Learn Your Special Education Laws, Special Education Rights, and Share IEP Goal Ideas

Jun 08
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by Jess

Talk to your friends, exercise, relax, eat well, sleep – we are all familiar with self-care strategies and the importance of them.  However, most parents don’t (or can’t) make the time for them.  It is commonly known today that physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual health are inter-related.  Taking a little time for you goes a long way toward not only feeling better, but toward managing demands more easily, making clearer decisions, staying healthy, and having more positive interactions with your family.  Indeed, parents of children with special needs are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and marital strain [1].  Special needs children with parents who are depressed, anxious, or experience marital strain are more likely to exhibit more frequent or severe acting out behaviors [2].  The problem isn’t knowing the importance of self-care, nor is it being short of ideas for how to self-care.  The problem, typically, is knowing how to prioritize self-care. 

Self care can feel self indulgent in the face of numerous tasks, meetings, appointments, and daily living activities.  Parents may feel guilty for taking the time for them.  Others avoid self care because they know that self-care means something else will not get done, making life just that much more difficult later when demands start to pile up.  Reading a book or napping on the beach just doesn’t fit into the equation.  However, research may give us clues into what types of self care activities may be the most helpful.  Knowing what targeted self-care activities may reap the most benefits could be instructive to parents who struggle to prioritize taking time for themselves. 

While all parents experience times of self doubt, isolation, and feelings of overwhelm, it is arguable that parents of children with special needs are particularly susceptible to these experiences.  Scholars suggest that the most basic of parenting tasks include making sense of the child, promoting development, and developing connectedness [3].  It serves to reason that when these tasks are great hurdles parents are even more vulnerable to these difficult feelings.  If a parent cannot make sense of her own child, she may feel overwhelmed with confusion, depression, denial or anger.  If a parent feels he cannot promote his child’s development, he may doubt his own parenting abilities.  If parents struggle to connect with their child or are cut off from others, they would naturally feel isolated.  Given this, self-care that targets these areas may offer the greatest benefits.  These include: 1) reframing experience (and expectations) to help make sense of the child, 2) finding ways to self-empower to feel effective in promoting develop, and 3) developing new support networks to stave off isolation. 

Activities that specifically target reframing, self-empowerment, and developing support networks need not take a great deal of time or effort.  Self-care can be activities or self-care can be simply shifting your thoughts.  While some of these ideas could certainly take an hour or more, others you can do in just 5 minutes. 

  • Get a new perspective on your parenting:
    • Identify your child’s smallest achievements this today, this week, or this month
    • Think about your hand in those successes
    • Remember how far you’ve come
    • Get a handle on negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones
  • Engage in activities that help you feel mastery and control to remind you of your effectiveness and value.
    • Write about your experience
    • Share advice with others
    • Assist with an awareness-raising event
  • Foster support networks to stave off feelings of isolation
    • Attend a parent support group
    • Have coffee with a friend
    • Chat on the phone
    • Text your spouse or partner a simple “hello!” 

Self-indulge now and again if you can: read a book, take a walk, nap, start a hobby.  But if you are like the many parents who simply can’t, keep in mind that self-care does not have to be synonymous with leisure time.  Self-care can benefit your parenting and your child’s wellbeing as much as it benefits you as an individual.  Take a new perspective on parenting and on life.  Participate in activities that flex your parenting prowess.  Connect with others.  You will feel better and your family will surely benefit, too. 

Bio note: Erica Curtis, MFT, ATR-BC is a therapist, frequent lecturer, and avid writer on parenting topics.  A licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Board Certified Art Therapist, Erica works with children, parents, adults, and families in her practice in Santa Monica, California.  For more information go to: www.TherapyWithErica.com

[1] Shu, B. & Lung, F. (2005). The effect of support group on the mental health and quality of life for mothers with autistic children. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 49, 47-53.

[2] Brookman-Frazee, L. (2004). Using parent/clinician partnerships in parent education programs for children with Autism. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 6, 195-214.

[3] Whitaker, P. (2002). Supporting families of preschool children with autism: What parents want and what helps. Autism, 6, 411-426.

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