Contact with your child during lockdown- with Dr Lucie MacKinlay

I spoke with Dr Lucie MacKinlay, a chartered Clinical Psychologist who has worked for the NHS since 2003, and who also provides assessments to the courts in contact and residence disputes. I wanted to know what she thought parents could be doing to prioritise their child’s needs during lockdown.

In these strange and frightening times children will naturally look to their parents for reassurance and comfort.  Even when you are able to put your arms round your child it can sometimes be difficult to console them. It is obviously all the more difficult to comfort a child if you are living apart in different households. 

There have been mixed messages in the media causing confusion about whether children of parents who are separated are able to move between households during coronavirus restrictions. Concerns have been voiced about separated parents exploiting the coronavirus restrictions to frustrate contact.

The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service has been providing guidance by way of regular updates throughout the lockdown on how the courts are operating. The Guidance relating to contact with children when parents live in different households was issued by the Lord President on 27th March and remains current- you can read it and a link to the UK Government general lockdown statement here. It makes clear that there is an exception to the general stay at home rule where parents are separated and children are living between two households.   Children can continue to see both parents as long as both households are healthy, and it is possible to put practical arrangements in place to avoid the children being exposed to risk.

So what can you do if it’s been several weeks since you’ve seen your children? Just like you, they will be trying to cope with the change in their usual routines. They will be missing you. They may be feeling overwhelmed by the daily news reports of people falling ill and dying. It’s all the more important that you find appropriate ways to stay in touch and find the right words to reassure your children, if they become upset. 

In a recent discussion that I had with Dr Lucie MacKinlay, a Chartered Clinical Psychologist who provides a bespoke mental health service for children, she explained that, “While contact issues are often exceedingly painful and stressful, keeping the child’s needs at the core of your actions needs to be a priority. Avoiding causing them any extra stress, or adding to a feeling of guilt at the loss of contact, is essential.”

She went on to advise that, “Often parents believe the other parent is influencing a child and this causes fear and anger. Be the parent that is consistently kind, whether that be over the telephone, FaceTime, or in letters. Your child’s psychological wellbeing is enormously important. Children thrive on parental cooperation, respect and acceptance. If the other parent cannot or will not engage in this type of communication, then it is up to you to model this. As frustrating as this can be, your child will benefit in the longer term.”

In conclusion, she made the following recommendations, “The COVID-19 crisis is a scary time for children. Being calm, rational and nurturing will help them cope. Setting aside any parental conflict would be useful just now. Your child will benefit. During ‘lockdown’, virtual love is almost as good as physical contact. Your child is from the 21st century remember. A meme, a gif, a text message, a TikTok, a recorded message, a video call etc. is essential right now. Or simply a letter in the post will do just fine. Stating, “I love you, I’m thinking about you” is what they need now, and always. If it is not possible to contact your child at all, avoiding directly adding to their stress would be a different way of showing your love. Stay safe - psychologically, emotionally and physically.” 

Sound advice indeed in these difficult times.