Single parent holiday advice

single parent holidays

Taking your kids on holiday solo can be a daunting prospect – especially if you’re new to the single parenting game. However, taking a trip together is also an amazing bonding opportunity for your one-parent family. These practical tips from the Frolo Community will help you feel prepared and have fun on your single parent holidays.

Get permission

If you plan to take your child on holiday abroad and you don’t have a child arrangement order from court, you need to obtain permission from everyone with parental responsibility.

It’s a good idea to obtain this permission in written form – for example, in a letter – as you might be asked to prove that you have permission when trying to leave the UK or enter another country. It also helps if you can bring evidence of your relationship with the child – in the form of a birth or adoption certificate – and a divorce or marriage certificate if your surname is different from you child’s.

If you can’t get permission from the other people with parental responsibility, you can apply to court for permission.

You can find more information on this topic on gov.uk

“Take your child(ren)’s birth certificate if you’re travelling abroad and get a letter from the other parent if you can.

Do your homework

This might not be the most exciting tip, but it’s crucial to ensuring everyone has a good time. 

When you’re deciding where to stay, look for reviews from other people with kids and, ideally, from other single parents. They’ll be able to give you the low-down on how family friendly a hotel really is. Even if a resort or self-catering apartment has lots of five star reviews it might not suit your needs; if  all of the reviews are from couples or single people without kids they won’t tell you what you really need to know. 

Similarly, if you opt for Airbnb – which can be a brilliant, affordable option that allows you to cater for kids at home – make sure that it’s located near a shop, has convenient transport links, and has all of the amenities you need. For example, air conditioning and wifi aren’t always guaranteed and some hosts ask you to bring your own towels and linens.

“I’d recommend smaller resorts over big ones. When my daughter was little it could mean walking for a long time to go to the loo from the pool or back to the room, packing everything up several times.”

“If it’s an option for you, it might be worth paying for extras that will make your life a bit easier, eg airport transfers or full-board – kids clubs are always a bonus too!

Plan ahead – but not too much

This advice might seem contradictory, but bear with us. When you take your kids on holiday on your own, you need to strike a balance between making your life as easy as possible and setting yourself up to fail.

Research local taxis and public transport options before you go to make getting around an unfamiliar place as easy as possible. It’s also worth booking tickets for the attractions that you know you want to visit in advance so you don’t have to queue (queueing with kids is not our idea of a holiday). But don’t overdo it – planning an overly ambitious itinerary will just add pressure when you’re supposed to be relaxing.

“Create a rough plan and book things in advance as much as possible.”

“Plan some things, but not too much so you can go with the flow.”

single parent holidays

Go hands-free

As the only adult on the trip, you’re going to need your hands to be free to keep track of your kids. It’s worth investing in a large backpack that you can use as a hands-free luggage alternative.

“It’s always good to be super conscious about the amount of luggage you take. Pack light and take the type of luggage that means you can be hands free to manage your child. The practicalities of not having another adult to help with luggage can be stressful, so make it as easy as possible for yourself.”

“It’s slightly easier when they are not weaned and can fit in a sling!”

The beach

Frolos also recommend investing in a waterproof bum bag to wear in the water, or fake suncream bottles that you can hide valuables in for a bit more peace of mind when you’re poolside or on the beach.

“Be prepared to spend lots of time in the water as that is the safest way to take care of them as opposed to the shoreline.”

“Wear a brightly coloured top or hat at the beach so your kids can easily spot you – and dress them in bright colours so you can spot them from a distance too.”

Rest and relaxation

It’s easy to forget that this is supposed to be a holiday for you too! If you’re travelling with little kids, frolos recommend that you factor in some time to rest every day (even if that means dragging them away from the pool). They also suggest packing a little parent self-care kit so you can unwind in the evenings after the kids are asleep.

“If you’re going with little kids, bring things to entertain them in the apartment or hotel room so you can have a bit of a rest in the afternoon before heading out again to enjoy the evening.”

‘If they go to bed before you, have some treats ready for ‘you time’. A book, magazine, some chocolate, or a glass of wine. This will stop the evening from feeling lonely and help you refill your jug for the next day.”

You can find some frolo-approved holiday reads on Frolo Reading List

Buddy up

If you’re still a bit nervous, why not team up with another single parent? Or plan a group trip? Frolos in the community organise holidays on a regular basis – from camping trips in the UK to villas in Ibiza. Head to the Meetups section of the app to see what’s on offer.

Have a brilliant time!

There are so many positives to taking your kids on holiday as a single parent and your kids will cherish the memories that you make for years to come. 

“I went to Tenerife for a package holiday with my (then) 5 year old for a week last May, having gained my confidence we then went on a 2 week cruise in October. I have a partner now so it is unlikely to happen again, but those memories are so treasured and the last holiday we had somehow marks the end of the five-year chapter my son and I spent alone.”

