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Parenting Children with Disabilities: Tips for Reducing Stress
Parenting a child with a disability can be challenging and stressful. It's important to take time everyday to reduce stress to help maintain health and better deal with obstacles that cross our paths.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
"I am a professional counselor; I am licensed and practice in Maryland and the District of Columbia. I see adolescents and adults who seek positive change in their lives. Individuals in therapy are often looking for new ways of relating to themselves and others. I specialize in working with people with disabilities and their families. In addition to counseling, my colleague and I have designed parenting workshops to support parents of children with disabilities.
I have a Masters in Counseling from Marymount University and a B.A. from Radford University. I have over 10 years of experience working with people with physical, intellectual and developmental disabilities."
What are common challenges that parents who have children with disabilities have to face that can be a source of stress?
"Parents of children with disabilities face unique challenges throughout a child's life. Whether a child is newly diagnosed, transitioning out of high school or beyond, stress often develops when parents feel unsure about the difficult decisions they have to make that will affect their children's lives. For example, finding ways to support their children at home with activities of daily living or advocating for their children's needs in school can be confusing and exhausting. A parent may feel overwhelmed with trying to understand a diagnosis and determine the kind of accommodations a child may need. Feelings of guilt are common with parents of children with disabilities. For example, a mother may worry that she caused her child's disability. Often parents' feel guilty for getting frustrated with their children, wanting a break or wishing their child did not have a disability. Sometimes parenting a child with disabilities means adjusting expectations and mourning the loss of what was 'suppose to be.' Parents sometimes feel alone and isolated, recognizing that family members and friends often do not understand the unique challenges that they face."
What type of impact can those challenges have on the parent child relationship?
"Parents may become so focused on academic, health, or childcare needs that they may forget to just 'be' with their children. It's so important for parents and their children to find mutually enjoyable activities. Finding a way to connect with a child that is both fun and relaxing can help the challenging times feel a little less stressful. A parent feeling overwhelmed by the intense needs of the child can lead to feelings of failure and frustration. At times it can be difficult to accept a child's limitations. At the other end of the spectrum, a parent may become unable to see a child's capabilities as a result of their intense focus on areas of a child's life that need support."
What can a parent who has a disabled child do to help reduce stress?
"Stress reduction is so important. Parents of children with disabilities, especially parents of children newly diagnosed, rarely feel as if they can put aside time for themselves. I encourage parents to be creative in their efforts to find a few minutes each day for themselves and encourage them to affirm that it is "ok" to take time for themselves to reduce stress. At the end of the day, both the parent and the child benefit. Parents can also reach out to support networks online, in their communities, or at places of employment. Enlisting the support of family members can make parenting less stressful. A very wise mother once told me that for her birthday she asks family and friends for two hours of babysitting rather than gifts. Family and friends often want to help, but are unsure how. Communicating needs to family and friends can help reduce stress."
What type of professional help is available for a stressed parent of a disabled child?
"Counseling is a way for parents to explore their stress, problem solve, develop coping skills and maintain or enhance their mental health. Many parents find counseling to be a great way to add to their parenting toolbox as well as develop a sense of well being. There are also professional support groups available, which are best found through an online search or an organization that specializes in a certain disability. Community colleges and agencies that serve people with disabilities are other places to look for classes or workshops."
Thank you Heather for doing the interview on how parents who have a child with a disability can reduce stress. For more information on Heather Hanko or her work you can check out her website on heatherhanko.com
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