With COVID-19 here, we’ve had to restructure our lives around it. What was once seen as normal everyday activities like taking the kids to school, crossing our fingers that they have an awesome day and tidying up the house for ABA therapy in the afternoon – has been replaced with telehealth check-ins, no ABA therapy in months, and schools being redirected to virtual learning. While studying from home can be rough for a neurotypical kiddo, it presents even greater challenges to children with special needs who are used to individualized attention with their teacher in the classroom, and often have a shadow aide nearby.
The changes we are facing can be overwhelming for anyone, but for a family living with special needs, it can feel like they’ve been handed more than they can cope with. Daily or weekly outings now include extra steps on the schedule such as putting on gloves or masks, and many outings have been suspended until stores, parks, and businesses fully reopen, leaving kiddos and families stuck at home. Some parents are ditching outings altogether because the reality is their child won’t wear a mask or gloves.
Understandably, mom and dad have had to pick and choose their battles.
Parents raising children with special needs know the power in keeping a schedule – from the time kiddos get up, to the time they go to bed at night, to every chore and break time in-between. But what about mom and dad? Or big sister? Or time needed in tending to your own needs? While the world is readjusting to its New Normal, it’s important to take necessary steps with Self-Care to breathe, to refocus and to readjust – even if it’s only for a few moments.
Here’s 3 Self-Care Tips in Helping Parents Power Through the Pandemic
Set Boundaries. Since we’re working from home now while most kids are now on summer vacation, it’s important to set up boundaries within your work area, family areas, play areas, sensory areas and even “off limits” areas. You can add colorful activity zones that are color-coded, along with a matching color-coded “schedule” so kids know where they are allowed to go, and when. This is a great way to visually structure your home, and is a solid way of supporting non-verbal or pre-K kiddos who may not yet be able to read. Adding an hourglass with sand as you start each task can also provide extra visual support for kids as a guide for “how much longer” mom or dad will be “off limits” at work.
Have Lots of Calming Strategies on Tap. This includes calming strategies for mom and dad! Most families already have a special room or area of their home that is geared for calming strategies for kiddos such as sensory tents, beanbags, overstuffed pillows, floam, Play-Doh, bubbles, calming essential oils, dim lights, calming music, etc. Have a checklist on hand with the calming strategies you use regularly to make sure you’re stocked up, and try adding two or three new ones to the list to see if your kiddo is interested in them. A great way to engage the child without overstimulating them is to have them watch you engage with the calming strategy (such as calming squeezing a sensory ball, or quietly cuddling with a silky blanket) and see how quickly they will imitate.
Take Time For You. Have your own schedule for after the kiddos go to bed. Include lots of calming strategies for yourself – herbal tea, a hot bath, a safe jog in your neighborhood, journaling the day’s events in a notebook, or even a good cry. The old saying is true that we can’t pour from an empty cup. Split up chores with other family members or take a night off if needed. As long as the structure is in place for the children while they’re awake, it’s OK if mom and dad need a night off once the kids are in bed. The emphasis should be on our kiddos and their progress during this time of uncertainty, but we can only give them the support they need when we are also tending to our needs. Be kind with yourself, be OK with tantrums, meltdowns and noncompliance and know that you’re doing your best, given this uncertain time.