Podcast: How to Parent in Social Isolation

Episode 1

As we find ourselves forced to live in close proximity with family and other members of our households, what can we do to keep ourselves and our children happy and safe? Vincent Papaleo joins us on our first ever podcast to talk about keeping your household a home and maintaining a comforting and safe place for you and your family during these unprecedented times.

You can find the Chief Justice interview by following the link below:

Vincent Papaleo’s website:

Sally Nicholes:

Welcome to the first in a series of podcasts. During these unprecedented times at Nicholes Family Lawyers, we thought it is very important to reach out to the community, particularly to those most vulnerable at a time where many of us are self-isolating and have numerous questions to know how to manage relationships, particularly family relationships.

So today for the first in our podcast series, I want to talk to Vincent Papaleo. Vincent will introduce himself in a minute, but from our perspective, he’s one of the top psychologists in Family Law and we often refer matters to Vince, particularly: to help mediate and avoid court; and to give therapy to our clients and to people we care about to ensure that they can actually manage their relationships.

This is a really pivotal time to be able to call upon someone like Vince and his experience to help us look at strategies for self-isolating, and to look at parenting, particularly, if you are co-parenting or separated parents.

So, I would like to introduce Vince now and to have him comment on the current conundrum.


Thanks Sally. Hi, I’m Vincent Papaleo, one of clinical psychologists. And my area of specialty, now, is working within the Family Court and helping families resolve some of their parenting issues in the post-separation period. As Sally has mentioned, this is an unprecedented time. We are all navigating new and different waters. In particular, for families going through the process of separation and the whole post-separation parenting arrangement, this can be a particularly stressful time.


So Vincent, when we have clients ring us and talked about the current climate and how they can possibly coordinate, for example, orders that they might already have in place, or a parenting plan that they may have in place. And Logistically, they will say that, “I can’t comply with this anymore.” I was meant to have a hand over at this specific time and people might become quite entrenched in terms of what the actual logistics of their arrangements are. What’s your message to parents, at the moment, in terms of how they should be managing orders that don’t really quite fit with our current self-isolation rules?


Yeah. Look, I think there are two parts about that Sally. The first is helping parents maintain a high-level of parenting themselves. So that What we know is that children parents (i) who’s parents separate; (ii) if their parents are not functioning well; (iii) if their parents’ mental health is compromised; (iv)  if their parents are not able to negotiate through then those children are more likely to experience problems

I think that it is important to try and stick to the rules of the court orders as much as possible, but the reality is that: (i) we need to be more flexible; (ii) we need to find creative solutions; (iii) it is important to reassure children that the time they spend with their parents in their family will continue uninterrupted; (iv) that things will be okay; (v) that parents are in control; and (vi) the parents need to make decisions on behalf of their children about how things will work.

It may be that the existing parenting orders are simply not possible to implement because of physical and or geographic considerations. Traveling might be problematic. Obviously, people who are isolated at home and who are quarantined have a particular kind of difficulty. That doesn’t mean that children can’t have contact with the parents.

I would be encouraging people to not confuse physical distancing, with social distancing. But Even in the event that a parent is not able to physically have contact with their child because of imposed restrictions, that doesn’t mean that the child still can’t have social contact with that parent, to use the telephone, to use FaceTime, or to use the multitude of teleconference platforms that can be implemented. For those parents to be involved in games, in reading, homework watching YouTube videos together by screen sharing facilities, to ensure that the child is psychologically still connected to his or her parents, and that both of those parents are creating an open pathway and easy bridge for the child to cross in order to maintain that connection to both.


Absolutely! This is when technology really is our friend and can be used in such a positive way. Do you have concerns for parents who have been high conflict? What would you suggest for those parents or for those lawyers, like myself, who might get calls from clients who are in a high-conflict situation?


Sally, I think that is likely to describe a quite a large number of the families with whom we’re having contact in these stressful times. It is likely that the stresses will accumulate. In all circumstances, I would encourage our legal colleagues and the parents with whom they’re working: (i) to initiate contact with someone who can help work their way through the dispute; (ii) to think of creative solutions; and (iii) to still stick to the fundamentals.

What we know is that children don’t want to be involved in their parents’ conflict. They don’t want to hear their parents’ story. They don’t want to carry messages. The same applies regardless of how children and parents are in contact with each other. I would encourage people to use as much common sense as possible, and to seek to unburden their children at a time when their children are likely to feel more anxious in anyway. I would encourage parents to try and contain their children’s anxiety by containing their own anxiety, and that way helping them through and convey to their kids a sense that the world will be okay, that it is safe, and that their mum and dad are in control.