“I’ve been travelling solo for the last five years with my little guy and we’ve done all sorts of adventures across 37 countries – from chasing the Northern lights to living on a boat in the middle of the Barrier Reef! Honestly travel is probably what really helped us both accept and begin to love our new life. I highly recommend every adventure – big or small – even something within your city or close by. We found ourselves as we explored the world together.”

Frolo.com contains some affiliate links. If you purchase something via a link on the Frolo website we may receive a small revenue share.

Talking to kids about sex and relationships

Manolee Yadave is a psychosexual therapist who specialises in sexual health and relationship therapy. She joined us to answer questions from the Frolo Community about supporting children’s sex and relationships eduction at home.

What’s the right age to start talking to children about sex?

This is a tricky one to answer because it’s so individual! As a parent you can set the parameters here. You don’t have to tell them explicit details in these early conversations. As soon as they’re at an age where they understand what sharing is, what’s mine, what’s yours, then you can start to encourage discussions about boundaries and relationships. You can encourage them to think about what feels ok with them and vocalise if something doesn’t feel ok.

Going through puberty at an earlier age that their peers can be a very isolating experience for children, but explaining body parts and how they change, the fact that some people have heterosexual and some people have homosexual relationships, and letting them know that it’s OK to be who they are, is very empowering and can lead to some great conversations. So, I think the earlier the better.

What language should I use to talk about sex with my children?

It’s really important that you make sure you’re using the correct terminology when having these conversations with your children. It’s important that they have the right language to discuss genitals, for example. There’s often a concern among parents that, if they don’t use euphemistic language, then their child will repeat what they’ve learned at school or with friends – but this is actually why it’s so important for parents to normalise the language and just lay down some ground rules about where you have these conversations.

What can I do to ensure that channels of communication remain open with my child as we hit the teenage years?

Firstly, it’s easier to have these conversations which make you feel a little bit awkward if you feel confident about the subject matter. Do some reading, get on the internet, and make sure you’re fully clued up about sexual health before you broach the subject. It also depends on the dynamic you have with your child and their personality – some children are unfazed by a direct approach where’s others will prefer building up to the conversation more gradually. What’s really important is having relevant conversations about sex and relationships little and often so that when you get to that point, and you’re thinking they might want to have sex, it doesn’t feel so scary to raise it.

My 16yo has asked if her boyfriend can stay over. I’ve met him and he is nice but I’m not sure I’m comfortable with it. Having said that, if they’re going to have sex I’d rather it was somewhere safe. Can you give any advice? I have told her I’ll think about it.

In this situation, there’s value in honouring the fact that your daughter has come to you and been honest about what she would like to do. It’s also important to explain the reasons why if you decide to say “no.” Having an open conversation together would be really beneficial here so that you can understand the nature of their relationship – don’t assume that this is entirely about having sex – and so that your daughter understands how you reached your decision. Overall, I think it’s a sign of great trust in you from your daughter.

My son is asking questions about where babies come from. What kind of level of knowledge is appropriate for him?

Again, this is as much about what you’re comfortable with as it is what he is ready for. You don’t necessarily have to say “babies come from penetrative sex,” but you can choose your words carefully, tell him that women grow babies and give a more scientific explanation of the process. Then, when he’s a bit older, you can introduce conversations about other reasons why people might have sex.

I have read that kids whose parents are separated or divorced have an increased chance of going through the same thing. Is there a link between having divorced parents and difficulty forming lasting relationships as an adult? Is there any way to reduce the chances of my child going through this?

This is a common anxiety for single parents. While some studies do suggest there is a link between having divorced parents and going though divorce yourself, it’s absolutely not guaranteed that that is what will happen in your family. Children can have the most beautiful relationship with a single parent and draw really strong foundations from that relationship. They can also make attachments with other people as they grow through life – with grandparents, siblings, and other family members – that will help them understand what a good relationship looks like. If those relationships teach you about sharing and respect then it doesn’t matter that it’s not a parental relationship.

It’s also worth mentioning that I’ve met divorced parents who have brilliant relationships on the basis of co-parenting. They’re not lovers any more but they’re both committed to doing what is best for their child, which is really beneficial for the child to see.

Will my child be missing out on seeing a healthy relationship model if he doesn’t see one at home? His dad has never met him or been involved as a parent and if I don’t meet anyone else – which is the last thing on my mind at the moment! – I am worried it might negatively impact him.

Although I don’t know the individual situation, this child might have the most awesome relationship with his mum and have other important people in his life who will show him what it means to treat people respectfully. Not having that particular male role model in his life isn’t necessarily going to change his outlook on life. He might be curious about his dad and you might want to decide at what point you tackle that, but it’s important to create that space for alternative family set-ups. I’m not saying it’s easy, but you don’t need to create those imagined barriers to your child’s wellbeing and can instead focus on what makes your child happy.

Are there any books you recommend?

