5 Areas of Self Care for Parents of Special Needs Children
The concept of selflessness is often seen as a virtue; and yet, if we fail to fulfill our own needs and nurture ourselves, we are less able to help and serve others. I invite you to think for a moment about the directions a flight attendant gives before a plan takes off. Should the pressure in the cabin change at any point during the trip, oxygen masks are going to fall from the ceiling. We’re instructed to first place an oxygen mask on ourselves BEFORE placing one on children or others who need assistance. Why? Many parents would say that their child’s safety is more important than their own, yet the flight attendant is very clear that you should take care of yourself first. In this situation, you can understand that if you are halfway through placing on your child’s oxygen mask and you pass out, you are of no good to your child and neither of you will now have oxygen. By making sure that you are able to breathe first, you ensure that you’ll have the ability to place the oxygen mask then on your child. While self care feels a little less life or death on a daily basis, the same concept applies: making a regular practice of caring for yourself will give you the strength to do the extra advocacy work, the extra physical work and the extra emotional work you want to give to help your child live life to the fullest.
As a parent of a child with special needs, you probably spend most of your days so busy with the demanding needs of your family that you neglect to take care of yourself. For parents of special needs children, a little selfishness is an absolute must. In order to give the most of yourself, you have to be your best self. To be at your best, a committed regimen of self-care is a must.
Among the most fundamental of needs is rest. Adequate sleep is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. A full night’s sleep will boost your energy, mood, memory and creativity while lowering stress levels. Jessica wrote a blog post with a few tips for falling asleep that may be useful if it’s a struggle to turn off your mind and relax at night. As a parent of a special needs child, you may find yourself worry about your child’s future, planning everything you have to fit in tomorrow or even grieving the freedom of your life before children. All of this is normal, but can make it more difficult to get the rest you need.
Good nutrition is not just a benefit to you as a parent, but it has a long-term impact on your children as well. You’ll teach them healthy eating habits that will carry on into adulthood as you improve your own health and longevity. Keeping your meals and snacks colorful with fruits and vegetables will provide energy and help you stave off lethargy as you boost your mental clarity.
Taking your child on a short walk to the local park or playground will benefit both of you as you get in some much needed sunlight and a bit of exercise. According to the World Health Organization, just five to fifteen minutes of casual sun exposure will provide you with the vitamin D benefits of the sun; this includes a general feeling of well-being along with numerous health benefits.
Play dates are a great way to integrate your special needs child socially, but it also benefits you with some much-needed downtime. Make a list of friends and loved ones you can call or video chat with when you need to talk. Look for community support groups to find other parents in your area you can turn to for advice and understanding. You can also seek the professional guidance of a mental health specialist for additional support.
Meditation can seem like an unnecessary indulgence or a waste of time to a busy parent, but numerous scientific studies have proven the many health benefits of meditation. Setting aside just five to ten minutes a day for some quiet reflection can help boost your immune system, manage stress, help you focus and boost your mood, to name just a few of the many health benefits. Meditation is something anyone can learn. You can learn a little about Mindfulness and Meditation and even watch a couple simple meditations Jessica recorded here. Another way to quickly find a mindfulness meditation to use is to type “how to meditate” into a search engine or on YouTube and you’ll find several guides on how to get started on this simple practice.
If you’re a special needs parent and you’re struggling or just need some support, call our office today (573-328-2288) and let’s schedule a time that you can meet with one of our therapists to discuss how counseling may be a helpful self care practice you can add to your life.