1st 2020 on the Evening Extra show with Devon Harvey and Julie McCullough to discuss the impact that lockdown may be having on people’s body image.

Dr Alison Owen

The discussion was based around the way that people are feeling about themselves during lockdown. For example, in terms of people not being able to get their hair cut or dyed or maintain their usual beauty regime.

Dr Owen talked about the fact that although many people are in lockdown at the moment, they are finding that they do still feel a lot of pressure on their appearance.

She discussed the impact that video calling may have on people’s body image. Many people are taking part in video calling, using applications such as Zoom and FaceTime, both for work and for keeping in touch with friends and family. This means that people are looking at their faces on a screen much more often than they usually would. This can really add to the pressure of maintaining a more polished appearance, so things like making sure that their hair looks presentable, or maybe feeling like they should apply makeup.

Another factor that was discussed during the programme was that video calling can bring attention to appearance-based flaws that people wouldn’t normally be focussing on. So, for example, wrinkles or imperfections that they can see whilst watching themselves on the screen.

Additionally, Dr Owen discussed how people may be spending more time on social media during lockdown, because they aren’t able to get out and see friends and family in person it’s a good way of feeling connected to them. However, this can also lead to pressures in terms of looking at more heavily filtered images of their friends and family as opposed to seeing them in person where they may not look so polished!

You can catch up on the radio interview, which is available up to June 1st. Dr Owen’s discussions are from around 55 minutes in.


The Science Centre

The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Men living with Bipolar Disorder wanted for a research study!

By Craig Burman (DClinPsy Trainee, supervised by Dr Robert Dempsey)

I am a Trainee Clinical Psychologist working in the NHS and am currently looking for participants to take part in my research study. I am interested in exploring your experiences of managing mood symptoms.

Due to the under-representation of men in this type of research, I am looking for male participants only. This is to make sure that male voices and perspectives are heard.

You will be asked to take some photographs which represent your experiences of managing mood symptoms. You are encouraged to be as creative as you like with this! These photographs will then be used to guide an interview about your experiences.

If this sounds like it might be for you (or you would just like to know a bit more) then please contact me by either email (c.burman@student.staffs.ac.uk) or by phone (07547 330408). Please be aware that my research phone will only be turned on Monday to Friday from 9am-5pm.

Please note participants must be at least 18 years old to take part. To make sure that I am studying a relatively similar sample, participants must also have been diagnosed within the last 5 years.

Many thanks for taking the time to read this advert.

I look forward to hearing from you,

Craig


The Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research is home to research activity in the Psychology Department at Staffordshire University. The Centre houses a number of research-active psychologists who are engaged in research across a wide range of psychological subdisciplines.

For more details about the Centre, its research activities, events and consultancy, please visit our website (click here).

Student Blog: Undertaking my BPS Undergraduate Research Assistantship

By Megan Lomas, BSc (Hons) Psychology & Child Development student

The BPS Undergraduate Assistantship Award marks out a student as a future researcher and potential academic. It allows students to work alongside a senior researcher to develop skills in research development as well as research measures. With the support and supervision of Dr. Sarah Rose, I decided to apply for this Award to carry out research into the potential of mindfulness colouring for reducing exam anxiety among A-Level pupils.

Although I was nervous when applying for the Assistantship, the application process was also exciting as I could focus on a topic that was of great interest to me. My interest in reducing anxiety felt by A-level pupils preparing for their exams came in part from my own experience. A-level exams are one of the most crucial points in education; pressure to do well is increased as the next stages is to move on to study at University, apply for a job or for an apprenticeship, all of which require good grades. The colouring aspect of this research came from the expertise of Dr Sarah Rose. Sarah’s expertise gave me the confidence to want to assess mindfulness-based colouring as a means of reducing the anxiety induced by exams.

As I prepared the application form, I enjoyed carrying out in depth reading about exam anxiety and mindfulness-based colouring interventions. It was also a great opportunity to put my knowledge of research design that I had already developed during the first 18 months of my degree in Psychology and Child Development into practice. I not only to think of what research I wanted to conduct but, also how I would go about measuring and collecting the data from participants. In particular, the experience that I had gained during the Research Assistantship Module, which had allowed me to develop skill in data collection, helped me to plan what I would need to do.

When choosing the materials for the study I wanted to take measures as accurately as possible, so I decided to combine self-report measures and physiological measures. This led me to use a BioPac, this was a great opportunity to learn about a new piece of equipment under the guidance of Paul Gallimore, one of the Psychology Technicians. Under the guidance of Dr. Sarah Rose, I selected questionnaires to assess state anxiety and mindfulness. The conditions were constructed based on past research and past interventions including mindfulness colouring. This led me to use mandala colouring, both with and without the addition of mindfulness instructions, and a control condition in which participants spent time doing a free drawing.

Originally we had planned to try and collect data from 90 A-level pupils but due to various delays this was not possible as the exam period was almost over when we began data collection. So, although I collected a small amount of pilot data which gave me valuable experience in working with colleges, I plan to collect data again next summer.   

To make the most of the Research Assistantship we decided to write up our plan for the research as a preregistered report. This means that we have submitted the introduction and method sections to a journal and are now awaiting their feedback. Writing this was interesting as it differed more than I expected to the write up of a laboratory report. It requires a lot more references to past research as well as a description of how we intended to analyse the data.

We have also submitted a poster for the BPS Annual conference next year. I found this more interesting and fun to create as I was able to think about how to make the deign engaging. The poster required an outline of why the research was being conducted, what we expected to find, how we were going to collect and analyse the data. Both the preregistered report and the poster have helped me to learn how to write more concisely and to report research in an accurate and detailed manor. The Research Assistantship has given me an insight into what being a researcher is like and helped me to develop skills that will be useful for my third-year project and my future research career.


The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Interested in a Psychology degree? Come to an Open Day – for further details and to book your place at an open day please click here.