Again, I’d encourage you to introduce books at an early age, rather than waiting until they’re near puberty and then presenting a book that feels loaded with significance. There are lots of questions that arise with younger children: is kissing the same as sex? Am I going to marry Mummy or Daddy? And it’s great to have a book that you can look through together. I’d really recommend Talking To Your Kids About Sex by Lauri Berkenkamp and Steven C. Atkins. I’d also recommend you read it on your own first so you’re comfortable with everything and feel that it’s appropriate for your child.

How can I supplement what my child learns at school? I am not sure the national curriculum will give her the full picture – especially when it comes to LGBT+ relationships. 

This is such an important conversation to have with kids and, as parents, when we’re confident about a subject we’ll be able to translate that really well. When in comes to LGBTQI+ relationships, it’s all about teaching kids that we don’t live in a binary world and that it is completely OK to be who you are. Read books to your kids where people have two dads, or one mum, and all sorts of other family set-ups, so that understanding is with them from a young age.

Clients regularly tell me that they knew they who they were attracted to from a really young age but they might have absorbed the idea from society that one kind of love is “the norm” and that can be very confusing. If you feel that the education they’re getting at school is only covering heterosexual relationships, then that’s a great place to start that conversation, discuss other kids of relationships, and let your child know that they can love who they want to love.

Brook is a really great charity which supports all young people to lead happy and healthy lives by providing clinical services, sex and relationships education, and professional training. Brook can provide you with all sorts of helpful information when tackling the subject of sex with your teen. It’s also a great resource that you can point your child towards if they feel a little shy to discuss things in detail with you.

Thanks for answering our questions Manolee!

You can follow Manolee on Instagram: @the_sex_talking_mama

You can read more Frolo Q+As here

Frolo.com contains some affiliate links. If you purchase something via a link on the Frolo website we may receive a small revenue share.

The Frolo Reading List

Book recommendations – whether they’re empowering reads for newly single parents or beautiful picture books that help explain separation to kids – are constantly being swapped on the Frolo app, so we thought we’d gather them all together in one handy list.

Books for adults

Books written by frolos

Frolos are a pretty accomplished bunch – some of them have even written books about their experiences as single parents. Moving, relatable, and insightful – every one of these is well worth a read:

Self-help books

Even if, previously, self-help books weren’t your cup of tea, they can provide real solace and motivations when you’re adjusting to life as a single parent. Here are some frolo favourites:

Books about separation and divorce

Separation and divorce can be a confusing, as well as emotionally difficult, process. If you’re not familiar with the legal terminology and the different stages involved it can seem pretty overwhelming. Frolo recommend these books to guide you through the process emotionally and practically:

You can read our detailed and informative Family Law Q+A with Laura Naser here.

Books about dating and relationships

If you’re thinking about dipping a toe into the waters of dating as a single parent – or you’ve been dating with limited success – consider reading up on the topic:

For advice from an expert, check out our Q+A with dating coach Lydia Davis, where she answers questions from frolos about dating as a single parent.

Parenting books

Transitioning to parenting on your own – while potentially navigating some big feelings and tricky behaviour from your kids – can leave you feeling overwhelmed. Check out one of these books recommended by fellow frolos for sound advice:

We gave frolos the chance to sit down with a child psychologist and get her expert insights on a range of questions – read the full blog post here.

Books for kids

Books about separation and divorce for kids

Books can be a really helpful tool when your family is transitioning to a new normal. These are the books that frolos recommend for helping children understand separation and divorce:

Books for older kids

Books for younger kids

Books about race, racism, and diversity for kids

If you’d like to introduce more diversity into your child’s bookshelf, these books which celebrate diverse families and educate kids on the history of racism are a great place to start:

For more book recommendations and advice on talking to your children about race – check out our Q+A with Uju Asika and Orla McKeating.

Frolo.com contains some affiliate links. If you purchase something via a link on the Frolo website we may receive a small revenue share.

Talking to your children about race

Uju Asika and Orla McKeating joined the Frolo Community for a live Q+A on how to talk to your children about race and racism.

Uju is an award-winning blogger and the author of Bringing Up Race: How To Raise a Kind Child in a Prejudiced World (available to pre-order now)! Orla is an activist, speaker, and a frolo who is raising a biracial child in Northern Ireland. She is also the co-founder of Still I Rise Storytelling.

Here are the questions we discussed:

I’d like to know more about implicit bias. How can we be aware of it, move forward with our children, and raise them be aware of it too?

Uju: The first step is just acknowledging it. Most of us aren’t examining these biases – they’re implicit. There’s actually a test you can do online, created by Harvard University, and pretty much everybody would fail that test in one way or another. We’ve all been conditioned by society and an innate fear of strangers. When I was researching the book, I learned that babies as young as three months old can tell the difference between people of different ethnicities. The point is that they don’t attach any judgement to that observation – they just not that you look different from their primary caregiver. It’s at around nine months that a sense of anxiety around unfamiliar people kicks in. That’s why its important to intervene early and make sure that children are exposed to representations of different races from an early age – but also acknowledge that on some level this is a primal response. You can tackle that by being intentional and interrupting the narrative when it occurs – either by ensuring that your child has people in their circle who look like them, or, if your child is in a homogenous environment, introducing people who look nothing like your child and bringing diverse books into your home.

