Babble is partnering with PACER Center to help parents better understand and navigate the needs of children with mental health and behavior issues. This month, we’re talking about the importance of self-care, especially when you have a child with emotional and behavioral challenges.
Emma is a bright, witty, and creative 12-year-old but has trouble staying focused and would rather play in the backyard than do her homework. For Emma and her mother, Courtney, homework is not just a chore – it’s often a battle.
At age 6, Emma was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), one of the most common mental health disorders in children. Courtney had tried everything she could think of to help Emma, including medications, counselling, and parenting skills training. Nothing seemed to help, and the girl had become increasingly difficult to deal with. She was constantly clinging to her mother, following Courtney around the house, and pestering her for what seemed like hours on end. Courtney grew more frustrated with each passing day.
One afternoon, Emma refused to do her homework yet again, and Courtney lost it. In a moment of desperation, she yelled at Emma at full volume rather than using the techniques she had been taught. “I had just reached my breaking point,” Courtney said. “I was so exhausted and stressed out and I didn’t know what to do to redirect her behavior. I sat down at the kitchen table and cried.”
While Courtney had worked tirelessly to create an action plan for Emma’s behaviors, she had missed another important step: taking care of herself. Every parent needs to think of their own well-being as well as that of their child, and Courtney had left herself vulnerable to the stress of parenting a child with emotional and behavioral challenges.
Here are four tips to help you make self-care a priority:
1. Acknowledge how important it is
Running yourself ragged without taking a break is a recipe for illness and burnout, and can negatively impact your ability to care for your child. Taking regular time-outs will relieve stress, boost your mood, and help you cope more effectively when your child’s behavior pushes you to the limits. Even Superwoman deserves a day off now and then!
2. Create an action plan
Intense and challenging behavior can wear down even the most patient parents. That’s why it’s so important to create an action plan that you can turn to in moments of stress. Identify and practice strategies for staying calm, such as deep breathing, counting to 10, or listening to music.
3. Take regular time-outs
Between running the kids to soccer practice, helping them with homework, making dinner, and all of your other parenting responsibilities, self-care often goes by the wayside. It’s important to build time into your schedule for the things you like to do, whether it’s going to a yoga class, taking a nightly walk, or meeting a friend for coffee.
4. Reach out for help
When you’ve tried everything with your child, and nothing is working, it’s natural to feel frightened. This is when parents are most likely to resort to spur-of-the-moment actions, such as spanking or yelling. Decide ahead of time who will back you up when you’ve reached your limit, whether it’s a neighbor, friend, or relative. It’s better to take a break than to do something that might escalate the behavior or hurt the parent-child relationship.
Have you experienced a similar situation with your child? How do you cope with your child’s most challenging behavior and find time to care for yourself? Please share your stories and ideas to help other parents.
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