I think you’ve often said to me that if parents are okay, then the kids are often okay. It’s a simple phrase but it can apply even more today. So, parents need to look after their own mental health. That’s really important.


I think that’s extremely important both the mental and physical health. Of course, it differs for children of different ages. If you have teenagers, they are likely to be actively connecting with their friends and peer group in a way that is quite common for them. So, it’s quite likely that they will have the same kind of social media footprint that they had prior to Covid-19. So, it might be more difficult for us, of a different generation, to really embrace that. But for younger children, in particular, who are so reliant upon that kind of scaffolding from their parents and their parents’ emotional state. It then becomes an imperative that their parents are psychologically and physically well, that their parents are sticking to the rules, that their parents are abiding by the public health information that is relevant to their family situation.

I think it’s also important to remind parents that what one parent does in their home, in terms of adhering to the public health information including the application of social distancing, doesn’t have to immediately replicate and exactly replicate what occurs in the other household. And that Parents can still do things differently while maintaining the broad parameters of keeping their children safe. I think it’s really helpful for kids to understand that their mums and dads are doing what they can to make sure that things will be alright for them, even if their parents are doing things differently.


Vince, we’re very lucky to have a very active Chief Justice of the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court who has been sending out directions and also has done a number of interviews. We will put the YouTube link to the latest interview with [3AW] underneath this podcast, so people can listen to it. He actually stated that he understands what people are experiencing and the challenges. And He mentioned that it is important for the spirit of the orders to be complied with of course and for people to be reasonable and sensible in the way they actually address their situation.

So I think he’s very much, and the other judges will follow, that during this extraordinary period of time, people really do need to think laterally and to not be sticking necessarily to the strict dictates of the orders to the point of being unworkable, for example, and to be reasonable. When some clients have actually run and are concerned in relation to issues such as domestic violence and children being at risk,and of course in those circumstances, the courts are operating, his honor, Chief Justice Alstergren was clear in making it known that the courts will be dealing with at children at risk, people at risk, and if you are incidents of domestic violence. Court-intervention and police-intervention is really still necessary in these times.

We have had a couple of incidents where perpetrators have thought that the courts won’t be enforcing necessarily intervention orders, or we have heard of activity and types of behavior where the Corona Virus is actually used as a tool to actually be quite abusive people. What are your comments about that Vince?


Family violence, in its many forms, is not acceptable at any level. I too would implore people if they are confronting this unreasonable and malicious treatment to access their lawyers, to access the police, and to access the court system. I think the Chief Justice has made it unequivocally clear that there will be no compromises made, no allowance made in the circumstances, nor should there be.

I would also remind people that their behavior, now, is probably a measure of how they will be judged later when the court system will re-operate, that people’s behavior will be held to account, and that it’s not reasonable for anyone to make allowances for the trip maltreatment of them by others just because of the social circumstances.

And If Covid-19 is being used as just another means by which someone can be emotionally abused or maltreated, then I would very much encourage them, either in conjunction with the solicitors, or on their own, to take action. That’s It’s not okay and in some ways it’s even less okay now than it has ever been at times when everyone is at such a heightened state of concern for this kind of behavior to continue.


Certainly! And it’s also online resources available that will put at the bottom of the podcast for people to access. But also We’ve mentioned before that this is the time to be kind. We’ve seen the best and the worst of people and their behaviors. Whether or not people have a sense of community at this time and that respecting the social isolation rules for example has been a very strong message out of the media. People have been quite oppositional to it. If that’s used in a way to be aggressive or abusive to somebody like we’ve been saying to clients, “well that it can be dealt with now and later on there will be further consequences, particularly financial consequences as well.”

So, I think that’s something that this myth that the courts aren’t still available, or there aren’t resources to deal with it, needs to be busted. It needs to be very clear, that there are still avenues for people who are victims of domestic violence at the moment.

There was an article in Mamamia, which made me laugh a little bit or smile a little bit, because I know the reaction of some of my clients about it. It was the recently separated couple who had decided to live together due to self-isolation. Do you think many of the people would be interested in that as a solution?


How did they describe it working, Sally?


