Being Both a Parent and a Person

The parenting years can be both a blur of activity and sleepless nights, a time of great excitement and unending joy for many families. As parents work to figure out how best to meet the needs of the little ones in their care, they must also realize their own self-care needs. We often hear the phrase, “you can’t pour from an empty bucket.” Having an awareness of our own needs with a plan for meeting those needs is essential.

While some may see this notion of self-care as selfish, mental health and parenting professionals both agree that self-care is essential. According to Psychologist, Dr. Anthony Borland of the Cleveland Clinic, “remind yourself that you’re doing something to strengthen your family — if you’re happier and healthier, then you can be a happier, more attentive parent.”1

Parenting self-care can look different for each parent. For some, exercise and time out of the house may be the boost that is needed to feel refreshed and re-energized. The fresh air and the endorphins that are released in response to exercise are helpful. We know the benefits to children who experience exercise and outdoor activities, the same is true for adults.

Watch your self-talk. While parenting takes energy, and strength, we must be sure our self-talk reflects that positivity. During caregiving for children, we cannot let the crying, or screaming that sometimes happens, drown out our own self-talk. We must find the things we can control and speak words of praise or affirmation. These words are a powerful self-care strategy.

As Mackenzie Johnson, co-host of The Science of Parenting suggests, know when to “tag out” with someone for some alone time. If you have someone you co-parent with, tagging out, is a way for one parent to hand off the reins of caregiving to the other co-parent for a time, to get a bit of “me time”. The time away helps to get re-energized and ready to give 100% again.

One last idea, when all else fails, don’t forget the technique we encourage all families to practice “STOP BREATH TALK”. The technique is useful in a variety of situations. It is a way to intentionally stop what we are doing, take some time to reflect and then change course if needed, or make a different decision.

Self-care is a combination of strategies designed to make each of us stronger at the roles we find ourselves in daily. It is never selfish; it is always essential.


1 Team, F. H. (2019, August 16). 5 Realistic Ways to Practice Self-Care as a Parent. Retrieved April 14, 2020.

Barb Dunn Swanson

Barb Dunn Swanson

With two earned degrees from Iowa State University, Barb is a Human Sciences Specialist utilizing her experience working alongside communities to develop strong youth and families! With humor and compassion, she enjoys teaching, listening and learning to learn!

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Limiting Media Blasts When it’s Overwhelming

The new “normal” during the COVID-19 pandemic is round the clock briefings on how fast and furious the virus is spreading. The details can be too much for many, including children. Even adults can be overwhelmed with the hourly updates provided by every news outlet, on radio and even on social media.

Because there is so much “unknown” about this virus and it’s impact, helping children to feel safe, and secure is important. Talk with your children about the fact that this medical situation is new and that many health professionals are working to find solutions. Share only sound bites of information in doses that they can understand. They may have worries about their grandparents becoming sick; Children may wonder if their parents who may still have to go to work daily, will come home with the virus.

Have a family meeting and talk to your children. What questions do your children have about what they are hearing, and take steps to answer honestly, within reason, for what they can understand. If you are all home together, practicing social distancing, be sure to limit the amount of media that your children have access to. This may be the time to put the tablets and mobile phones away and find alternative board games, books, music and puzzles to complete.

If your children ask for television, perhaps family movie afternoon or evening could turn into some family fun. Limiting the hourly news feed will give everyone in the family the break they need and a chance to focus on fun as a family.

For additional information about how to tell your child about closure and postponements of some of their favorite activities, be sure to read, watch, or listen to “Talking to Your Kids Who Are Missing Out on Big Moments.”

Iowa Concern, offered by ISU Extension and Outreach, provides confidential access to stress counselors and an attorney for legal education, as well as information and referral services for a wide variety of topics. With a toll-free phone number, live chat capabilities and a website, Iowa Concern services are available 24 hours a day, seven days per week at no charge. To reach Iowa Concern, call 800-447-1985; language interpretation services are available. Or, visit the website, https://www.extension.iastate.edu/iowaconcern/ to live chat with a stress counselor one-on-one in a secure environment. Or email an expert regarding legal, finance, stress, or crisis and disaster issues.

Barb Dunn Swanson

Barb Dunn Swanson

With two earned degrees from Iowa State University, Barb is a Human Sciences Specialist utilizing her experience working alongside communities to develop strong youth and families! With humor and compassion, she enjoys teaching, listening and learning to learn!

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Tips and Tools for Living and Working in the Same Place

I wanted to take a quick moment to share a couple of great tools while we navigate these ‘everyone is together all the time’ waters.

Balancing Workplace and Home

First is a great article with four quick tips from our Behavioral Health Specialist Dr. David Brown. In this article, Try to Balance Workplace and Home When Workplace and Home Are the Same, he shares four ways that we can set boundaries between work and home while they both exist in the same space.