Don’t be afraid to talk about times that you make a mistake or have a strange reaction to a situation – don’t be afraid to admit it. People are very afraid of being racist or being called a bigot, but most of this is not our fault – we’ve been conditioned into it by centuries of history. So let’s unlearn the things that we’ve learned and do better. Every day is an opportunity to do better.

I’m a white mum to a biracial daughter who’s three. How can I best support her when it comes to race issues, given that I may not fully understand the situation due to my white privilege?

Uju: As I said, she’s aware of race and has been since she was a baby! What happens with kids is they don’t have the language to talk about race and racism because it’s something that doesn’t get discussed in polite company most of the time. They pick up on the tension adults feel in conversations about race too.

I think the best thing to do is be proactive. Often, parents end up having these conversations after their child has asked them something awkward in public and you panic and give a reactive response. You should take the initiative and bring it up. If you’re not sure how to bring it up, start with a question about what she’s noticed, what she feels, what her friends look like, how she feels about her skin tone and your skin tone. You can talk about your differences and your different family trees. she’s inheriting so much diversity, culture, and things you can celebrate. You can bring all of this in. But it also doesn’t have to be one big, heavy conversation – you can talk about it in small chunks every now and then. You can talk about the characters she sees in books and TV shows too – conversations about race in my house often start when we’re all watching TV together.

In terms of your different experiences, that’s something you can talk about too. You can talk about how things were different for you growing up as a white girl. You can also reach out to her community – there must be a black community local to you, or you could reach out online. Don’t be afraid to reach out and say you want to learn more and you want more for your daughter.

Sometimes, in families with mixed heritage, parents aren’t keen on emphasising difference too much. It’s actually better to acknowledge that your child has a different ethnicity to you and that that is wonderful. You’re still a family and there are so many different ways to be a family. Always be open to their questions and the more you talk about it, the more you normalise it. As parents, we want to wrap our kids up in cotton wool but unfortunately we can’t do that. We can educate ourselves and make sure that they can come to us and talk to us about anything. It’s like talking about sex – the best way you can protect your child is by being there, being open, and keeping that dialogue going.

Can you recommend any books that will help children learn about diversity and different cultures?

I want to talk to my daughter about racism before she experiences it herself, but I don’t want to pass on any of my anxieties or give her the idea that being black is anything but beautiful. Any advice?

Uju: This is a very difficult and emotional conversation to have with your child. I’ve had to have that conversation with my boys. It’s great that you’re planning ahead though. Don’t shy away from racism when talking about race, which many parents do because they want to protect their child. It’s case of preparing your child to encounter hazards – in the same way that you explain how to cross the road safely, you need to explain that there are some people in the world who have wrong ideas about people with different skin colours, hair, or people who speak a different language. I would just explain that they are people who don’t have big hearts or minds, and tell her that she can be different. You can explain it to her, but also empower her by making it clear that she’s not a victim and she can be the kind person who stands up for others. Also let her know that, if anything like that happened to her, there are things that can be done and she never has to endure racism alone. You can talk about historical figures too – someone like Dr Martin Luther King, who was able to bring people together and stand up to racism. Then she can see herself as part of the fight for change. Be very affirmative and spend time telling her how beautiful her skin and hair is. That’s a wonderful thing and you can never do enough of it. Agin, when educating your child, don’t drench them in information.

Orla: From my experience, whenever I’ve been been panicky, upset or given an emotive response – instead of, as Uju was saying, owning the moment and being honest about it – that’s when I’ve not given by best response as a parent. Also, there are so many stories about bias and discrimination, but race is also joy and community and family, resilience and allyship. There are so many wonderful things that are always worth discussing and reminding your child of, at any age. So try to identify what your child needs at that point and remembering to share all the positives of their identity. Avoid anxiety like I did!

Uju: But also be kind to yourself! It’s not easy. I’ve literally written the book on talking to kids about race and my kids still say things or ask me things that make me freak out a bit. Just take a breath and tackle the question in the best way you know how. You’re not going to get it right and come out with some eloquent speech every time. Like Orla said, just be as honest as open as you can – you want your child to trust you with how they’re feeling.

Orla: I’d also say that, with younger kids, to really consider a diverse school and dig deep into whether they’e really diverse. How is diversity represented in their curriculum, after school clubs and policies? It’s definitely worth setting up a meeting with the head teacher or head of pastoral care if you can. I wish I’d done more of this when choosing my son’s school.

As white people, we can and must do better every single day. There’s no shame in it. There’s no shame in feeling uncomfortable. The vast majority of us want the same thing and it’s just a matter of being aware of that and being ok with it.

Talking about race with children with learning disabilities.

