Eight out of ten parents show warning signs of parental burnout as families struggle with toll of pandemic

Thursday 21 October 2021
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Leading children’s charity hears from parents ‘drowning’ because of a lack of support for families affected by the past 18 months

  • New Action for Children research shows 82% of UK parents have demonstrated at least one of the warning signs that may indicate parental burnout as a result of the pandemic
  • Nearly half have struggled with anxiety - with 52% of women saying this had been a factor during the pandemic compared to 37% of men
  • The long-term impact of the pandemic on their child’s education is what worries most parents - with their child’s mental health also a huge concern
  • Action for Children’s parenting advisers fear anxiety over job security, rising living costs and impact of Universal Credit cuts will continue to compound the pressure on parents
  • One Mum told the charity’s parenting advice service Parent Talk: ‘I feel like I’m crumbling under the pressure and I’ve lost count how many times I’ve cried over the past weeks. I don’t know what to do and I hate myself but I feel like just walking out of the door and not coming back.’

Over eighty per cent (82%) of parents admit to struggling with at least one of the warning signs that may indicate parental burnout – a condition identified as ‘a prolonged response to chronic and overwhelming parental stress’ [1] – as a result of the pandemic. That’s according to new research with over 2000 parents by Action for Children, which lays bare the impact that the past 18 months has had on millions of families across the UK. The charity is calling on the government to urgently increase the support available for parents and carers before problems escalate in homes or schools – a situation which could lead to potentially significant, yet avoidable, costs for public services.

The most common red flags [2] shown by the majority of parents polled by the charity included anxiety (46%), disruption to sleep (34%), feeling isolated (33%), depression (32%) and overwhelming exhaustion mentally (27%).

Other key findings:

  • Parents of pre-school age children were more likely to say they have suffered at least one of these indicators (86%) than parents of secondary age children (76%)
  • More women are likely to be struggling with signs of parental burnout as a result of the pandemic than men
  • 88% of parents said they were worried about the impact of covid on their child’s future

The charity’s own parenting helpline, Parent Talk, which offers free, online advice and one to one chats with trained advisers, is seeing evidence of the challenges being faced by parents first-hand, highlighted by these real-life examples of chats with parents*:

‘I have a toddler and feel like I’m on a ride I can’t get off. Lately I’ve been having feelings of rage which isn’t like me at all. I feel like I can’t get back to normal after the pandemic, I’m still anxious about going out and feel so isolated and depressed.’

‘My teen is addicted to gaming and it’s got worse because of Covid. He refuses to sleep and when I tell him to stop he ignores me. Last night I turned the wi-fi off and he lashed out at me. My husband tells me I’m making a fuss over nothing but I want to just leave this house and never come back.’

‘I’m still waiting for an ASD (autism spectrum disorder) diagnosis for my child but I’ve been told I could be waiting for over a year. He’s struggling enormously and I feel like I’m drowning I’m so worried about it all. I can’t sleep and when I do I have nightmares.’

Parent Talk, a digital advice and chat service for parents and carers, has helped nearly 10,000 parents through one-to-one chats in the last year and has seen a sharp rise in parents seeking help with the most severe issues since the start of the pandemic. Worries about children’s mental health featured in over half (51%) of chats since March 2021 compared to around a third of chats (32%) last year – an increase of 60%. Concerns about their child’s education have also doubled year on year and parents and carers are also increasingly expressing worries about their own mental health. [3]

Ayla McCamphill-Rose is a Devon based GP and Mum of two boys who used the Parent Talk helpline when her youngest son was struggling with his mental health:

‘My husband is in the military and at the height of the pandemic we were transferred back to the UK from overseas. It’s a big move for a child at any time but during a global pandemic and in the midst of lockdowns my youngest son in particular found the situation very hard to deal with. We were living in temporary accommodation with no certainty about our long-term housing, my father had recently died from cancer with the inquest outstanding, family life was stressful and it was clear my son was increasingly unhappy and struggling to process what was happening.

One morning after I dropped him off at his new school following an exhausting struggle to get him to go, as well as getting myself ready for work and my eldest off to school, I just sat in the car and cried. I didn’t know what to do or how to help him and there was nowhere I could think to go for support.

I reached for Parent Talk and it was like a lifeline to talk to someone who could not only support me with my own mental health but also give me very practical, realistic advice that I could work on with my son. I recommend them to my patients all the time. It’s an incredible resource for such a wide range of parents and parenting issues and that’s really key.

As a GP I can clearly see that there’s been no let up for parents. The ones I’ve spoken to have really struggled to find the breathing space to manage the stress not only of parenting but life in general. Add to that the fallout of the number of kids going back to school having missed not only 18 months of normal academic education but that social education as well, uncertainty around exams, parents work, the children who need specialist help that have gone under the radar or are on longer waiting lists - there’s a lot of angst and panic and support is stretched thin. All of this falls back on to the parents and people are finding it really tough.’

Lynn Giles, Parent Talk Manager at Action for Children, said:

‘Every day Parent Talk hears heart-breaking stories of children struggling with their mental health, education, development – the list is endless and these issues are hurting children from newborns to teens. Parents are desperately trying to help support their children but are often feeling utterly overwhelmed with nowhere to turn. Desperate to do the right thing, but not knowing what that is.

The Parent Talk team is there for the growing numbers of parents and carers that need help. The fall-out from Covid is going to take years to process and with the added stresses in the run up to Christmas with food and fuel price rises on the horizon it’s almost a perfect storm of parental pressure. This could have a huge impact on the life chances of our children.

The Government needs to recognise that parents, especially now, need help in lots of different ways. So, as well as trusted digital services like Parent Talk, we need to invest in face-to-face services like Family Hubs, which are local support centres where problems can be picked up more easily in the early stages and could prove a vital lifeline to those parents struggling in the wake of the pandemic.’


Case studies and spokespeople are available

Find more information and advice about parental burnout on the Parent Talk website here.

*Some identifying details have been changed for identification purposes


Beth McDonald, Action for Children media team – 07940 441 770 / [email protected]

Out of hours: 07802 806 679 / [email protected]



Parent Talk offers free, down-to-earth information and advice for parents of children aged 0-19 from Action for Children. The confidential one-to-one online chat service connects parents directly with a parenting coach for judgement-free practical advice and emotional support whilst the website answers some of the most common parenting questions. Parenting coaches are qualified and experienced support workers, childminders, play practitioners and teachers.


Action for Children protects and supports vulnerable children and young people by providing practical and emotional care and support, ensuring their voices are heard and campaigning to bring lasting improvements to their lives. With 512 services across the UK, in schools and online, in 2020/21 we helped 604,885 children, young people and families.


All figures, unless otherwise stated are from Savanta. Total sample size was 2,022 parents of children aged 18 and under. Field work was undertaken between Tuesday 5th and Friday 8th October 2021. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+). Research data can be found here

  3. In the last 12 months (October 2020 – September 2021) Parent Talk has helped over 402,234 parents and carers and conducted 9837 one-to-one online chats.

- Children’s Mental Health was tagged as a topic in 2793 chats from a total of 5494 in March 2021 – September 2021.

- Children’s Mental Health was tagged as a topic in 1845 chats from a total of 5790 in March 2020 – September 2020.

- Education was tagged as topic in 871 chats from a total of 5494 in March 2021 – September 2021.

- Education was tagged as a topic in 399 chats from a total of 5790 in March 2020 – September 2020.