Read on to gain helpful tips and ideas so that you can create a self-care toolbox of your own.
1. Get some physical help
No matter what you might think or how you might feel, you must know when to ask for and get help. Parents don’t always need help taking care of their kids, but they may need help with simple tasks around the house. This can include hiring a lawn service to mow the grass and water outdoor plants or asking friends to make a few meals for them. The more help you can get as a parent with a special needs child, the more time you’ll have for your children and yourself.
2. Learn to manage stress effectively
Every parent will experience stress at work and home at some point, which can cause tension between loved ones and lead to feeling physically and emotionally worn out. If you have a child or children with autism, then you certainly understand that the struggle is real.
It is time that you learn effective stress management techniques. These might include knowing when to take a break, talking to someone, going outside for a big scream, using essential oils, taking a calming bubble bath, or practicing yoga.
3. Join a support group
Support groups are typically available from several different nonprofit organizations, but you can also find them via social media, by asking the school counselor, or by going on sites like Meetup.
Many groups are convenient and take place in the evening (or even now on Zoom!) and allow parents to simply sit around and talk about the experiences they have had in the last week. This is a great spot to discuss any techniques you have used at home that work, share what doesn’t work, and get advice from others who have been in the same place.
After joining a support group, you might even find yourself and your child with a new set of friends.
4. Spend some much-needed time alone
One of the best ways for parents to take care of themselves is with some alone time. Though many parents think they can’t take time for themselves, you only need to set aside 10 to 20 minutes each day. This can be while your child sleeps or is in therapy and when older children are in school. You might find it helpful to do things that you usually can’t during the typical day, including taking a relaxing bath, reading a few chapters in a book, or watching a short episode of a TV show.
Some parents simply want to take a quick drive around the block and to their favorite coffee shop, and that’s all they need to sustain themselves.
Just find whatever makes you happy and do it!
5. Add journaling to a routine
Overall, journaling/expressive writing has been found to:
- Boost your mood/affect;
- Enhance your sense of well-being;
- Reduce symptoms of depression before an important event (like an exam);
- Reduce intrusion and avoidance symptoms post-trauma;
Improve your working memory (Baikie & Wilhelm, 2005).
An article in Positive Psychology shares a tremendous amount of ways that journaling can impact your mood and mental health.
A few of these include the fact that it offers you a daily opportunity to recover from the daily stressors and leave the unimportant stuff behind; it gives you a chance to get all of your emotions out on paper, reducing your stress and releasing tension; it promotes and enhances your creativity in a way that once-in-a-while journaling simply can’t match; it boosts your overall sense of gratitude and your sensitivity to all that you have to be grateful for.
How can you not try out journaling with these benefits?
6. Learn mindfulness and meditation practices
According to an article in the Harvard Gazette about this topic, “there are a handful of key areas — including depression, chronic pain, and anxiety — in which well-designed, well-run studies have shown benefits for patients engaging in a mindfulness meditation program, with effects similar to other existing treatments.”
These are amazing practices that parents with children should get into! Start de-stressing by breathing, letting go, and focusing on the here and now.
7. Seek out therapeutic support
Counseling can benefit parents by helping them adjust to a new diagnosis, teaching new parenting skills or ways of thinking about situations, adding stress-management techniques to your toolbox, and embracing creative ways to stay connected to your partner and life outside of your child.
8. Get out in nature and exercise
An article published in Yale 360, focused on a study of ecopsychology and found the following to be true:
In a study of 20,000 people, a team led by Mathew White of the European Centre for Environment & Human Health at the University of Exeter found that people who spent two hours a week in green spaces––local parks or other natural environments, either all at once or spaced over several visits––were substantially more likely to report good health and psychological well-being than those who don’t.
Grab a neighbor or a friend and go for a walk around the block, go hiking with your dog, take a break from the kids swim in the pool by yourself, or simply have a picnic outside at your favorite park.
Just get outside and reap the benefits of the sun’s rays and fresh air.
Self-Care Ideas for Parents of Autistic Children During the Holidays: Conclusion
Parenting a child with autism can be difficult and physically and mentally draining, as you surely are aware of. You need to arm yourself with your individualized self-care toolbox at home and on the go. By being proactive and knowing your go-to self-care measures is important, especially when you are having a challenging day or week. You are in no way a selfish person to want and need some alone time, a moment to recharge, or extra support. By focusing on yourself, you will be a much more effective parent for your child.
Master of Education (M.Ed.) | Northeastern State University
Behavior and Learning Disorders | Georgia State University
Updated October 2021