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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