Self-Care for Parents of Children With ADHD

Health Writer
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Remember: You matter

As a parent of a child with ADHD, you might spend your life feeling exhausted. You might put all your time, energy, and money into caring for your child. But when you ignore your own needs, it trickles down to your children, according to Stephanie O’Leary, Psy.D., author of the book Parenting in the Real World, who shared tips in a recent interview on how you can best take care of yourself.


What is ‘self-care’?

Self-care is about remembering to take care of your basic needs, says Dr. O’Leary. That means getting enough sleep, eating right, and getting exercise. Too many times parents fall into the trap of putting themselves last and these things fall through the cracks.  Self-care is understanding that you matter.


Why self-care matters

Taking care of yourself makes you a better parent. “You can’t parent at the top of your game if you are tired, hungry, or emotionally depleted. Self-care allows you to be the best version of yourself,” says Dr. O’Leary. It’s like they tell you on an airplane: put your mask on first, because you need to have enough oxygen to stay alert and functioning to care for others.


It isn’t always easy

There are three main ways you might sabotage your self-care. You might think you don’t have enough money, enough time or you might feel guilty, thinking, “I should be doing something for my children right now.” The first step toward self-care is knowing that it is not only okay but essential for you to take time to care for your own needs, physically and emotionally. Caring for yourself is caring for your child.


What do you put aside?

Some parents might live with a potential health problem for months, using the family resources to make sure the children have all been to the doctor first. Some might eat the wrong foods because they are always eating on the run as they drive the children to different activities. Some might decline meeting friends for dinner, instead paying for their child’s field trip. What do you put off so that your children can have what they want?


Swap places with your children in your mind

If your child needed to go to the doctor, you would find the time and money to make it happen. If your child needed $20 for supplies for a school project, you would find the money. No matter what your children need, you find a way to make it happen. Self-care includes mentally putting yourself in the same position. Ask yourself, “If my child needed this, how would I make it happen?” Then use those same strategies and resources to make happen what you need to happen, suggests Dr. O’Leary.


Practical ways to care for yourself

You can start caring for yourself right now. If there are physical needs you have avoided, such as going to the dentist or doctor, make those appointments, find child care if necessary, and follow through. If you are mostly eating unhealthy foods, make it a priority to eat at least one healthy meal a day. Add movement to your daily schedule by taking a walk, joining an exercise class, or starting yoga. All of these will make you feel better, not just physically but also emotionally.


Sneak self-care into your life

You can practice self-care without anyone else knowing. For example, Dr. O’Leary enjoys the smell of oranges. She keeps a small bottle of orange oil in her purse and when feeling stressed, takes 60 seconds to sit back and enjoy the smell. She also suggests playing a song you love even when everyone else is requesting something else. Another way is to wear a color that brings you joy. Instead of grabbing the first sweatshirt you find, search your drawers for one that makes you feel good.


Look for outside support

Building a network of people who understand is important. Many school PTAs have committees or groups for parents with special needs children. CHADD also offers support groups in many areas of the country. Commit to attending one meeting to find face-to-face connections and support. There are also social media support groups. For example, there are many Facebook groups for parents of children with ADHD. Connecting to others that can relate to your situation might be the support you need.