One in three parents 'out of their depth' as children struggle with pandemic fallout

Tuesday 14 July 2020

Our research reveals the devastating impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on millions of families in Britain

A YouGov survey of over 2,000 parents by Action for Children today (Tuesday 14 July) lays bare the devastating impact that the coronavirus pandemic has had on millions of families in Britain, with parents and children struggling to cope with issues caused by life in lockdown.

After months of lockdown over a third of parents (36%) say that their children are feeling isolated and lonely, with millions also reported as anxious, or unable to sleep.¹

This has left parents themselves reeling with four in 10 (43%) feeling anxious and more than one in three (33%) admitting to being out of their depth when it came to supporting their children during the lockdown. Many are also experiencing the same loneliness and sleep problems they say their children are. 

Even with restrictions easing, parents are fearful about the weeks and months of uncertainty ahead. Over one in three (37%) say they are worried their children will struggle to socialise and want to remain at home. Mums and dads experiences included their children ‘bedwetting’, becoming ‘clingy and unsure’ and not ‘wanting to go outside’. Others reported ‘disordered eating’, that their child had become ‘weepy’, ‘frustrated’ or ‘scared of people’ outside their home.

With ongoing uncertainty, Action for Children is warning that things are likely to get worse as the long term impacts of the pandemic become clearer. After seeing a surge of 415%  in the three months of lockdown to its digital parenting advice service, the charity is launching Parent Talk – a new national online service which connects mums and dads with trained parenting coaches. Its confidential one-to-one online chat service gives parents somewhere to turn for free, practical advice and emotional support.

The charity is also urging the government to do its part by prioritising children’s mental health in the COVID recovery planning, and providing adequate funding to meet the surge in need feared in the months ahead.

Lynn Giles, Parent Talk Manager at Action for Children, said: “The pandemic has triggered a crisis for mums, dads and children on an unprecedented scale, with parents feeling overwhelmed without their usual support from friends and family, or any certainty for the future.

“Huge numbers of children will need extra support over the coming months and parents are telling us they don’t know where to turn. As the immediate health crisis passes we now need to turn our attention to the scars coronavirus has left on families struggling with a whole new reality -  with many grieving from having lost loved ones, and others worrying about their jobs and their futures. 

“With so many mums and dads in desperate need of guidance, a service like Parent Talk is needed now more than ever. Our parent coaches are there for any questions parents have – big or small. Anyone who needs a bit of support in these tough times can go to

Case study

Nikki Wallis, 32, lives with her partner Adam, 30 in Selkirk, Scotland. The couple have four daughters, Katelynn ten, Macey 8, Quinn 5 and Carly 2, all of whom have been struggling.

It’s the uncertainty of everything that has made my anxiety and depression so bad. When the kids ask me questions I just don’t know any of the answers and can’t reassure them about anything. They’ll ask about school and what will happen if there is a second wave but no one knows what is happening. When I can’t tell the kids anything that’s when the anxiety builds up.

‘Macey has just turned eight and she’s gone from a quite spirited, happy child to a little girl who’s not interested in anything and her attitude and behaviour over the last few weeks has been an issue. Even my eldest, who usually takes everything in her stride has started to struggle. She hasn’t seen her Dad, my ex-partner, for months as he works for the NHS and she has health problems. She misses him and is so emotional all the time. She is becoming more withdrawn and staying in her room. The two youngest ones don’t really understand what’s going on but I’m worried about them returning to school and nursery. If the staff are wearing masks I think that will scare them more than anything. Before lockdown my youngest had sleep issues, and they have worsened now.

‘It gets so confusing and you just can’t give the kids any routine whereas before all of this we had a really strict routine and everyone knew exactly how their day was going to be. Now we’ve got nothing.’


Media contact

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

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


These quotes are from families supported by Action for Children's Parent Talk.

Mum's concern for 7 year old daughter: “I'm struggling to know where to get help for my 7 year old. She has big meltdowns which don't resolve for hours and if we try to reflect gently later this leads to panic or another meltdown. Aggression is common during these meltdowns as are comments like "I'm gonna die" or "I wish I was dead.”

Mental health issues for a 12 year old: “My son has OCD and terrible anxiety He looks for constant reassurance about his health and hygiene. It has escalated over the last couple of months since he has been in lockdown.”

Mum with adopted daughter: “Before lockdown started, my daughter, who was adopted, was already having difficulty in school maintaining friendships and now, because of lockdown, she has had very little contact with any other children because she just does not have any friends. Her behaviour has deteriorated to a worrying level, becoming very argumentative, having major temper tantrums, reminiscing constantly about her past and having night terrors almost every night. She is desperate to return to school and see other children, but we are concerned that when she does eventually have the chance to return to school that she will struggle enormously. She has definitely regressed emotionally and we are so worried for her.”

Top five most common parenting questions for Parent Talk March - June 2020

  • Child mental wellbeing
  • Behaviour (boundaries and routines)
  • Parent mental wellbeing
  • Contact arrangements
  • Parental conflict

About Parent Talk

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.

About Action for Children

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 476 services in communities across the UK, the charity helps more than 387,000 children, teenagers, parents and carers a year.

Research notes

  • All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 8439 adults of which 2001 were parents of children aged 18 or under. Fieldwork was undertaken between 16 – 22 June 2020. The survery was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+):
  • ¹All children aged 18 and under with 28% of children reported as anxious; 25% reported as unable to sleep.
  • For parents – 31% experiencing loneliness; 38% experiencing sleep problems
  • Total calls to Parent Talk pilot scheme from Apr – June 2019: 393; Apr- June 2020: 2,023
  • Action for Children calculated 3.1 million households are struggling with parenting during lockdown: 39% of parents said they had struggled with parenting during the lockdown. We scaled this number to population using the Office for National Statistics - Labour Force Survey which estimates that there were 8 million households with dependent children (those aged under 18 who are living with their parent) in 2019.