The ripple effect of mental health
Sometimes, your kids’ mental health concerns and behaviour can have an impact on your mental health, as a caregiver, and others in the family. So, when you’re constantly looking out for your kids, and trying your best to make sure that they get their needs met, when do you get to put yourself first? If this continues for an extended period of time, the exhaustion you may feel is understandable. I have talked to many parents of children with multiple diagnoses Their children have pervasive issues at home, school, and in the community. They were doing the parenting on their own, or they have felt that their partners did not understand them (which also made them feel as though they were doing it alone), or they doubted their responses to their kids. That can take a toll on a person’s self-esteem, self-worth, and own personal expectations, and limitations. Given all of this, how can you feed your own mental and emotional well-being, so that you can give your best self to your kids?
Studies have shown that the mental health of parents has a strong impact on their children’s mental health. Marjorie Smith (2003) writes in Parental mental health: disruptions to parenting and outcomes for children that direct exposure to the parent’s symptoms is an important mechanism for the negative impacts.(p. 4). Put another way, when children see their parents’ distress, it can have an impact on the child’s mental health. This is not to suggest placing blame, but rather, to understand how we can take better care of ourselves.
Finding time to take care of yourself
If you’re not getting time for yourself, and really getting a chance to take care of you, that can have an impact on your relationships with others around you, even your kid. Having a kid with special needs can take time out of your day. It can also take emotional energy from you, as the parent or caregiver. So, when you have been to countless school meetings, therapy/doctor/psychologist appointments, and your kid is still having tantrums, how do you continue to have the emotional energy to be warm, and continue to connect with them?
Signs that you need some support, understanding, a break…
- General irritability – getting frustrated or irritable with minor things. This may be due to having a lot on your mind already
- Never enough time in the day – time for yourself has been lacking
- You cannot remember the last time you truly connected with your partner
- Family dinners and outings have fallen by the wayside – not enough time/money, too drained, feeling disconnected, lacking energy
- Avoidance of anything – family members, work, friends, the outside world
Stress is a common response to an individual feeling overwhelmed. It can be a positive aspect of how our brains work, though, too. For example, stress can be an indicator that we need to leave an unsafe situation. Or it can be a motivator to get things done that have been lacking attention. When the stressor has been happening for a long time, or the concerns are significant (such as safety, or pervasive social issues), the stress that the caregivers and other family members experience is also significant.
Families are the first school
When we consider how much time we spend with our kids, and that families are like our first school – it is where kids learn their habits, develop self-esteem, and learn social skills. Additionally, the children’s behaviour can often be seen through the lens of a response to other factors that are happening in the family. They often do not have the words to say what is bothering them, because they are generally not as articulate as adults. Life may feel chaotic for them at home, potentially due to their own internal and external struggles, and how others are responding to them. When they see that their parents do not have a handle on the situation, that could stress them out further, and then making their behaviour a bigger problem.
What to do when you cannot handle the situation
- Learn as much as you can about your kids’ needs, and how they need you/others to respond to them
- Listen to your kids, and try to pay attention to what they may be trying to say through their behaviour – see my other pages on active listening and supportive parenting
- Take breaks from your kids if you can – if you need to, get connected to a respite organization, so that you have an attuned adult to spend time with your kid, so that you can take care of yourself. And aim to be present in the moment on your break. Is there any way to manage your time differently, so that you can make this break time for yourself more of a priority?
- Recognize that it is okay to ask for help – who do you turn to when your family is in crisis?
- Where do you turn for the different kinds of support you need – someone to laugh with, to confide in, someone to help you put things into perspective. These do not all have to be the same people!
- Consider safety planning, if necessary (I can help you with this, or have your kid call Kids Help Phone/call with them, and they can help them/you – 1-800-668-6868)
- Go easy on yourself! Remember that you are always trying your best, and everyone has different strengths, resources, and needs
- Get therapy for yourself (this is my specialization!). Sometimes, people do not consider therapy for themselves, because they are so focused on ensuring that their kids get their needs met, and their own mental health is not a priority. Alternatively, they may feel that they are doing fine without it – which is great! Should you feel you need someone to help you to put the thoughts and ideas that I talk about here, please get in touch!