Looking after the grown-up too

by Catherine Shorrocks. When your child has additional needs it is important to find time for yourself.

Man, woman and girl in tree

Introduction

All parents and carers have times when they long for some peace, but when your child has additional needs it can be particularly hard to find time for yourself.

The extra physical and emotional demands of caring for your child might include frequent hospital or therapy appointments, coping with difficult behaviour, disturbed sleep or anxieties about the future.

Putting yourself first can be hard but, if you don't step back and take a breather from time to time, your health could suffer.

It's really important to take positive steps to keep some balance in your life. After all, a relaxed and happy parent is in a better position to cope - and to have fun and enjoy their child too.

Extra information

Making sure you don't become isolated will help you maintain your identity outside your role as the parent of a child with special needs.

It's all too easy to lose contact with friends, especially if you feel they are keeping their distance. But often friends want to offer support - they're just not sure how to do it or worried they will say the wrong thing. You may need to make the first move to re-establish contact with them.

Giving yourself something to look forward to - whether it's a weekend away or just a coffee with a friend - will also help you get through tough times.

Short periods of time spent away from your caring role will help you to recharge your batteries and give you some perspective on your situation.

How to make a magic moment

Magic moments can come even when you're feeling tired and stressed. You may be cuddling up together on the sofa reading a book or watching a favourite programme when your child responds in a way they haven't before - perhaps saying a new word or drawing your attention to something.

Really special moments happen when your child reaches a milestone they have struggled hard to achieve. Then you will experience the extra rewards which come with bringing up a child with additional needs.

How CBeebies can help

Programmes like Big City Park, Mr Bloom's Nursery and Green Balloon Club encourage your child to take an interest in the outdoors. Getting out, even if it's just to the local park, helps you both stay healthy and is a great way to relax together. Your child will experience a little more freedom outside the home and by being outdoors you can both make the most of a rich learning environment.

Help your child to enjoy sensory pleasures like the sound of birdsong or the feel and smell of crisp autumn leaves. Or go on an adventure, collecting treasures along the way. Tactile objects like fir cones, feathers and leaves will remind your child of the trip once you get back home.

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Expert opinion

Taking care of yourself is one of the most important things you can do. If you don't, it will be very difficult to take care of anyone else.

David Pitonyak, Behaviour Expert (USA)

Top tips

  • Do something for yourself each day - relax with a book, chat to a friend or have a long soak in the bath.Give yourself a break - you shouldn't feel guilty if things don't go well, you're only human!Don't suffer in silence - ask for help (practical or emotional) from friends, your GP, your local carers centre or online forums.Make time for important relationships - with your partner, your other children and your friends.Meet other parents who have a child with special needs - you may discover a ready-made support network and some new friends.

Parent's tale

My daughter Lucy is lovely and I wouldn’t change her for the world but her needs do impact on the family. She has to have a lot of support to help her develop and learn and there are activities she can’t tolerate; like bowling, cinema and busy shopping centres, which restricts what we can do as a family.

Last year I applied through our local carer’s support organisation for a grant to pay for a break away from home. You could use the grant for things like gym membership or driving lessons but for me it was a chance to get away with my girlfriends for a few days. We went to Spain for three nights and it was a lovely break. I missed Lucy and her sister of course, but it was nice to have some time to myself and I came back feeling really relaxed.

Jo from Stockport, Mother of Emily and Lucy (who has Down's Syndrome)

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