How to Take Care of the Most Important Person in Your Child’s Support System – You!

Parents and caregivers of children with exceptional needs often feel overwhelmed and under-supported. Building a support system of family, friends and professionals is vital in helping a child achieve their optimal potential. However, the most important person in a child’s support system is the person who is the expert on the child, the parent.

However, parents and caregivers of children with exceptional needs often neglect their own needs. Because of this, they are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, extreme weight gain, extreme weight loss, poor nutrition, illness and have relationship problems than parents who don’t have exceptional children. These parents often report they don’t have the time or energy for even basic self-care. They also may battle feelings of guilt when they do things that address their own needs while the needs of their child are so great.

Not taking care of oneself depletes parents of the energy they need to manage this demanding parenting role’s stress and responsibilities. But parents can successfully manage the needs of their child and their own. The following tips will break down important self-care categories and offer simple ways to improve each.

  • Physical Health
    • Physical Activity – No time to hit the gym for an hour, no big deal! Physical activity can be easily incorporated into your daily life. Walk your cart back to the grocery store, take the stairs instead of the elevator, turn on music and dance with your kids. Intentionally adding physical activity into your daily routine not only improves your physical health but also releases endorphins in your brain, which help you feel good.
    • Nutrition – Equally important as your physical health is your nutrition. But rather than focusing on what you shouldn’t be eating, focus on what you should be eating. Add nutritionally dense foods (which are foods low in calorie and high in nutrients such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, seafood, lean meats, and eggs) into each meal and as snacks throughout your day. Over time, you’ll find that by focusing on adding nutritionally-dense foods, rather than eliminating less nutritious foods, it will help give you a more positive mindset about healthy eating.
    • Adequate Sleep – Chances are you have a structured sleep routine for your child that may include a bath, followed by a story, then a set bedtime. But, do you have the same routine for yourself? Lack of adequate sleep can have serious consequences, such as impacting memory, difficulty with thinking and concentration, affecting mood, increasing the risk of accidents, weakening the immune system, and more. Take a tip from yourself and create a sleep routine for you just as you did for your child. You’ll awake refreshed and ready to start your day!

  • Emotional Health
    • Emotional health is the ability to control your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. People with good emotional health can cope with everyday stress and responsibilities, have good self-esteem, and have healthy relationships with others. However, due to the demanding mental and physical strain of parenting an exceptional child, there is an increased risk in damage to a parent’s emotional health. To know if you have good emotional health, ask yourself, “Am I happy more than I am sad?” We all have our bad days, but if you currently feel that you are having more bad than good, it may be time to seek professional help.
  • Intellectual Health
    • Intellectual Health is using your brain in creative, stimulating, and knowledge-seeking activities. This is where your hobbies and interests OUTSIDE of your child come into play. When was the last time you learned something new or read a book for pleasure? Spending time each day on things you enjoy is vital to your overall health and well-being. Watching a documentary, playing a challenging board game, picking back up a long-ago beloved hobby are all easy ways to make sure you aren’t neglecting your intellectual health.
  • Social Health
    • Social Health is your ability to create and maintain meaningful relationships. People are social beings, and a lack of social interaction and meaningful relationships can lead to obesity, depression, high blood pressure, and disease. However, parents of children with exceptional needs often suffer socially. They may withdraw from social settings for various reasons, such as not having adequate childcare or fear of how their child may react in a particular social setting. But you can and should work to create situations where you can socialize and make friends. If it is challenging to do that outside your home due to COVID concerns or other reasons there are still ways to promote your Social Health. You can join online communities, online support groups, and use technology such as Zoom or Skype to rekindle old friendships and build new ones. Your social life may not look as it did before, but that’s okay!

The most important thing to remember is that self-care is not selfish. It is selfless. When you take the best care of yourself possible, you can be the best parent possible!

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Amy Nielsen lives in Orlando, Florida. She is the proud mother of four children ranging in age from 5-33! She and her husband, Brent enjoy sports and traveling. Amy is a former teacher with nearly 20 years of experience, a freelance writer, and a special needs advocate. Her mission is to help educate and empower families of children with disabilities to focus on their child's interests and strengths.