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Tireless, proud, attentive, determined, overwhelmed, stressed, fatigued…these are words that describe parents of children with disabilities. Parenting, at its best, is a stressful, full-time job, but when a child has a disability, even more is demanded of parents. In addition to play dates and extracurriculuars, there may also be therapies, tutoring, and additional school meetings to attend. Homework often requires the full attention and support of parents, who probably just came home from a day at work and still need to get dinner on the table. 

It is not surprising that studies show that parents of children with disabilities have significantly higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and that adolescents with both learning disabilities and ADHD have lower levels of secure attachments with parents than do other groups of children. All of this paints a grim picture. So what is a parent to do?

The first rule for caring for your child is to first care for yourself. You cannot give of yourself if you are too fatigued. You cannot be patient if you are too overwhelmed. You cannot be supportive if you have no support. Although the days are packed, you must find time to pencil in something for yourself. First take care of your basic needs:

  • Get enough sleep.
  • Nourish yourself with healthy food and enough water.
  • Get regular exercise; a 10-minute walk through the neighborhood counts.
  • Spend time away from your children.

From there, tackle the more complicated self-care tasks:

  • Let go of perfection and accept limits. When things go wrong or you make a mistake, remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes.
  • Ask for help from others. Ask family, a friend, or a neighbor to watch the kids for an hour while you go for a walk, eat dinner alone, or do something else for yourself. 
  • Find a support group. If you feel you’ve exhausted family and friends, a virtual or in-person support group could be a safe place for you to vent frustrations and to find new ideas for your child.
  • Say no. If your schedule is full from supporting your child’s needs, it is okay to say no to requests from others.
  • Nurture your relationships. Specifically schedule events on the calendar for you and your significant other or you and your child to have quality time, just the two of you. In the end, the relationships matter more than the grade on the test. 

Caring for a child with a disability can be time-consuming and stressful. Everyone will be happier and more successful in the end if parents find time to take care of themselves.

Blogger Stephanie Dunne, Ed.S., is the Center Director at Springer School and Center. Prior to coming to Springer, Stephanie practiced as a school psychologist in public and private schools for ten years. If you have questions, please contact Stephanie at sdunne@springer-ld.org.

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