Caregivers’ Mental Health Matters

How do parents cope with the demands and stress of parenting children with additional mental health needs? Research shows that parents of children with mental illness are at higher risk of mood and anxiety disorders (Naughton et al., 2018) and that the rates of separation and divorce are significantly higher in couples raising children with neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD or Autism Spectrum Disorder (Goetz et al., 2019; Miranda et al., 2014) resulting in many individuals facing the job of parenting alone.

Children with mental health challenges often struggle to participate independently in activities of daily living and rely on parents or caregivers for verbal and physical prompting and support. Repetition of tasks is necessary for any typical child’s skill development. When the child is also dealing with mental health concerns or mental illness, these tasks become more difficult to initiate, maintain and complete. Adults may need to assist in activities that are typically performed independently depending on the child’s mental wellness. This may include emotionally and psychologically supporting a child to get out of bed and get dressed or focus enough to eat breakfast and pack a lunch. It may also involve helping a child to get organized and maintain a timely schedule for school attendance and homework responsibilities. These additional caregiver demands can contribute to exhaustion and less capacity to maintain a healthy balance.

Common emotions experienced by parents and caregivers of children with mental health challenges or mental illness are:

  • Frustration (that the routine is not going as smoothly as desired)
  • Mental fatigue (expectations not matching reality of a situation)
  • Sadness (that the child is not independent for developmental age)
  • Anxiety (fear of what the future holds for the child and self; about getting to work on time)

Parent/Caregiver Tips for Stress Management

  1. Develop realistic expectations of the child.
  2. Learn how to get organized (how to use a daily planner, prioritize lists, set goals).
  3. Set aside 15 minutes in daily planner for a self-soothing activity (cup of tea, listen to a relaxation app, mindfulness meditation exercises, yoga).
  4. Join a support group and connect with other families who have similar experiences.
  5. Use humour and look for humour in situations.
  6. Avoid self-judgment and negative thinking. Learn how to monitor and change negative or catastrophic thinking.
  7. Nurture friendships and relationships. Make efforts to be social when possible.
  8. Consider bulk meal prep so that weekday meals are less effort.
  9. Find a sitter or respite worker and train this person about the child’s needs to enable regular breaks.
  10. Seek medical and/or therapeutic support if coping doesn’t seem possible or is difficult to attain.

If further support is needed in addressing these 10 items, please contact KIDTHINK to set up a consultation with a clinician who would be happy to help you.

Written by:

Tamara Rogers, MSc., BMR (OT), OT Reg. (MB)

Outreach Clinician

KIDTHINK

MORE COMMON THAN YOU THINK

1 in 7 children suffers from mental illness in Manitoba [1].

70% of mental health problems have their onset in childhood or adolescence [2].

There Is Hope The good news is that mental illness can be treated effectively. There are things that can be done to prevent mental illness and its impact and help improve the lives of children experiencing mental health concerns. Early intervention is best.

How KIDTHINK Can Help

To make a referral contact us

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Sources

[1] Virgo Mental Health and Addictions Strategy Report, Manitoba 2018

[2] Government of Canada. (2006). The human face of mental health and mental illness in Canada. Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada

References

Goetz, G. Rodriguez, G., and Hartley, S. (2019). Actor-partner examination of daily parenting stress and couple interactions in the context of child autism. Journal of Family Psychology.

Miranda, A., Tarraga, R., Fernandez, M., Colomer, C., Pastor, G. (2014). Parenting stress of children with autism spectrum disorder and ADHD. Exceptional Children, 82(1):81-95. https://doi.org/10.1177/0014402915585479

Naughton, M., Mayberry, D., and Goodyear, M. (2018). Prevalence of mental illness within families in a regional child-focused mental health service.  International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, 27(2):901-910. https://doi.org/10.1111/inm.12386

Goetz, G. Rodriguez, G., and Hartley, S. (2019). Actor-partner examination of daily parenting stress and couple interactions in the context of child autism. Journal of Family Psychology.

Miranda, A., Tarraga, R., Fernandez, M., Colomer, C., Pastor, G. (2014). Parenting stress of children with autism spectrum disorder and ADHD. Exceptional Children, 82(1):81-95. https://doi.org/10.1177/0014402915585479

Naughton, M., Mayberry, D., and Goodyear, M. (2018). Prevalence of mental illness within families in a regional child-focused mental health service.  International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, 27(2):901-910. https://doi.org/10.1111/inm.12386