With the practicalities of day-to-day life, it can be easy to forget to look after your own wellbeing needs, as well as those of your children, which can lead to feelings of stress or being overwhelmed.
Factoring in regular time or activities for yourself will hopefully allow you to enjoy the good moments in life more and to find strength during difficult times.
Give yourself permission
It is very easy, as a parent or carer, to prioritise the needs of your family and others ahead of your own wellbeing. But taking time for yourself is not selfish. Everybody needs space to unwind and relax, and giving yourself permission to take some time to recharge your batteries means that you will hopefully have more energy and patience to meet the needs of your family. Start by trying to give yourself 10 minutes each day where you can just sit down, have a cup of tea and take a breather.‘
Being kind to yourself
If you’re looking at this page there’s a pretty good chance you’re struggling at the moment. It may be that you also feel bad about yourself and feel as if you’re failing. If this is happening it can help to have a think about how you ‘talk’ to yourself. We’re sometimes much harder on ourselves in our own thoughts than we would be to anyone else we speak to. Imagine that it’s a friend who’s in your situation right now instead of you. How would you comfort them? How would you encourage them? Can you speak encouragingly to yourself too?
Getting things done
Make a to-do list- At times you might find that your ‘list of things to do’ can build up. This could be general errands, shopping for vital items, or general admin. If these tasks are weighing on your mind compile a to-do list that you can tick off as you go along prioritising those activities which need to be done that day or week. This includes setting aside quality time with your children and time for yourself. Just seeing everything written down may help make things seem more manageable and identify things which really aren’t urgent. And remember it is fine and healthy to sometimes have a down day.
Ask for help
Asking for help from others can sometimes feel as if we’re failing as a parent or carer but parenting can be tough and reaching out for support is nothing to feel ashamed of. Whether it’s minding your child for a short time to allow you to get things done or running a small errand for you, friends and family will often be happy to help and children and young people can also benefit from knowing there are other trusted adults in their life that your family can turn to. Depending on the age of the child, you can also ask them to complete age-appropriate tasks to help around the house to relieve you of some of the everyday tasks.
Maintaining energy levels
Looking after your physical health can have a positive impact on your mental and emotional wellbeing. A healthy and balanced diet can help how you feel physically and avoiding certain foods can help if you’re feeling low or anxious. Regular exercise doesn’t need to mean running 5ks but may include regular walks,
The importance of sleep
Balanced sleep is really important for good mental health but it can also be a really useful self-care tool for when you need a break to get away from your thoughts or situation for a bit. Trying to establish good sleep routines for your children can be the first step to giving you time at night to relax and allow you to get a good night sleep for yourself. This may be harder with babies and infants but even with older children you may benefit from allowing yourself a power nap in the daytime whilst they are at school.
How well did you sleep last night?
Most parents cope with a certain level of tiredness. But if you’re feeling low, bad tempered and unable to cope or enjoy things, you need to find a way of getting more sleep, or at least more rest.
Try to rest when your child sleeps. It might be tempting to use this time to catch up with housework or other chores, but sometimes getting rest is more important. Set an alarm if you’re worried about sleeping for too long.
Try to go to bed really early for, say, 1 week. If you can’t sleep when you go to bed, do something relaxing for half an hour beforehand, such as soaking in a hot bath.
If you have a partner, ask them to help.
Ask friends and relatives for extra support. You could ask a relative or friend to come round and look after your child while you have a nap. If you’re on your own, you could see if a friend or relative could stay with you for a few days so you can get more sleep.
Although we have suggested that you sleep when your child sleeps, this won’t necessarily be convenient, especially if you have other people to care for and it can also be difficult to ‘switch off’ on demand. By the time you have got your child to sleep, particularly if they needed calming down, you may feel too wound up to sleep yourself.
Find out more about community care and respite services. All parents of children with disabilities are entitled to be assessed to see if they’re eligible.
Time away from social media– Sometimes a 24/7 engagement with instant messaging and social media can feel a bit relentless and stressful. Some people say they stay on devices out of habit. Just as you might limit your children’s time on devices, try to set a time when you will put the phone down and unwind with your family. You can also curate your social media by only following accounts that make you feel good and blocking or ignoring accounts which may make you feel angry, low or depressed. Limiting use of devices can also help you have ‘good sleep’ which in turn can help with your energy levels and mental wellbeing.
Remember your passions– Before you became a parent of carer, you may have had hobbies or passions which have fallen by the wayside. Finding time to engage in activities which you enjoy can boost your self-esteem and have a positive impact on your own wellbeing. Whether its baking, crafting, creative writing, or drawing and painting, there are many activities you can do at home that needn’t cost too much and can give you a sense of pride when the activity is complete. Of course, you may prefer to join a choir or local drama group or even just taking time to listen to music that you like rather than what your children like can prove beneficial.