Uju: The Conscious Kid is an amazing website with tons of materials about race, but it also talks about kids with different abilities, gender, etc – they also have a great instagram page.

This is also a great opportunity to bring up race as a conversation in any support networks, organisations, clubs, or community groups that she belongs to with her son. Discuss what you can do as a group to introduce more resources for talking about race with your children.

Orla: I’ve found that really gentle learning, based on real events and real figures can be really helpful for children with learning disabilities. I’d recommend getting two or three books which offer the opportunity to learn about race and racism that they can check back in with regularly to help promote that gentle learning.

My children are white and I’m trying to raise them to be kind and aware of diversity. Resources and books often focus on diversity – when and how do I bring in conversations about their white privilege?

Uju: If you’re aware of white privilege and you feel like you have a good grip on what it is, you can’t start talking to your kids about it from a very early age. Take crayons for example, for many years the “flesh” coloured crayon was pink. So you can bring in things like that to illustrate the assumption by society that whiteness is the default and everything else is other. You don’t have to lecture them, but just talk about things as they crop up. When you’re watching TV – it doesn’t even have to be a show about diversity – but if you notice, for example, that all of the characters were white you can have a really interesting conversation with them about why they think that is. There are also lots of books where the central character is black but the author is white and you can talk about that and all the steps that that author went through to get published over other authors.

The important thing is getting across the idea that being white gives you certain advantages in this society – so what can you do for others with this advantage? Encourage children to recognise the powers they have and use them well.

Thank you Uju and Orla!

You can pre-order Uju’s book Bringing Up Race: How to Raise a Kind Child in a Prejudiced World here.

And you can check out her blog, Babes aBout Town, where she shares all the best things to do with kids in and around London here.

You can find out more about Still I Rise storytelling, and join one of Orla’s live Zoom sessions, here.

Self-care for single parents

We chatted to Zoe Blaskey – founder of Motherkind – about quick, easy, free methods of self-care that busy single parents can fit into their hectic lives

Firstly, if you’re finding parenting hard right now – that’s because it is hard right now. Often, when people are finding parenting hard, they think it’s because they’re doing something wrong and all they need to do is find a tip or a trick to solve things. That’s rarely the case, and certainly isn’t the case at the moment, but accepting that parenting is hard is actually a really powerful tool.

Self-care is an overused term – it’s not all golf trips, spa days and getting your nails done. Self-care means caring for ourselves. It’s so easy to emotionally care for our children and our family, but so difficult to give that same kindness, tenderness and attention to ourselves. These self-care tips don’t require much time or money – it’s just not realistic for parents (especially single parents) to spend loads of time and money on looking after themselves – but they will definitely help you feel better. 

It’s a cliche, but you need to look after yourself in order to take care of your children’s needs. You’re the glue holding it all together – dealing with their emotions, managing co-parenting, your own life, work, and so on. It’s so hard to deal with all of this if you let yourself get depleted.

If we don’t take care of our emotional needs they come out sideways in different forms – that might be anger for you, or resentment, snapping, or numbing yourself. Often, like a dripping tap, you can feel that you’re slowly getting tired and overwhelmed, but you think you don’t have time to deal with it because you’re too busy doing pick-up, drop-off, or making dinner. But, if you ignore it, that dripping tap can soon become a flood.

30-Second Check In

Close your eyes and just think. Notice how it feels to be in your body. This might be the first time today that you’ve remembered that you’re a breathing, heart-beating human.

Maybe notice your breath and take a deep breath in. Ask yourself how you’re feeling right now – you might feel calm, you might feel anxious, or you might have thoughts pinging all around as you do this.

Then ask yourself: What do I need right now? You might need some breakfast, a drink of water, or even a good cry. Just notice how it feels to connect with yourself.

When people say “I don’t have time to look after myself” I really challenge that, as everyone has 30 seconds. We don’t normally ask ourselves what our needs are, so doing this a few times a week will be a game-changer – you can do it with your kids too!

Boundaries

I always do a lot of work with single and solo parents around boundaries. If you’re co-parenting, boundaries are really important.

Without boundaries, even with all the self-care in the world, you’re just going to leak energy. We tend to think we have limitless energy and that we can give, and give, and give – but that’s not the case. You need to think of your energy as finite.

What are your boundaries? What do you say yes to that you’d actually like to say no to? If there are areas in your life where you have needs, but you’re not expressing them, they build up. Where are you keeping quiet when you actually need to speak up? What drains your energy? What gives you energy?

As parents, our time and energy is so limited, so you want to make sure that the things you’re doing are filling you up and not draining you. If you as a parent set boundaries and only say yes when you want to say yes, your children will naturally learn how to protect their own energy and boundaries.

Overwhelm

 The external world feels really overwhelming at the moment and, if you don’t have the internal tools to deal with that, it can be an incredible weight to carry and you can end up feeling very drained.

