When My Child Has a Mental Health Problem: Parent Stress and Coping
When your child is first diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder or learning problem, as a parent, there are a series of normal responses. Initially, your attention is focused on how to help your child. Which medications could he take? Which therapist should she see? How could his school program be modified? Etc.
Another important thing is likely going on in the background, whether or not you realize it. You are experiencing STRESS and other difficult emotional reactions to your child’s diagnosis. These reactions could include:
- Denial – a “deer in headlights” feeling
- Anger and blaming – not unlike a mama bear protecting her cub
- Bargaining and seeking solutions – it feels good to get second opinions and do research, but if this goes on too long, it can be a problem
- Depression or shame – feeling sad or like you might have done something wrong
These emotional reactions take their toll on parents. Not only are you trying to meet the demands of caring for a child with special needs, but you are not functioning at your emotional best. This is important to recognized because the most important force behind your child’s well-being is YOU.
So how do you get back to being that together parent that your child needs? How do you cope with the added stress of having a child with a diagnosis? If you have read this far, you are already well on your way! Here are some general ways to cope with parenting stress:
- Self-care – what do you need today?
- Just BE with your child – with no expectation, just observing, just being.
- Lifestyle choices – eat well, sleep well, exercise…
- Mindfulness – see one of our blog posts on this
- Social support – friends, family, community members can all support your emotionally or practically
- Self-compassion – acknowledge how hard it is and give yourself credit for the small victories.
Another question you may ask is, how do I find balance in this overly full life? I often say to clients that balance is a four-letter-word. But it is important to find a way to balance meeting the demands of your child with the various other priorities in your life. For example, if you focus so much on your child’s needs to the detriment of your marriage, that doesn’t help you or your child. Finding balance is like practicing mindfulness: the act of striving for it – and forgiving yourself when you miss the mark – is most important. Avoid the “crash and burn” that comes with focusing on your child’s situation to the exclusion of all else.
Some helpful resources to check out:
- Jon Kabat-Zinn’s writings and mindfulness programs
- Elisha Goldstein’s work on meditation for parents
- Rita Eichenstein’s book, Not what I expected