I think they just started. I’ll get and have the link to this podcast, but they seem quite positive about it. They were just starting the process. So I think it was a wait-and-see. It was quite a catchy headline that the virus had brought them together again. They had just separated and then they’re back, self-isolating together.


I think, it’s an interesting prospect that the external circumstances dictate behavior and dictate a change in behavior. I wonder whether people when forced to tolerate, and forced to live with each other, and forced to compromise, and forced to cohabit, might find a way forward that could have some kind of a play-it-forward benefit. These are different circumstances in strange times and it may in fact invite people to have to look at themselves and their behavior differently when you are confined in the company of another person and that’s the way it’s going to be.

It may be a time to reflect not upon that person’s behavior, but upon your own behavior. What is it that you can do to make this situation better? How can you act in these difficult circumstances to find an easier, kinder, more gentle way forward? How can you act in a way to ease the discomfort, the stress and the distressed of another person, and that way also ease your stress and distress?


I suspect that the couple didn’t want to miss out on time with their child. I think quite a few clients are concerned, if there’s a total lockdown that if they have a share arrangement, the child will simply stay with the parent with whom the time has fallen and that’s a real fear. I think that this couple had decided to be inventive and live together to avoid that happening.


Again Sally, it seems to me as though that is a creative solution in an uncertain time. It’s not going to be an arrangement that works forever. But it may be an arrangement that sees this family through and this family’s needs through at this particular time, for a short period of time.

So, from the child’s perspective having his or her mum and dad coming together and making positive creative decisions on their behalf and taking control is of ultimate importance. So, children who feel that their parents are in control of the ship, that their parents are making good decisions together, and that their parents are implementing those decisions on behalf of their child, will be okay.

As you know, one of the analogies I use all the time is, if parents decide that they will move to the Antarctic and live in cardboard boxes and agree to do so cooperatively, those children will move to the Antarctic, and they will be all right. On condition that their parents continue to parent at a high-level, or at least one parent continues to parent at a high-level, and the child is exposed to a sense of calm. I think it’s important not to get confused by the content, but rather the process of what’s occurring. What The arrangement is much less important than how the arrangement is implemented for the sake of the children. If parents feel that they can move in together for a period of time, put aside their differences for the sake of their child, and to continue to allow their child to benefit from the input of both parents, then terrific.

However, the reality is that physical isolation is not social isolation. For parents to open the door to social contact with the other parent, regardless of where the parent is will benefit their child. We know that children who have more contact with their parents do better than children who have less. So if you have a parent who is otherwise living halfway around the world, if the parent with whom the child lives maintains an open gate keeping attitude and policy that child will enjoy a positive connected relation to that parent because the message is one of value and importance. You can live next door to someone and not speak to them. You can have friends who live halfway around the world and maintain contact because they are of emotional importance to you.

Applying that kind of thinking and principle to the way in which in this complicated time, we maintain a connection for children to their parents, and their extended family is of critical importance. We know that if you can minimize loss, if you can maximize time with both parents, and if you can keep kids connected to their broader social and family networks, you are likely to mitigate many of the more negative consequences of separation and divorce.


I think Vince, what’s coming to mind to is communication and the old communication books, but if parents who are separated could actually have a regular Zoom meeting together, for example, or collaboration where, they talk about how the kids are going on each household, and had that sort of interfacing and make it personal and make it visual if possible. You never know in terms of how relationships can actually possibly improve or possibly be managed. Also, she said before it’s good for the children to be actually seeing this occur.


As a rule, Sally, we want our children to feel that at times of stress and distress that they can access their parents, and their parents can comfort and reassure them. They can scaffold off their parents emotionally so children can use their parents to help them feel better themselves.

This is a complicated time and a time when children are likely to feel the most anxious because of all of the information that’s coming in from so many different sources, much of which for the younger children in particular, is likely to be overwhelming and confusing so their parents need to filter that through. But, if their parents together enact a sense that the world is okay, that we are in control, that we are doing what we have to, that we will keep you safe, that we are creating a bridge so you can be connected to your mom, your dad, your siblings, your grandparents, your extended family, your mates, your school, your kinder, your sporting groups, then they will start to have a sense that the world is again a safe place.

There are many resources, in particular, Telehealth Resources. And I would encourage people to access even the Australian Psychological Society for assistance at no cost for support around communication, mediation, some kind of collaboration. Even for those folks who find it difficult to talk, they can access a third party to assist and support them. The government placed so much emphasis on the mental health of our community. If we’re talking about the mental health of children, then we have to be talking about the mental health of their parents.


