Parenting a challenging child? Here’s how to increase your resilience

Do you ever roll out of bed already over it? At your limit before the day starts? Knowing you can’t take even one more surly look, one more rude comment, one more call from school, one more violent outburst? I’ve been there too.

As parents of children with reactive attachment disorder (RAD), life can be so stressful it feels impossible to face another day. When we near our tipping point, our instinct is to imagine that finding a way to “fix” our child will immediately relieve the stress we are experiencing. In reality, as necessary as it is, getting help for our child often adds more stress to our lives because it comes with therapy appointments, challenging therapeutic parenting approaches, and disputes with insurance companies. Effective treatment for kids with RAD is a daunting, long-term proposition.

Raising, finding help for, and advocating for a child with RAD is difficult. It’s stressful. Parents get PTSD, become depressed, and struggle with other mental health issues. They lose friends and family, and turn into someone they feel they don’t even know. This is why we need to find ways to increase our resilience by effectively addressing the stress in our lives.

Al Coates MBE, adoptive parent and advocate, is flipping the paradigm by focusing on practical ways we as parents can increase our resilience – our ability to take whatever’s thrown our way, figuratively or literally. With his background in social work, Al has tweaked the Stress – Vulnerability Model (1) specifically for parents who are raising challenging kids.

To understand the Stress – Vulnerability Model let’s start by imagining a bucket. Inside the bucket are your stressors – each one like a cup of water that’s filling your bucket up. For now we’ll set aside the stress specifically related to parenting a child of RAD. Instead, let’s focus on the stressors that are with you before you even start your day.

    • Money – are you scraping by and just making ends meet, worried about retirement, or struggling to pay the mortgage?

    • Career – are you in a job that’s unfulfilling, or perhaps under a great deal of stress with deadlines and frustrated customers?

    • Relationships – is your relationship with your spouse strained or do you have a toxic friend or family member in your life?

    • Other children – do you have a special needs child who requires extra help, or a high school football player that needs to get to practice on time five days a week?

    • Everyday nuisances – how about that neighbor’s dog that barks like crazy, or an air-conditioner that’s on the fritz too often leaving you hot and sweaty?

    • Social history – do you have a personal history of neglect or abuse, something that can be easily triggered?

    • Medical – are you the kind of person he needs eight hours sleep or someone who has debilitating migraines?

If we think of each of these stressors as a cup of water, it’s easy to see how we can wake up with our bucket almost full. If your bucket is already filled to a quarter of an inch from the top, you simply don’t have room for a temper tantrum, a broken window, or a screaming child. That’s how we reach our tipping point. What sloshes out – over the side of our bucket – is anger, frustration, tears, and more.

[bctt tweet=”If your bucket is already filled to a quarter of an inch from the top, you simply don’t have room for a temper tantrum, a broken window, or a screaming child.” username=”RaisingDevon”]

Now imagine waking up with your bucket only half full. You’d have a whole lot more to give your kids in terms of time, energy, and patience. You’d be a more resilient parent, able to weather the storms that come your way.

So how can we begin to reduce our normal stress?

    1. Create a personal list of stressors and solutions. Using the list above as a starting point, write down the stressors in your life and possible solutions. For example, one of my stressors is a propensity for migraines. A solution would be to set a cell phone alarm so I remember to take my preventative medications.

    2. Go for the low hanging fruit first. Start by picking off the stressors that are easy to address. For me, that might mean asking a teammate to give my son a ride home from football practice. Look for quick and easy ways to take a scoop of stress out of your bucket.

    3. Set some longer-term goals. Other changes may be more difficult to make such as  changing jobs or affording a new air conditioner (although a rotating fan or two might be a short-term solution). Don’t stress yourself out trying to de-stress by taking on too much at one time. Pick one goal at a time to focus on.

As you work through this, remember change takes time. But, every drop of stress relief is one less drop in your bucket. Even small changes can begin to make a difference.

It’s also important to recognize that not all our buckets are the same size. Some of us have short buckets – stress is very difficult for us to handle. Others have tall buckets – they can tolerate higher levels of stress. Another way to build your resilience is to increase your stress tolerance. Here are just a few strategies to get you started.

