Although the phrase “special needs” can refer to a very broad category of learning and developmental issues and needs, parents of all special needs children have one thing in common – extra stress. Research has shown that parents of children with special medical, behavioral, or developmental needs not only experience higher levels of stress, but they also have a greater risk of depression.
Search the web for parenting self-care tips, and you’ll quickly be bombarded with suggestions to take a spa day, schedule a girl’s night, or get away for a long weekend with your spouse. Unfortunately, many people don’t understand that those self-care ideas can be nearly impossible for the parent of a child with special needs. And for many special needs parents, it basic self-care that can end up being neglected.
If you’re going to be your best as a caregiver for your child, there are a few self-care basics you need to make sure you’re including in your life.
If you spend most of your time caring for your child, good nutrition often gets left behind. You make sure your kids eat well, but then you’re too exhausted to worry about a healthy meal for yourself. All that stress combined with a lack of time can leave you grabbing for junk food to get yourself through the day. The only problem – poor nutrition will leave you feeling worse.
Proper nutrition is one of the self-care tips you must follow to be at your best. Eat regular meals and snacks packed with protein, complex carbs, and fruits and veggies, so you’re feeling your best. Good nutrition keeps the immune system healthy, combats stress, and keeps energy levels up.
Regular exercise is another essential form of self-care. You might not have time to make it to the gym but find a way to get more movement in your day. Exercise isn’t just good for your body – it’s great for your mind, it improves mood, and gives you a better sense of well-being.
Go on a walk while your child’s at therapy. Dance with your child. Take just 5-10 minutes to do a few yoga poses before you drop into bed. Exercise is one of the best stress busters, and it keeps your body strong so you can have the strength to care for your child.
Sleep is one of the most fundamental needs – it’s essential for staying healthy. Quality sleep boosts memory, creativity, mood, and energy while reducing stress. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to get enough sleep. Sometimes it’s your child keeping you up, and other times it’s your mind keeping you awake at night.
It’s easy to let your brain keep going, planning everything you have to do the next day, worrying about your child’s future, or grieving the difficult parts of your life. This is normal, and it makes it harder to rest. Work on improving your sleep hygiene or use a few mental tips to help you relax and get to sleep more quickly at night.
Keep Up with Routine Doctor’s Visits
You spend so much time running your child to therapy appointments and doctors’ appointments that you might be selling your own health short. It’s easy to skip those routine checkups and put off those bi-annual dental cleanings because you don’t have the time. Remember, it’s a lot harder to care for your child if you’re not healthy, so find time to make it to the doctor yourself. Check into respite care. Ask your spouse or a family member to help. Just make sure you keep these appointments.
Parenting a child with special needs comes with unique challenges, and you need to be well-equipped to handle those challenges. It’s all too easy to let even basic self-care slide, so start getting back to basics and find ways to incorporate these tips into your life so you can be at your best for your child.