As a parent of a child with special needs, you probably spend most of your days so busy with the demanding needs of your family that you neglect to take care of yourself. Medical appointments, dentist appointments, IEP meetings, parent-teacher conferences, specialty hospital/doctor visits, follow up with referrals… The list goes on.
The concept of selflessness is often seen as a virtue and yet, if we fail to fulfill our own needs and nurture ourselves, we are less able to help and serve others. For parents of special needs children, a little selfishness is an absolute must. In order to give the most of yourself, you have to be your best self. To be at your best, a committed regimen of self-care is a must.
Among the most fundamental of needs is rest. Adequate sleep is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. A full night’s sleep will boost your energy, mood, memory and creativity while lowering stress levels. Try establishing a nightly routine to help your mind and body prepare for rest (i.e. dim the lights, eliminate screen time 1-2 hours before bed, or diffuse essential oils such as lavender).
Good nutrition is not just a benefit to you as a parent, but it has a long-term impact on your children as well. You’ll teach them healthy eating habits that will carry on into adulthood as you improve your own health and longevity. Daily consumption of protein and keeping your meals and snacks colorful with fruits and vegetables will provide energy and boost your mental clarity.
Taking your child on a short walk to the local park or playground will benefit both of you as you get in some much needed sunlight and a bit of exercise. According to the World Health Organization, just five to fifteen minutes of casual sun exposure will provide you with the vitamin D benefits of the sun; this includes a general feeling of well-being along with numerous health benefits. In addition, Nature is one of our greatest resources to help give us perspective and remind us of what’s important.
Play dates are a great way to integrate your special needs child socially, but it also benefits you with some much-needed downtime. Make a list of friends and family you can call or video chat with when you need to talk. Look for community support groups to find other parents in your area you can turn to for advice and understanding. You can also seek the professional guidance of a mental health professional for additional support.
Meditation can seem like an unnecessary indulgence or a waste of time to a busy parent, but numerous scientific studies have proven the many health benefits of meditation. Setting aside just five to ten minutes a day for some quiet reflection can help boost your immune system, manage stress, help you focus and boost your mood, to name just a few of the many health benefits. Meditation is easy, and something anyone can learn. Simply type “how to meditate” into a search engine or on YouTube and you’ll find several guides on how to get started on this simple practice.
Use positive affirmations.
“Today is a good day for a good day.”
“It’s going to be okay.”
“I do what is best for me and my child.”
Positive thoughts and affirmations not only provide encouragement, but they help you with acceptance and giving yourself a little grace. Be kind to yourself, you’re doing the best you can.