5 Coping Skills for Times when Parenting Feels Overwhelming by Susan Giurleo, PhD

Sometimes life is hard. And it’s true that  bad things can happen to good people. When you are a parent of a child with special needs, hard times can feel ongoing and chronic.
Despite all the self-help, therapy and support we can receive from family and friends, there are times when the events in our lives are very difficult and there is no quick fix.
During these hard times, we often feel overwhelmed, confused and despairing. It can be challenging to find relief and difficult to find the energy to implement any coping strategy you know may help.
And while we can’t fix every problem or soothe every feeling of distress, there are a few simple coping skills to help us as we move forward and face challenges that face us.
  1. Acknowledge your feelings. In hard times we often try to put on a brave face and tell our friends and family we are “fine.” And while we shouldn’t fall apart in front of our kids, it’s healthy to admit to ourselves and a few close confidants that, yes, times are hard and you feel distressed. Just the simple act of admitting you’re feelings will relieve you of the burden of “acting” a part, and this can be a huge relief.
  2. Take space for yourself. No matter what is going on in your life, you need space to yourself. Even those who have a loved one in crisis need a breather. This can be 10 minutes outside for fresh air or an hour to get something to eat. Staying fully immersed in a distressing situation 24/7 will result in your burning out and unable to be there for the long haul as needed.
  3. Practice gentle self care. Sometimes just sitting outside in the sun for a few minutes is what you need to care for yourself. Often self-help advice suggests vigorous exercise or a trip to a spa to center yourself. Often, parents just don’t have the bandwidth to check out of their child’s life to regroup and when times are tough the last thing most of us want to do is push our bodies harder with exercise. Be gentle to yourself. Sip your coffee slowly, smell your child’s hair, lean into loving hugs. Treat yourself and those around you gently.
  4. Keep perspective. When we feel overwhelmed we can sometimes lose sight of how bad things really are. A child flunking algebra is upsetting, but not on the level of someone coping with a critical illness. In the absence of a true medical emergency, abuse or life threatening crisis we can keep perspective that everyone’s health and well-being are cared for and everything else, while distressing, is going to sort itself out some way, some how in the future.
  5. Focus on what is going well. I am often amazed at how survivors of tragedy move on and create something positive from loss. As I listen and read their stories I see that, through their grief, they held on to good stuff, too. It is natural to get swept up in everything that is hard. But I encourage you to find the slivers of good and hope in times of distress. They are there and keep us aware that better times are ahead.
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