  • Setting Boundaries
  • Setting Routines
  • Enjoying the Advantages
  • Accessing Resources

Online Opportunity for Couples

Second I want to invite you to join our Human Sciences specialists LIVE as they share tips, tools and tricks to elevate and improve your adult relationships during this time. For the next seven Wednesdays, 12:30-1:00 p.m. CST via Adobe Connect, specialists will share tools from ELEVATE, a relationship education curriculum developed by the National Extension Relationship and Marriage Education Network. For more information, see the news article Empower: Helping Couples Take Care of Themselves During COVID-19.

Finding Answers Now

For all things Human Sciences specifically related to times of disruption (like COVID-19), refer to the Finding Answers Now site.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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The Stress of Special Needs

iStock_000005759838Small[1]Downs_1 copyThe demands of parenting often are multiplied for parents of children with special health and behavioral needs. However, these parents will be better able to provide care for their children if they also take care of themselves. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 15 percent of U.S. families have a chronically ill child with special health needs. The extra demands cause stress that affects the whole family.

Caring for a child with special needs can require additional time, which can mean you have less time for your other children, your spouse or aging parents, who also need your attention. Maybe you’ve been criticized or judged by others who simply do not understand your child’s condition. You may feel isolated from other parents, because how could people who don’t have a child with special needs possibly know what you are going through?  Parents often are trying to learn about their child’s disability and find treatments and resources. They’re coping with the emotional and physical challenges of providing care as they coordinate healthcare treatments, advocate for their child and pay for necessary services. No wonder parents of children with special needs often are exhausted and even depressed,

Join us this month as we self-care tips and resources that can help parents cope. We will discuss ways that family members can support each other and we’ll also talk about when and how to reach out for assistance. In addition we will explore resources for reducing stress that are available through ISU Extension and Outreach.

August 2016

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Parents: Are you hungry, angry, tired, or lonely?

woman juggling fruitI survived my early years of motherhood with support and advice from some very knowledgeable, and observant mentors.  I still remember and heed their words.  “Take care of yourself so you can take care of others”.  “Years from now, you will never remember having a dirty sink”.  “Motherhood is a marathon, pace yourself”.  “Get enough sleep.  Everything is worse when you are tired.”  Interestingly their advice focused on me, not my children.  The advice seemed to focus on meeting some basic human needs in order to fulfill my role as a parent.

There advice alone wasn’t enough to meet my needs as a parent.  I signed up for a parenting class and I learned about the HALT acronym.  Like the word implies—HALT requires one to stop, pause and think through one’s behavior.    The acronym stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired.   The philosophy of HALT is that when children are hungry, angry, lonely or tired they will be more likely to misbehave and act out.  But I also knew that as a parent I had also experienced the effects of HALT.  When I felt HALT—hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness—I too, became short fused and not at my best.   The technique suggests that parents also “halt” and think about their personal emotional status and wellbeing.

Let’s think about applying the HALT principle to ourselves as parents.

HUNGRY – When we think about hunger, we usually think about how we feel when we are lacking food.  But we can also be emotionally hungry.   We may be hungry for attention, for understanding, friendship, or comfort.  Just as food satisfies our physical hunger, we need social and emotional supports to satisfy our needs.

ANGER – Many of us are uncomfortable at expressing anger and many times it comes out in very unproductive ways—yelling, slamming doors, criticizing, or resentment.  If we have unresolved anger, our relationships with our children suffer.  Physical activity, mindfulness, meditation, deep breathing, breaks, and professional help can all help a parent cope and resolve feelings of anger.

LONELY – Parents can easily find themselves isolated and alone.  It’s important to reach out and interact with other people, especially other parents.  Isolation and loneliness can lead to depression.  A depressed parent will have difficulty responding positively to their children.

TIRED – Parents must often deal with interrupted sleep and many parents ignore tiredness.   Physical tiredness can impact our wellbeing and can leave one vulnerable for accidents and conflicts.  Naps, when possible and going to bed earlier can all be solutions for the sleep deprived parent.  Parents can also experience exhaustion from taking on too much or being overwhelmed from leading overly busy lives.   Solutions that I have tried include:  prioritizing, paring down my expectations of myself, and taking a break.

So the next time you are feeling stressed or you find yourself not enjoying parenthood, consider the HALT acronym.  I’ve found it a wonderful tool to gain insight into my children’s behavior, but even more insightful into understanding my own.

Janet Smith

Janet Smith

Janet Smith is a Human Science Specialist-Family LIfe with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She currently provides family life programming in eight counties in southeast Iowa. Janet is a "parenting survivor". She is the mother of Jared-21, Hannah-20, and Cole-15. She and her husband, David have faced many challenges together, including their son Jared's Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy diagnosis.

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Balancing Life and Parenting

Many parents report feeling rushed, stressed and unable to do everything they have to do at work and at home. However, parents don’t have to live with constant chaos if they take care of themselves first. In an emergency on an airplane, the first rule is to put on your own oxygen mask before you help anyone else. Only when we first help ourselves can we effectively help others. That’s true in parenting, too. Caring for yourself is one of the most important — and most often forgotten — things you can do as a parent.

Join us this month as we will explores way to prioritize parenting responsibilities and avoid parenting stress. We also will share ideas on fun breaks you can take that will refresh your parenting ability.

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Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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