In a previous post I wrote about some of the most useful tools for calming your childs anxiety which you can find here:
So what are you doing as a parent to care for your own mental health to help give the best and most sustainable support to your child?
It is so important as a parent both to separate out our own issues and frustrations so they don’t get muddled with our child’s and, to nurture ourselves to grow and thrive as well rounded adults too. Taking care of our own mental health is also a great example to our children.
Agreed I hear you say, but how is that even possible when so much of my time is focused around the needs of my child especially if they have additional issues, separation anxiety, agoraphobia or are out of full time education?
- Seek out a listening ear – Having some one to talk to outside of the home is invaluable. There are often many additional stresses on parents of children with additional needs from money worries to dealing with officialdom, Getting things of your chest means you are clear and focused when dealing with your child and helps stop you reacting to them and creating a vicious circle of to and fro reactions between you. Make sure to choose someone you can trust or you may prefer to employ a counsellor as I do. Personally I prefer someone detached from my everyday life who I can be really honest with about my feelings. If you can’t get out of the house them many counsellors will allow on-line or telephone consultations.
- Find your happy place. Have a place for you. Make your bedroom extra comfy or put a chair in the garden. I set up a bird-table in my garden and used to sit and what the birds. Having that place to relax even if you only get 5 mins is invaluable. As long as your child is safe don’t feel bad about taking 5 mins, a calm parent is huge benefit to the child too.
- Do something you love. Find something you can do that you can pick up and put down but that keeps you feeling alive and like a person outside of parenthood. If you can enrol in an evening course or take dance lessons for example. if you can’t get out maybe a take up craft, painting, writing or an open university course. Don’t take on anything too stressful though, something that keeps you absorbed and engaged but you can put down and pick up when you want is perfect. This little nod to your identity outside of being a parent will help give your mind a break and allow you to step outside of the stresses for a time. It is hugely beneficial to a child to see their parent having outside interests and although not the plan it may even inspire your child to get involved or develop a hobby of their own.
- Take the opportunity to do things when you can. It is easy to feel burnt out and that you don’t have the energy to do anything on those rare occasions you might be able to get out alone but 9 times out of 10 if you make the effort to get out it will do you the power of good. Even if it is only a child free trip to the shop or a cup off coffee at the local Costa grab it with both hands. Better still if you can get out in nature and just sit or walk for an hour it can really help lower stress.
- Don’t be afraid to say No. Don’t feel you have to push yourself to try and attend every event or have people around or take on extra workload. Practice saying NO and putting yourself first, the more you do it the easier it gets.
- Ask for Help. If you had asked me a year and a half ago what support I had with my child I would of said none however with help from my counsellor I found ways to ask for help and to negotiate situations so they would best support me and not just my child. By jiggling around the way and times my son sees his Dad, ie having him for sleepover rather than him visiting my son at our house, I have real time off. I know this exact scenario is not going to be available to everyone but thinking about who else your child will tolerate taking care of them and how you can incorporate that into your life you may be able to get a little support. A friend who takes your child swimming perhaps or arranging with the Grandparents that you will pop out when they visit for example. It is so easy to get bogged down and feel you are alone when it may not necessarily be the case.
- Get everyone on the same page. Extra stress caused by arguments about how best to raise your child are one thing worth trying to take out of the equation. For example the PDA society runs courses which you could do with whoever else spends time with your child whether that be your partner/wife/husband or the child’s grandparents or aunt or uncle. If you can’t get to one of the workshops together then maybe by staggering it you can get everyone to a workshop over time. If you can’t get to or find a suitable course then following written strategies specifically tailored to your child’s condition or area of difficulty rather than ones that one or the other is pushing can help take the heat out of a situation.
- Treat yourself whether it be a box of chocolates or a bunch of flowers, a long bath in essential oils or a new pair of ridiculously high knee length boots (which by the way I still haven’t worn but I enjoy looking at) do something at least once a week for you, you are worth it.
This list is by no means exhaustive but it should be a starting point to caring for yourself which is so easily forgotten. If you feel you don’t have the time or your mental health is not as important as everyone else’s around you then just remember you are the ship keeping them all afloat and if you go down you are taking them all with you.
If you have any great tried and tested tips for caring for yourself whilst raising your SEN child do leave them in comments, I would love to hear.