So, Vince you were talking about Telehealth. Have you had any experiences of virtual experiences in helping clients their appeal, therapeutically at the moment?


Actually Sally, I have. It’s a new medium. I have found the teleconferencing to be remarkably helpful. It is personal and it is connected. I’ve really found that people are enthusiastic and willing to try and explore different options and possibilities, rather than adhering to their old narratives that they’re much more receptive to creative solutions and in particular to interim solutions.

So that We’re not talking about the rest of their lives, but rather talking about what are we going to do for the next bit? What are we going to do for the school holidays? How are we going to manage the school holidays? What do we do about facilitating transition between parents? How do we manage the social isolation? How do we talk about sharing the children’s clothes all of the really practical things that when placed out into a discourse can be discussed? Problems can be found, and solutions can be sought.

So I think somewhat paradoxically my teleconferencing has been in many ways much more constructive because people are looking for solutions. There are multiple ways for solutions, and short-term solutions. It doesn’t have to be forever. I, of course hope, that this will be the beginning of a much bigger change, but in the short term, what I am finding is that people are really receptive. They’re looking for creative solutions. They are looking at the options to think outside the box, to find ways in which they can still maintain functioning within their families and their world in a way that is different because of the limitations that have been imposed upon us.


It is interesting because I know from time to time when I’ve spoken to yourself and other psychologists that having reference to the law can be important when you have absolutely hit a wall with a client where you need to actually say that behavior is illegal. For example, you need to draw boundaries but you hope that is not always the norm and that’s the exception. Have you had any anything of any cases where you think you need, I mean we’ve got the judges right behind us, I know in [inaudible] ensure that kids and families are not at risk? Are there any examples yet? We have actually had to refer people to court or it’s too early days for you?


It’s very early days. I am certainly aware of one matter in which one parent, in this particular case, the father was being quite overtly abusive and using the whole Covid-19 issue as a way of further bludgeoning his wife in a way that was really characteristic of his behavior towards her prior to all of this. It was just a different manifestation of previously abusive behavior that was controlled by virtue of an intervention order. And that particular lady was encouraged to seek assistance from the police, who took it seriously, acted immediately to contain, and manage the situation with very real consequences. So, I think that’s a really good example of the way in which allowances should not be made. There is no compromise. The police and the courts are not going to make allowances for people’s behavior and especially so at this difficult time. It is much more likely that the abusive behavior that people experience now is going to be an extension of previously abusive behavior. If there is an intervention ordering place or court-mandated restrictions, then they will still be powerful and they will still be applicable now.


And that’s such an important thing to know and I thought a wonderful message from the Chief Justice to say, “we’re here, we’re virtual, so we’re going to keep operating and that message needs to be clear out in the community.”

Well Vince, thank you so much for being part of this podcast. It really is such a great opportunity to reach out to listeners and to people who feel isolated, and hopefully we’ve had many more to come. And If we have any further queries, would love to have you back. But many thanks for that, Vince.


Sally, it’s my pleasure. I’m just reminding people that there are services and supports available. The government has made available to every citizen in Australia to access to Telehealth, to mental health. Again, I would encourage you to look at the Australian Psychological Society to access medicare-based and supported counseling and mediation to help us through this difficult time. It will end. We’ll get through the other side and we’ll be okay.


That’s wonderful. I think I can forecast that we’re going to be interviewing the CEO of [inaudible], and we’re going to be focusing specifically on domestic violence, hopefully in a constructive way. That will be on the next series.

Thank you again, Vince.


Thank you, Sally. My pleasure.


Useful Links:

Kids Helpline: A free, private and confidential telephone counselling service – 1800 55 1800 or kidshelpline.com.au/

Parent line: A state-wide counselling and support service for all Victorian parents – 13 22 89 or 1300 272 736

Safe Steps: A domestic violence hotline service for women and children – 1800 015 188

WIRE Helpline: A free support, referral, and information for all Victorian women (non-binary and gender diverse inclusive) – 1300 134 130

Relationship Space: An online program to help parents manage divorce – www.relationshipspace.com.au

Online Family Violence Intervention Order Application – fvio.mcv.vic.gov.au/

Relationships Australia: www.relationships.org.au/ 


Disclaimer: Nicholes Family Lawyers intends the information provided in this podcast as general information only, please contact Nicholes Family lawyers if you require specific information and advise in relation to any family law matter.