Let’s face it: special needs parents are super heroes who exert super human power.
But what fuels that power? Without proper rest and nutrition, moms and dads can find themselves feeling frustrated, tired and defeated. Select studies have shown that up to 25% of special needs parents fit the criteria for depression. (And that’s just a few tests – it’s likely much higher.)
While the typical medical approach sends parents to their physicians for a prescription bottle, most people would benefit more from instituting consistent self-care routines. Dr. Nicole Beurkens, founder and director of Horizons Developmental Resource Center, specializes in supporting parents and families of kids with special needs. “Parents often arrive at my doorstep tired and broken. They are hoping I will support their kids through a natural approach… and I do… but it’s often the parents I support first.”
Dr. Beurkens goes on to say, “For parents to effectively help their children, they have to drastically change their approach. Much of this means better diet, supplements and physical activity, but it also means taking better care of themselves.”
Much of Dr. Beurkens’ sage advice can be found in her acclaimed book, Life Will Get Better: Simple Solutions for Parents of Children with Attention, Anxiety, Mood and Behavior Challenges. Below is a compilation not only of her advice from her book, but some bonus nuggets that she often advises to her parents via Skype or in-person appointments.
5 Life-Changing Self Care Tips for Parents of Special Needs
- Sleep: It’s hard enough getting your child to sleep. Make sure you have the energy you need by getting sleep yourself. Quit caffeine after 2PM. Consider turning off your phone or computer at least an hour before turning down the covers. Are you spiritual? This is the time to pull out your favorite book, pray or meditate. It works – it really does!
- Play Dates: Play dates aren’t just for your kids. Moms and dads need time to laugh and let go, too! If you don’t already have a time scheduled for you to cut loose without your kids, then start now. For some people, play time is a few hours alone at a book store, coffee shop, nail salon or sporting event. For others, it’s more extravagant like a weekend getaway. “I can’t afford this!” you might say. To that Beurkens would reply, “You can’t afford to put your mental health on hold. Even if you can’t afford to go on a fancy vacation, put a few hours a week on the calendar just for you.” She goes on to add that downtimes for parents are as important as doctor appointments for the kids. “Without them, burnout, depression and exhaustion creeps in fast.”
- Nutrition: Beurkens’ practice is based on feeding special needs kids well-balanced meals. In addition to a healthy serving of fruits and vegetables, Beurkens often recommends eating a gluten/dairy free regime. But what about you? A well-balanced diet will make you feel so much stronger emotionally and physically.
- Social Support: So many special needs kids need social support to integrate socially – but so do parents. Problems arise when parents neglect their own emotional and social support. Do you have a decent list of friends you can call? How about a therapist, doctor or even a free 12-step group? If not, put this on the top of your list. It is a game changer.
- Exercise: Just 30 minutes of exercise/day can greatly reduce depression and anxiety. It’s recommended that you get your heart rate up through a solid cardio workout, but even a brisk walk around the neighborhood can do wonders for your emotions. Consider combining tips 2, 3 and 4 by working out with a friend who is both a supportive listener as well as someone who will make a play date out of it.
TIP: Put Your Self Care on the Calendar!
Your kid’s appointments make it on the calendar, so what about yours? Think you can’t do self-care? Think again… you just read this article! (And now you’re going to print it to remind you that tips 1 – 5 will make you a happier, more balanced parent. Right? Of course!) Good luck!