Guest blog post: 'How to Create Structure for Happier Single Parenting' by Daniel Sherwin

This is a guest blog post by Daniel Sherwin of Many thanks to Daniel for submitting his post to us for publication.

 Image via  Unsplash

Image via Unsplash

How to Create Structure for Happier Single Parenting

At work, you’re a rockstar. You knock out deadlines ahead of time, get along with your coworkers, and receive regular praise from your boss. But at home, it seems like you can never do anything right. The house is a mess, the kids are throwing tantrums, and you’re at the end of your rope. But just because you’re a single parent doesn’t mean you have to accept a hectic home life. Here are five things you can do to get it under control.

Create Household Routines

As a single parent, you juggle a lot of responsibilities. But if your children are school-age, chasing after them to get ready each morning and night shouldn’t be one of them. Create daily routines so that your kids know what’s expected of them. In addition to bedtime and morning routines, schedule homework for the same time each day and try to keep mealtimes consistent. Hanging a written schedule in a highly visible location helps your kids stay on track when introducing new routines.

Keep a Calendar

Between custody swaps, extracurricular activities, playdates, and doctor appointments, there’s a lot to keep track of on a daily basis. Dropping the ball once in a while is inevitable; you forget about a friend’s birthday party or send your kid to picture day in rumpled clothes. But you can help everyone stay on top of scheduled activities by maintaining a family calendar. Coordinate parenting schedules with your ex using an online calendar like these suggestions from Lifewire, and hang a big paper calendar on the fridge so you and the kids can see what each day holds.

Clean as You Go

With everything that’s on your plate, sometimes chores take the back burner. But leave them too long, and you’ll be drowning in a mess with no idea how to start fixing it. Rather than letting chores build up, make a habit of cleaning as you go. Do the dishes before leaving the kitchen, clean up games before moving onto the next one, and do one load of laundry a day instead of sacrificing your weekends to the washing machine. As your kids get older, incorporate them into chores. Kids can clear the table, collect dirty laundry, and clean up toys starting in preschool, with responsibility increasing as they get older. If you’re not sure which chores are age-appropriate, this guide from Focus on the Family can help.

Stay Organized

Cleaning as you go is much easier when everything has a place. But if your home is chronically disorganized, it can feel like you’ll never get control of cleanliness. Block out a weekend for reorganizing so you can get a fresh start on a tidy home. By purging what you don’t need and organizing what you do, you not only make it easier to keep your house clean, you also eliminate the small daily annoyances that drive your stress levels up.

Know Your Support Team

No matter how on top of things you are, there will be moments you need help. Maybe traffic is horrendous on your way to pick up the kids, and you need someone else to step in, or one child is hospitalized, and someone needs to get the others fed and dressed. If you hit one of those moments and realize you have no one to call, you’re going to feel incredibly isolated and overwhelmed. That’s why it’s so important to know your support system before catastrophe strikes. Your support system might include family members, friends, other parents, and a reliable babysitter. They should be people you can call on when you need a hand as well as when you need someone to talk to.

Despite your best efforts, there will still be times during single parenthood where you just can’t catch a break. However, by creating structure at home, you can make those moments less frequent. And that’s not just good for your own stress levels—it’s good for your kids, too.

Many thanks to Daniel Sherwin for sending us this blog post. Please check out his website at for more helpful blog posts and content from him.

If you'd like to submit a blog post that would be be relevant to HeadStart's audience, please contact us.

It's the most wonderful time of the year ... but not for everyone

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…. but not for everyone

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Most people think of Christmas as a time of happiness, celebration and spending time with family and friends. I certainly look forward to Christmas every year for some much-needed rest, fun, and festivities with my family. However, I am also acutely aware that for many young people, especially those who are finding life tough-going, the Christmas period can add significantly to their challenges. For them, it can be anything but wonderful. Studies show that depression rates increase for many at Christmas, and suicide rates often show an increase at Christmas. One recent American survey of young people showed that 45% of respondents dreaded the festive season.

Most would agree that Christmas can be a challenging time for everyone’s stress levels, with all the planning, organising and shopping to do. It can be even harder for those with low levels of resilience and poor mental health and wellbeing. Most people will have emotional and mental health challenges at some time in their lives, and for at least a quarter of the population, this will develop into a diagnosable mental illness such as stress, anxiety, depression or psychosis. At a time when most people are busy celebrating, some young people will simply be unable to do so because of their emotional and mental state. Christmas can increase their sense of isolation, or for those with a past bereavement, their sense of loss.


Unfortunately, some young people will turn to alcohol and substance abuse, self-harm or other risky behaviour as a way of coping during the festive break, and unchecked, these can become dangerous habits with ongoing negative impacts for their physical health and life chances. Those living in families who have been hardest hit by the reduction in support services in the recent period of austerity will be under added pressures at this time of year; young people can find it very difficult to cope.So, if you are the parent, carer or friend of a young person who is struggling and who might find Christmas an extra challenge this year, the following might help you to help them:

1. Try to set a realistic expectation for Christmas and family gatherings and avoid the ‘perfect’ representation of Christmas pushed by the media and advertisements. Encourage the family, friends and young person to be in the present and enjoy each moment as best as they can. This should help avoid disappointment, frustration and arguments, and to keep the tension low.