Overwhelm is a different feeling for everyone – for some people their chest feels tight, for others their mind fizzes with thoughts. We tend to want to deal with overwhelm by sticking our head in the sand – putting the TV on, grabbing our phones, and numbing it. That approach doesn’t help and is only going to make things harder. The best way to tackle overwhelm – like most things in life – is head on.

Here’s a really simple exercise: write down everything you feel overwhelmed about. Then create two columns; one titled “What I can control” and the other one titled “What I have no control over”. It’s about separating the things that you can do nothing about from the things that you can do something about. Then, out of the things you can do something about, what is one tiny – and I mean tiny – action that you can take to move you forwards? Do that.

Essential listening for single parents

Zoe recommends frolos listen to the following episodes of The Motherkind Podcast which feature inspiring guests and topics which are especially relevant to single parents:

Thanks for chatting to us Zoe!

Zoe Blaskey is a blogger, podcaster, and founder of Motherkind – a self-empowerment platform for modern parents. 

Her mission is to share the skills she has developed through years of practicing as a meditation teacher, coach and a Kundalini yoga teacher with parents in order to help them reconnect with their true selves and live a happy, confident and guilt-free life. 

@motherkind_zoe

https://www.motherkind.co

Child psychology Q+A

Dr Martha Deiros Collado, a paediatric psychologist answers questions from the Frolo Community on everything from separation anxiety to helping your child cope with an absent parent

How can I help my three-year-old play independently? She always wants adult interaction in pretend play and struggles to play by herself.

The first thing I’d suggest you try is taking more of an observer role in play, rather than directing the play. The idea is that you sit with your child while they play and comment on what you see them doing with their toys, but you don’t make suggestions or direct the play. You just watch. By watching, you’re validating their play and this encourages them to keep playing and develop their play without you.

As your child gets more comfortable with that, you can step back, move away, and comment less on the play. Independent play means you’re in the same room but your child is playing on their own – it doesn’t mean you can leave the room and do something else. Small children often need to be able to look up and make eye contact with you for reassurance before returning to play on their own.

How should I talk to my eight and ten-year-old boys about divorce? They don’t seem to want to discuss it much, but maybe I should encourage them to open up more?

At eight and ten, they’re probably old enough to understand that divorce is permanent, but they might not really understand what it means. Divorce is an adult term and for children it can be confusing. If you think it’s important to discuss this with them, try to find a space and time that works for all of you. Sitting children down on the sofa to have a serious conversation doesn’t really work, instead, find a quiet, calm activity that they enjoy – I always suggest things like drawing or building Lego – and then start the conversation. 

Start slow and succinct. You could say “You know mummy and daddy are having a divorce, right?” And they might answer yes or no – make sure you  are taking your cues from them – and then you might follow up with:

“What do you think about that?”

“What does that mean to you?”

“What do you think is going to happen?”

“Is it ok that we’re talking about this?”

You’re not telling them about the situation, you’re asking them questions about it. This will give you a window into how your children are thinking and talking about it.

I would also recommend talking to siblings about divorce together. Parents often opt to discuss things with the eldest first and then talk to the youngest, but I always encourage parents to talk to siblings together and tell the same story to both of them, in language that the youngest child can understand. Telling them at the same time helps them feel like they’re not missing out on information and they might feel more secure together. 

If they’re not ready to talk, that’s fine. Children will find their own time and, as long as you’re giving them the opportunity to talk by asking lots of questions and bringing it up regularly, then your children will know that they’ve got permission to talk about it when they’re ready.

My child, aged four, keeps drawing fire – should I be concerned?

If you’re worried, talk to your child about it. That’s always the best policy. And stay curious with it – rather than reacting or telling them not to draw fire, ask questions like “Where did you get this idea from?” or “Where did you see fire?” Keep an open mind and explore it with them – it might just be from a cartoon!

Would changing a contact schedule after three years of solid routine be detrimental to the child?

I think this is more about the reason why the contact arrangements are changing, rather than contact time either increasing or decreasing. Children are very adaptable. They love routine because routine is safe, but children’s routines change all the time and they adapt. 

It’s more about how you prepare them for this change and why the change is happening. Will the change be beneficial in the long-run? The most important factors affecting their wellbeing will be how you manage the situation and the support you give them as a parent. If their routine is changing and you’re setting up a new routine, you need to help them through that transition.

My three-year-old daughter has started drawing pictures of me and her dad, with her as a baby in the middle. We separated in September and she was quite upset for a few months and even now asks when Daddy is coming home. Do you have any advice on how I can help her understand?

She’s only three so, when you separated, she didn’t understand what that meant – and she’s not going to understand what separation means until she’s about seven. This is to do with her brain development. Separation is quite an abstract concept for children – especially when they’re still seeing both parents – so she is going to keep asking those questions for a while. It might feel sad for you as a parent to see those drawings, but the meaning your child is attributing to them is completely different. She’s saying: “I love my mummy and I love my daddy and I’m a baby.”

