Stress Counseling for Parents with Special Needs Children

Stress can go under the radar, so to speak--if it’s not the squeaky wheel, it’s not getting the oil. As a parent, it’s so easy to get caught up in taking care of others that we can forget to manage our own stress level effectively.

The amount of daily stress that the human being can withstand is amazing, and doesn’t always get proper attention until it becomes urgent. Especially if you are a parent raising a child with special needs, there can be additional stressors that come first, ones that perhaps other families do not have to contend with. What’s the best school placement for my child (this year!)? To vaccinate or not to vaccinate? Is my child getting the best intervention and treatment? How will we fund all the services our child needs? Is my child happy and thriving? How independent will my child be in the future?

Stress counseling for parents can relieve some of the pressures of managing everyday ups and downs—having to do with spousal relationships, work, raising children, finances, personal troubles, and health concerns. By relieving your own stress, you will be much more available and present to take care of the needs of your child or children. This is not to mention the toxic effects that cortisol (the hormone released during stress response) has on the human body when stress is persistent and there is not ample recovery time between significant stressors. We all know that unhealthy amounts of stress leads to disease and disruptions in the body’s functioning.

Perhaps one of the most important reasons to practice healthy ways of managing stress is because your child is watching how you handle daily stressors—from something little like no milk left in the fridge to major such as an ill family member. They are actually wired according to what they learn from parents’ way of handing stress. When you have a child with special needs, helping your child to self-regulate their emotions can be an important piece. What better way to teach them this important life skill than to be equipped yourself to face stressors in a healthy way? It also creates an environment at home that is most conducive to their growth, since it is known that we learn much better under conditions of feeling calm and secure.

Stress counseling for you or you and your partner focuses on regular meetings with your therapist to discuss and process current stressors, develop a wider range of coping skills to minimize the harmful effects of stress on you/the family, and accountability for your intentions to take time out on a daily basis for yourself—to regroup and rejuvenate. Here are some small ways to begin your intentional management of stress in your daily life:

-Take a 5 to 10 minute walk listening to music on a lunch break.

-Set up a massage once a month to look forward to.

-Notice when you are getting tense in traffic or at work- squeeze major muscles and release (teach your kids this one too!)

-Before going to bed at night practice deep breathing.

-Take an uninterrupted warm bath with a good book.

-If you have a significant other, don’t forget to go on dates!

-Try a yoga or meditation class or develop a home routine.

-Download an app on your phone that walks you through short relaxation exercises.

-Join a support group.

In addition to stress counseling, check out the parent support group for parents raising children with special needs at Pathways to Wellness on Wednesday evenings.