In the world of paediatric care, there exists a unique and significant connection between children and their caregivers. Caregivers, be they mothers, fathers, or guardians, serve as the cornerstone of a child’s growth, offering love, guidance, and unwavering support. Caregivers of children with disabilities also serve as advocates, therapists, and tireless champions for their children’s well-being and health. However, it is imperative to acknowledge that caregivers require care too. To effectively co-regulate with the children in our care, we adults need to be regulated first. In this blog post, we delve into the essential task of finding a space to prioritise the mental health and regulation of caregivers to better support the children with disabilities in our care.
Research consistently underscores the profound influence of a caregiver’s mental health on a child’s emotional, social, and cognitive development. When caregivers grapple with stress, anxiety, or emotional turmoil, children can often sense this, leading to heightened stress levels in the child and potential developmental setbacks. It is important to acknowledge that stress and periods of poorer mental health are common among parents and caregivers and oftentimes out of our control, especially for caregivers raising children with disabilities. The challenges faced by parents and caregivers are not only understandable but also an integral part of the caregiving journey, making the need for self-care and support all the more crucial.
As Occupational Therapists, we play a crucial role in aiding families and caregivers in facilitating the comprehensive well-being and growth of children. However, it is equally important to address the well-being of the caregivers themselves given the inextricable link between their mental health and their children’s therapy outcomes. When caregivers are in a state of physical and mental equilibrium, they can more effectively engage with and nurture their children’s therapeutic needs equating to improved outcomes for the caregiver, child and family.
So, what can caregivers be doing to prioritise their mental health needs to continue supporting their children and family?
Oftentimes, the thought of adding more activities into an already jam-packed day can be overwhelming and downright daunting, below are some ideas to incorporate into a daily routine.
- Mindfulness: Engaging in mindfulness practices can alleviate stress and enhance emotional well-being, with even a few minutes of daily practice yielding positive effects. Consider downloading the app Smiling Mind and doing a short 3-minute meditation to start your morning.
- Physical Exercise: Regular physical activity benefits both body and mind, with even a brief daily walk contributing to stress reduction. Getting fresh air and vitamin D from going outside during the day for a brief walk can significantly support the body’s regulation.
- Journaling: The act of writing thoughts and feelings can serve as a therapeutic outlet for processing emotions and gaining perspective. Try journalling for 5 minutes before going to sleep to help process the emotions or events that occurred during the day.
- Hobbies: Rekindling interests or pastimes that bring joy can offer relaxation and rejuvenation. Try picking up simple hobbies like reading, gardening or cooking from a new cookbook for fun.
- Social Support: Connecting with friends and family for emotional sustenance can serve as a potent stress reliever. Building your informal support is vital to ensure you have people looking after you as well.
- Sleep and Nutrition: Prioritising restful sleep patterns and maintaining a balanced diet ensure caregivers have the physical and mental stamina required for childcare.
It is helpful to recognise that numerous health-promoting activities can be enjoyed as a family unit. While nurturing your child’s development is paramount, spending positive quality time together can also be fulfilling for caregivers as a form of co-regulation. Activities such as outdoor adventures, creative play, family meals, and relaxation techniques are opportunities for shared experiences that foster well-being.
In the whirlwind of caregiving, time for self-care can often seem elusive. Here are some strategies to surmount common obstacles:
- Effective Time Management: Schedule self-care activities with the same level of commitment as other responsibilities.
- Seeking Assistance: Do not hesitate to seek support from family, friends, or professionals when necessary.
- Setting Realistic Goals: Initiate with manageable self-care routines, gradually expanding them as feasible. Start by introducing one new achievable self-care goal and build from there.
Caregivers are the backbone of a child’s support system. By prioritising your mental health through self-care and health-prompting activities, you’re not only investing in your well-being but also in the well-being of your child. There are some great services that are designed to support carers which are available to access. We have listed a few below:
Healthy Mother’s Healthy Families is a program for mothers of children with a disability to encourage and empower mothers to learn about and create a healthy lifestyle that fosters their own health and well-being. Helping families to find their balance ✽ Healthy Mothers Healthy Families (healthymothers-healthyfamilies.com)
Carer’s Gateway is a free program that offers services and support to carer’s of family members with a disability, a medical condition or a mental illness. They provide peer support groups, tailored support packages with planned respite, transport services and more, in-person and on the phone counselling, in-person and online self-guided coaching, online skills courses and access to emergency respite. About us | Carer Gateway
Carers Australia is a service that promotes the well-being, health, resilience and financial security of carers. Their website offers a wide range of information to carers about disability and the NDIS. Home – Carers AustraliaCarers Australia