Keep filtering small bits of information as and when the topic of separation comes up. When she draws these pictures, ask her questions and answer any questions that she asks you clearly and honestly. I would say: “Daddy will come and see you, but he’s not coming back to live with us.” Use concrete language when answering her questions – the clearer the better – and expect that she might ask you the same question again tomorrow.

I have been self-isolating with my four-year-old for 80 days. I’m a solo parent and we haven’t seen anyone else during this time. We’ve been home schooling and she has seemed very happy throughout. Any advice on how to ease her back into school? Will isolation have done any psychological damage?

 I get this question a lot. Lockdown won’t have done your child any damage – especially if you’ve been present and engaging with her. If you’re worried about the unfamiliarity of the safety measures that will have to be in place when she returns to school, prepare her by talking about what will be different and ask her questions to see if she’s worried about anything. 

Young children don’t need socialisation with other children, believe it or not. They just need connection with somebody and, if your child has had connection with you as an adult, that is absolutely fine.

Any advice on helping children cope with an increasingly absent father? My son’s dad doesn’t make telephone contact and has supervised visits about three or four times per year. My son gets anxious and feels down after a visit due to the lack of predictability. Have you got any guidance on how to handle the impact on my son and the best way to deal with this as a parent?

This is such a difficult situation. You cannot make his dad predictable – so don’t fight that battle. It’s not your job to make him a better parent, so give that up (as difficult as that is). Focus on your child. Don’t tell him that daddy is going to come and visit until the last minute because you don’t want to disappoint your child. Protect your child by arranging the meetups and remind the other parent that if they don’t come, they won’t be able to see their child. You know this person is likely to disappoint your child so you need to try to protect your child from that. With children, if you make a promise you have to follow it through, so make no promises and try to keep things as predictable as possible on your end.

My daughter is unsettled and acts out when she gets back from her dad’s house. He says she is well-behaved at his house and I feel like I am telling her off all the time when she’s with me.

Comparison is really difficult. Children are different in different contexts – some parents find their child comes home after school in complete chaos but teachers say they’re very well behaved when at school. Children act out and show their big feelings with the parent they feel safest with. It’s hard to deal with, but, if your child comes home and explodes with emotion, they’re saying “I feel safe here and I can show you how I’m feeling.” Your ex-partner is probably telling the truth, but your child isn’t exploding with you because you’re a bad parent – they’re doing it because they feel safe to do so with you.

Hold back from telling them off. When your children explode – especially if they’re below the age of seven – it’s really important that what you give them is connection, not punishment. This is hard because it’s a real behavioural shift for us as a society. Their brain only understands feelings when they’re worked up, so if you try to give them logic they won’t understand. Connect with them, give them the space, and hold your calm. If you can do that now, as they get older, they might start to talk and explain how they’re feeling instead of exploding.

How do I stay calm when my child is having a complete meltdown and I feel like I’m reaching the end of my tether?

Take a long, deep breath. Think of a word, mantra, or sentence that connects you with the behaviour you have to do. It might just be: “Calm”. And if you repeat this word or phrase to yourself, it helps remind you of the behaviour you want to model. You only want your child to see calm behaviour – you don’t want to join their chaos because that’s frightening for children. If you lose your cool, that will escalate their behaviour – so the one thing you need to do is stay calm and just sit with them. You can validate their feelings – “I know you feel angry. I’m here. I’m going to keep you safe. It’s ok that you feel angry.” Give them calm and be patient. Your calmness will get inside them and they will become adults who can self-regulate and soothe themselves. Most of us aren’t like this as adults because we weren’t taught how to do this! 

Remember: your child is supposed to have big feelings – that’s what children are supposed to do. Our job as parents is to help them through it – we’re not supposed to fix it and make them happy. Just stay calm and the feeling will pass.

My ex remarried in secret and is now expecting another child. When our children found out they were very upset. My ex refuses to discuss the situation with me. How do I support my children through this difficult transition?

Focus on your children. You can’t do anything about your ex-partner. Explore the questions your children would like to ask their dad and what it is about the situation that is making them upset, because it might not be exactly what you think. 

Also, be honest with them. Explain that you don’t know the answers to their questions and that their dad doesn’t talk to you about these things because you lead separate, private lives. Offer to pass on any questions that they have about the situation – I would do this in writing rather than face-to-face or over the phone. If he’s not ready to talk to them about it, he needs to explain that to his children and acknowledge their questions. You might need to comfort them afterwards, but you can only do what you can do.

My son, who has just turned four, is really worried about the fact that he’s going to die, or I’m going to die, or his dad is going to die. No one has died in our family recently so I don’t know where it’s come from.

Four-year-olds don’t understand death. They don’t understand the permanence of death. I’m curious about where he’s got this idea from – he must have come across it somewhere – so I would ask him about that. His idea of what death is not that same as an adult’s understanding. It’s too abstract as a concept for four-year-olds to grasp. I would ask lots of questions like “What does dying mean? What do you think will happen to you? What do you think will happen to me?”