2. Watch out for unusual or abnormal behaviour in a young person, such as withdrawal, being down for long periods, increased anxiety, or panic attacks. Try to help them restore calm by giving them time away from noisy, busy places and concentrating on quiet and being in the moment. The following website has some fun mindfulness activities for young people:

3. Encourage the young person to talk about their feelings and to seek help from the statutory and voluntary organisations out there to support them, especially if you are really worried about them:

4. Discourage the young person from making unhelpful and inaccurate social comparisons with others. This will avoid a negative impact on self-esteem through a likely mistaken belief that everyone else is having a better time, better gifts, more fun and a better life. Social media can often encourage this distorted view of others’ lives and can lead to self-image issues or feeling inadequate.

5. Encourage the young person to get involved with helping others through local charities and worthwhile causes, or to attend organised community activities. Encourage them to do some physical activity as the connection between physical health and wellbeing is very strong.

6. Remember that some young people might find the most challenging time to be after Christmas, in the period known as the post-Christmas blues. Seasonal Affected Disorder might also come into play so it is worth bearing this in mind once the festivities are over.

Listen to the young people in your life and try to support them in making the right decisions for their own well-being …. and if you’re a parent or carer, don’t forget to take care of yourself too.

Everyone at HeadStart Wolverhampton wishes you a wonderful Christmas holidays.

Share your feedback! An introduction to the new HeadStart Support and Guidance platform.

How do you find the best resources to support the emotional well-being of young people, whether you’re a young person yourself, a professional who works with young people, or a family member?

In the last week, we’ve launched the HeadStart Support and Guidance Directory at, our new platform to share well-being and mental health resources from around the web. In this post, I want to provide a quick overview of the new site, including the thinking behind its structure and design.

The concept of a citywide digital platform to provide support and guidance was always part of the HeadStart Wolverhampton vision, and was a key part of the citywide proposals in the successful bid we submitted to Big Lottery last year. We wanted to provide a place online where young people, professionals and parents could find information they could trust.

The question for us, of course, was how should the site look and work?

One idea was to create theme-based pages based around common emotional or mental health challenges: ’depression’, ‘bullying’, ‘self harm’ and so on. We could have brought together onto the pages information and media created by HeadStart Wolverhampton with links to other fantastic content on the web created by the likes of Young Minds, Time To Change, The Charlie Waller Memorial Trust, and many others. This approach has been adopted successfully by other organisations, including the Black Country CAMHS site at, and the HeadStart Kent site at

We decided to take a different route. Our key design goals were to:

  • provide a curated directory of resources that encouraged sharing, user feedback and user submission of resources
  • create a platform that would be easy to update with new resources
  • allow users to search for resources using natural language based on their needs and interests
  • allow users to specify who they are, whether a young person, professional, or parent, and to deliver appropriate resources based on this without users having to establish usernames or passwords.
  • find a way to present a range of content ‘types’ - including video, organisations, webpages and more - in a way that allowed visitors to explore these separately. (We imagined a teacher looking for video content to use in class to explore a challenging topic, or a young person looking for an organisation to support them with a mental health challenge. How would they find these easily?)
  • make sure that the site worked well on a wide range of devices, including, critically, on iOS and Android smartphones.

From the earliest development of the site, we envisaged a search results page with a ‘magazine’ style, organised according to resource type. Instead of Google-style search listings, we wanted something more visual. We imagined that the search results page could become a destination in its own right, a page that visitors could store, share, and return to repeatedly as new resources were added. This idea ultimately lead to search result pages that look like this:

  A search results page for 'bullying'

A search results page for 'bullying'

Through an open procurement process, we commissioned the Oxygen Agency to partner with us to make these ideas a reality, working alongside their project management and development teams to storyboard ideas, and refine the user interface. With our design ideas in place, and with web development ongoing, the challenge now was to populate the site with links to carefully selected content.

Through the summer and early autumn, we worked with a group of undergraduates and recent graduates from the University of Wolverhampton as part of the university’s WXP programme. Their task was to find, review, and moderate resources on a range of selected themes. Every resource was reviewed by at least two students before being added to the platform.

And now we’re in a position where we’re happy for everyone to explore the site, to ’kick the tyres’ and, critically, to share feedback with us about what’s working well and what’s not. The HeadStart team, with continuing support from university graduates, is still hard at work adding new content to the platform, and tweaking the organisation and descriptions of existing resources. Please help us by submitting the resources that you find most helpful.

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We’re already making use of the features of the site to curate selected resources for a specific purpose: the ‘Orange Wolverhampton’ campaign to raise awareness of violence against women and girls that is organised by Wolverhampton Safeguarding Board. Doing this was as easy as keywording a range of resources, and sharing a link to the search results page like this:

See below for a video overview of the basic features of the new platform, and let us know what you think by commenting below on this blog post, emailing us, or messaging us on Twitter or FaceBook. Many thanks for your support - we hope that you find the platform to be a useful addition to your list of ‘go to’ places for advice and guidance.