    • Get your endorphins pumping even if the only exercise you can fit in is power walking around the field during your kids’ soccer practice.

    • Take care of yourself. It’s not as impossible as you might think. Check out our self-care list for exhausted, frazzled, frustrated parents without a minute or ounce of energy to spare.

Raising children with challenging behaviors can feel overwhelming. To be successful, we as parents, must be resilient enough to handle the inevitable stress that comes our way. Take the time to consider what stressors are in your life and ways you can lower the water in your bucket.

(1) Stress Vulnerability Model –  from Zubin & Spring (1977) Brabban & Turkington (2002).

Originally published here by Institute for Attachment & Child Development

15 Practical Self-Care Ideas for Parents

via Blog – Institute For Attachment and Child Development

A self-care list for the exhausted, frazzled, frustrated parents without a minute or ounce of energy to spare.

Buy little indulgences that help calm you. Nestle scented candles strategically throughout your home to provide scents for instant relaxation and calm. Pamper yourself with essential oils to make the most of your shower (perhaps one of the few moments of privacy you get).

Use simple tricks to feel better physically. Splurge on a really great refillable water bottle and stay hydrated to improve your overall energy and health. Stock up on grab-and-go healthy snacks (but don’t beat yourself up when you grab for a high-carb, high-satisfaction treat during a rough patch).

Look for support in the nooks and crannies of life (that can be so difficult to find from friends and family). Fill up your social media feeds with encouragement at your fingertips by following pages, people, and accounts that post motivational quotes and memes. Please, use the comments to share your favorites to follow.

Find creative ways to make up for enjoyable activities you don’t have time for anymore. Don’t miss your favorite shows. Consider DVR to enjoy them when you can sneak a few moments to yourself.

Seek the small feel-good moments in life. Open your curtains and let natural light nurture your mood and improve your concentration. Get your endorphins pumping by walking laps while your child is occupied in baseball, soccer, or football practice.

Make those few hours of sleep you get as rejuvenating as possible. Purchase a pillow that provides good support. Check out a Weighted Stress Blanket or neck wrap. (I sleep so much better with mine).

Don’t sacrifice your daily coffee even on the most chaotic of mornings. Use the app for your local coffee shop to order ahead and skip the line. (I use both Dunkin Donuts’ and Starbucks’ online apps to order ahead and earn rewards.)

Pamper yourself. Get a pedicure or manicure. Just a glimpse of my strawberry pink nails helps me feel good about myself even as I clutch the steering wheel, flip through paperwork, and wipe up messes. Drop in for a 15 minute walk-in chair massage at your local shopping mall for instant relief from tension headaches and tight muscles.

Escape into that guilty pleasure read with an audiobook. I’ve always got at least one audiobook* downloaded onto my phone for those endless hours of chauffeuring kids, sitting in waiting rooms, and idling in carpool.

Hire some help for everyday tasks. Look for a maid service to clean your bathrooms and kitchen every other week. This is a big bang for your buck in terms of getting a little relief. Don’t let lawn work be a time suck when there’s probably an eager teenager in your neighborhood looking for pocket cash.

Just say ‘no’ to extra activities and volunteer work you’re signing up for only out of a sense of obligation. It’s okay to prioritize yourself right now.

Ask for help that’s actually helpful when friends and family offer. Suggestions include, “Would you bring by a meal on Tuesday? Could you drop my daughter off at piano lessons this afternoon? When you swing by would you bring a gallon of milk?”

Surround yourself with people who support the incredibly challenging work you’re doing and limit time with naysayers. Don’t seek advice or support from people, even family members, who don’t ‘get’ the very real challenges you’re facing.

Join a support group. Online support groups can be a great way to feel less alone and get practical suggestions for busy parents. A favorite of mine is the private Facebook group The Underground World of RAD.

Be your own greatest fan. Be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself. Remind yourself of all the things you do well. Give yourself a generous ‘A’ for effort for those things you don’t do so well.

Photo by Pete Bellis on Unsplash

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