My daughter is three and is experiencing separation anxiety. When I pick her up from her mum’s house, she gets upset and asks if mummy can come to my house. She also requests that we all hold hands and do a group hug at handover. Is this something I need to worry about?

Three is the peak age for separation anxiety and attachment in children. I wouldn’t worry, I would just be giving her a lot of comfort. She’s probably wishing, as children do, that she could have all of you together all the time. It’s not something to worry about – it’s just a reflection of how much she loves you both. Comfort her and give her permission to be sad about the fact that mummy isn’t here all the time. If a child is connected to both parents – which is what you want – it’s normal that they would miss you when they’re not with you. But don’t feel guilty because you don’t love or want to be with your ex-partner. Your child just needs to know that you are a family, which you are, because you will always be a family to your child.

Thanks for answering our questions Martha!

For more words of wisdom and bite-sized child psychology insights you can follow Martha’s Instagram @drmdc_paediatric_psychologist

Martha also offers 20-minute phone consultations for £35 if you’d like an initial consultation or have a specific problem you’d like to discuss in brief.

https://www.drmdc.co.uk

How single parenting changes as your kids get older

Jo Middleton, also known as Slummy Single Mummy after her brilliantly honest and funny blog, shares her reflections on the way single parenting changes as your kids get older

I’ve been a single parent on and off for nearly 25 years now, which seems like a crazy thing to say as I’m sure I’m only about 28 myself, but there you go.

I first became a single parent aged 19, when my eldest daughter Bee was two years old. It was tricky, especially financially, but I had a wonderfully supportive family who took care of Bee while I drove up and back to university, and we lived a simple but quite happy life, despite lacking some of the basics. (We only went without a fridge during the winter, which just meant leaving the milk outside on the back step.) I do remember it being tough, but I also remember a strong sense of freedom and autonomy, of being in charge of my own life.

My second daughter, Belle, was born five years later, when I was 24. I was in a relationship with her dad for nine years, but part of me wonders how much I really let the single parent mentality leave me. How much of his apparent hopelessness was actually down to him, and how much was enabled by me, not wanting to relinquish control after having had to manage alone?

We separated over 12 years ago now and although I’ve had long term relationships in that time, I’ve never felt like I was able to share the role of parent, I have always been a single parent in my heart and practically too, even when I’ve lived with a partner. Perhaps I’ve always chosen badly (I absolutely have) but it’s always felt more like having an extra child to look after than an equal that I could depend on. I’ve always known that the buck stopped with me.

What I’ve found most interesting over the years as a single parent is how children present new and different challenges at every age. When my girls were little I was convinced, naively, that the older they got, the easier parenting would become. I counted down the weeks and months until they started school, ticked off milestones as they grew up, all the while waiting for that tipping point where the sense of responsibility started to fall away.

Spoiler alert: it still hasn’t.

They have ever-changing, complex emotional needs, needs that aren’t easily met any more by a firm hug and the offer of chocolate buttons.

Although the physical demands are different – (sleepless nights and early mornings are far less common, although not unheard of) – their emotional needs have grown. They don’t have tantrums in supermarkets any more, but they do have ever changing complex emotional needs, needs that aren’t easily met any more by a firm hug and the offer of chocolate buttons. Toddlers are intense for sure, but they are much more straightforward and although their tears are exhausting, there is a satisfaction in being able to easily put a smile back on their faces.

Parenting teenagers and young adults is a completely different ball game and one that I’ve found much harder to deal with as a single parent. I felt the lack of another adult much more strongly as they’ve grown up and the challenges they face have become more complicated. More and more often I’ve found myself longing for another parent to share that responsibility with – someone to talk to, share ideas with, someone to reassure me that I’m doing the right thing and that everything is going to be okay.

I don’t think I really appreciated just how much I missed that person in my life until about six months ago when I started a new relationship. My new partner is a father of four himself, but more than that he’s a kind, thoughtful and emotionally intelligent man – something of a revelation for me after all this time. For the first time I truly feel like I have someone who I can rely on, someone with whom I can share that sense of responsibility, someone who understands what being a parent is all about, even when your kids do get older and start lives of their own. It had made me realise just how much, emotionally, I was carrying on my own, and how often we focus on the strain of single parenting small children and forget that being a single parent of teens can be just as hard work.

If I’ve learnt anything as they’ve grown up it’s that you never stop being a mum, no matter how old your children get.

It’s ironic perhaps that I’ve met a potential co-parent just as Belle is set to become an adult, but if I’ve learnt anything as they’ve grown up it’s that you never stop being a mum, no matter how old your children get. It may have taken me 25 years to finally feel like I’m not a single parent, but it’s definitely better late than never.

About Jo Middleton

Jo lives in Somerset with her 17-year-old daughter Belle.

She’s also written a novel – Playgroups & Prosecco – which you can check out here.

www.slummysinglemummy.com

@slummysinglemummy