Additional support- Whilst self-care is important, it is important to recognise that if you are struggling as a parent or carer with your mental health and wellbeing that you know that there is help and support out there for you. Your GP should be able to offer help and support and, if necessary, refer you to an adult mental health service. Where possible, try to talk to a trusted friend or relative so they are also aware of how you’re feeling and can check in on you.
Raising a child with SEND
When parents are told their child has a disability or additional need they undergo much emotional turmoil and can experience a whole range of emotions; upset, feelings of grief and loss, fear for the present and the future, relief, joy and overwhelming love.
Each parent is different and it is the beginning of a new journey for them. A journey that has unique experiences, one which brings parents in contact with many practitioners, one which can have great challenges to the whole family, including siblings and grandparents.
There’s no denying that parenting can be tough at the best of times (and lately, they haven’t been!). But some small shifts in our thinking and priorities can make a huge difference.
Supporting children with SEND can be hugely rewarding, but we need to have the appropriate support in place – which is where, so often, things fall down. Caring for a child with special educational needs can be all-consuming – and yet we have all the other demands of daily life to juggle too. Often it’s our own mental health and the relationships that matter the most to us that take the hit.
So, what’s the answer? Here are a few checks for optimising your mental health:
Priorities and perspective. Life is busy, and when your to-do list is trailing out the door, it can actually be counterproductive and leave you feeling paralysed.
Prioritise what’s really important each day and focus on getting that done – everything else can wait. Sometimes, the most important thing that day might be taking some time out for yourself.
Look for the positives. There are always some – even if it’s just that your child has taught you patience or empathy or has made you laugh that day!
Be kind to yourself and your children, and don’t compare. One day you might feel you can take on the world and another day, just getting out of bed feels like a mountain to climb. Cut yourself and your child some slack. And resist the temptation to compare. The constant barrage of social media posts full of perfect-looking, high-achieving families is enough to floor even the most self-assured person. But remember, what you see out there is rarely the reality – it’s the airbrushed version that’s presented to the world. Live your own life and stay away from comparisons that eat away at contentment.
Ask for help: if you’re lucky enough to have family and friends who are able to give support, lean on them. Even if it’s just having someone to talk to. It may be that they don’t do things quite the way you would, but don’t let that stop you from utilising their help so that you can have a break. There are also loads of in-person and online support groups out there, as well as resources to help parents with their mental health. If you’re really struggling, make an appointment with your GP – you can best support your child when you’re feeling strong yourself.
Don’t forget the basics: Sleep, exercise, time out, eating well, having your own interests – it all feeds into your wellbeing. Caffeine and alcohol might have their place – especially at Christmas, but don’t let them become your means of survival.
It’s a well-worn phrase. But, in order to function well and be the best we can be for our children, it’s important to take care of ourselves. Juliann Garey, a journalist and clinical assistant professor at NYU sums up parent wellbeing like this:
‘To avoid burnout, it’s important for parents to take care of their own needs. That includes getting enough sleep and exercise, drinking enough water and spending time away from your child. Parents sometimes feel like they have to do everything by themselves, but getting help from other people is crucial. Support groups, spending time with friends and even just making time for fun activities on your own can all help.’
Why Self-Care is Essential to Parenting, Child Mind Institute, https://childmind.org/article/fighting-caregiver-burnout-special-needs-kids/
Parent Mental Health Day, Stem4, https://stem4.org.uk/parentmentalhealthday /
The emotional impact of parenting a disabled child, Special Needs Jungle (2019), https://www.specialneedsjungle.com/the-emotional-impact-of-parenting-a-disabled-child/
Parent Carer Cornwall
All family members are the experts on their children with additional needs; which is why parent participation in service development is so important and why the Parent Carers for Cornwall was formed – to ensure all parents have their voice heard. The collective impact of many individual voices can make long term constructive change in service delivery.
Parent Carer Cornwall gather information from Parent Carers and using these unique shared experiences, we take part in consultations and participation work which helps us to shape the development and delivery of services to our children. We also pass on information to families via a newsletter enabling parent carers to gain greater knowledge and understanding of the services available from health, education, local authority and the voluntary sector.
Parent Carers Cornwall (PCC) is the recognised Parent Carer Forum for Cornwall. Nationally funded to support families with children with SEND, endorsed locally by Health, Education and Social Care.
For Parent Carers on the Isles of Scilly
Contact email: email@example.com
SENDIASS- Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly
Cornwall’s Information, Advice and Support Service is a statutory service which is run at ‘arm’s length’ from the Local Authority and provides free, confidential, impartial advice, guidance and support to parents of children with special educational needs and children and young people with SEND from 0-25.
It aims to promote good working relationships between children, young people, parents, education settings and the LA, whilst seeking to empower them to play an active and informed role in their child’s education.
We can support parents, carers, children and young people in a number of ways. We provide a range of flexible services which include training, referral to other statutory and voluntary agencies, access to local and national support groups, telephone support and face to face meetings depending on need.
What is an Information, Advice and Support (IAS) service?