Stress Management for Parents of Special Needs Children

Stress management is an important skill for any parent, but it is especially important for parents of children with learning disabilities and other types of disabilities. As the parent of a child with learning disabilities, and possibly non-disabled children as well, you will have typical parental stress along with the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child.

These tips can help you learn to manage your stress and live a happier, more satisfying life. By developing your stress management skills, you will also model important life skills for your children.


Positive Thinking

Frustrated teenage girl doing homework

Slobodan Vasic / E+ / Getty Images

Learn positive thinking. Inventory your stress. Re-frame negativity by:

  • Imagining the worst, best, and likely outcomes of problems and visualizing how you will deal with the likely outcome.
  • Surrounding yourself with positive people and limiting negative situations.
  • Developing positive relationships with the school.
  • See opportunity in a crisis. Use problem situations to advocate for change.

Realistic Standards

As parents, we juggle so much. Give yourself permission to release some of your voluntary commitments. Cope by:

  • Simplifying tasks where possible.
  • Asking for help before you need it so it will be available when you need it.
  • Saying no. It can be hard for parents because we feel so responsible for everything. To make this easier, say no with:
    • A compliment: "You do a wonderful job with the bake sale every year, but this year I can't help."
    • A thank you: "I appreciate that you thought of me, but I can't host the PTO meeting this month."
    • An expression of confidence: "I know you'll do an excellent job chaperoning the dance, but I'm unable to help this time."

Limit Stress by Admitting Your Limits

An odd thing about stressful situations is that the more we stress over them, the worse our stress becomes. We instinctively worry about situations we cannot control, but it is important to learn to accept our limitations.

A student with a severe learning disability, for example, may meet a university's entrance requirements, but community colleges or vocational programs may be a better fit for his learning style. By accepting his limitations, his parents can help him move forward in a program where he can be successful.

When we accept that we have no control over a problem, we free our minds to identify realistic ways we can improve the situation or work on something altogether different.


Plan and Schedule

Planning is a great way to reduce stress. Planning can be as simple as taking a few minutes in the morning to write down and prioritize the important tasks you must do in a day. Focus on getting the important tasks done, and do less important tasks if and when time permits. You and your child can benefit from developing good planning habits. Divide big tasks into smaller, more manageable tasks. Set realistic timelines for completion of each task.


Taking Care of Your Physical Needs Reduces Stress

Often parents stay on the go and leave little time to take care of their own physical needs. Follow a healthy nutrition plan, learn ways to get a healthy sleep despite ​the stress and make time for an exercise program approved by your doctor.


Time for Relaxation

If you're like me, you find the idea of making time for relaxation as stressful as making time for anything else. But make ​the time we must if we hope to reduce stress in your life. Making time for your own relaxation is one way to "sharpen the saw" as Stephen Covey suggests.

If you take care of your own relaxation needs first, you will have more energy to cope with other life demands.


Avoid Alcohol and Drugs

Often alcohol and drugs make stress symptoms worse. Try healthier alternatives to stress reduction such as exercise or a hobby.


Get Organized

Decluttering your home and workspace can really lower your stress levels. Having everything in its place increases your efficiency at home and work. Organizing your child's workspace is a good way to increase her productivity as well.


Right Wrongs, Fix Mistakes, and Admit Failures

We've all been there. Sometimes our best intentions fall fatally short, leaving us feeling frustrated, inadequate, embarrassed, and angry at ourselves. We can significantly reduce our stress by simply admitting our failures, correcting any wrongs we've committed, and fixing our mistakes.

Acknowledging our mistakes and making an honest effort to correct them allows us to focus on solutions rather than focusing on counter-productive guilt or self-criticism.


Make Time for Laughter

Making time for humor is important at home and at work. Harmless humor is great for lightening the mood and building camaraderie at work. Positive humor at home can actually strengthen your relationships with your spouse and children. Humor can also help diffuse stress in difficult situations. An easy way to begin is by avoiding reading the newspaper or watching newscasts. Instead, watch television comedies and cartoons. My family loves Sponge Bob, and we often quote him in our daily lives. Rent comedy films, and enjoy favorites more than once. We still laugh out loud when something reminds us of "Meet the Parents."

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