Overall I’d say I’m a positive person. When things go wrong, I might wallow for a while but I’ll generally snap out of a low mood fairly quickly.
The last six years have tested this positivity to its limits. Big Bear’s respiratory, hypermobility and developmental difficulties followed by Little Bear’s in-the-womb dramas (doctors thought he had a hole in the heart, initially thought to be downs syndrome) followed by similar hypermobility and developmental problems have created a rollercoaster of a journey so far.
Overplaying events that have happened that day, negative fantasies about what could have happened, what might happen and fears about what the future holds can become overwhelming at times. However, a positive mindset can open new doors, create happiness and increase our chances of success. Here are some of the ways I keep myself on track when negativity intrudes:
Keep things in perspective
A learning disability isn’t insurmountable. It’s up to parents to teach their child how to deal with obstacles without becoming discouraged or overwhelmed. Don’t let the tests, school bureaucracy, and endless paperwork distract you from what’s really important—giving your child plenty of emotional and moral support.
Surround yourself with supportive people
Being a parent, and particularly a parent of children with additional needs, brings a new perspective on life. There isn’t room for people who constantly drag you down. Ditch the people who don’t bring you joy.
Get rid of the guilt
Most of us feel guilty over many things, especially the ones which are entirely out of our control. We think, ponder, kick ourselves and feel bad over things which we did with the best intentions in that situation. Instead, say to yourself that you are doing the best you can in the current circumstances and then let it go.
As hard as it is, don’t compare your child with any other child, whether they’ve got additional needs or not. Align the dreams for your child with what is possible, live in the present and set appropriate expectations. View your child’s behaviours as signals of what he or she needs and help them build responsibility skills. Give them choices that will help them develop a sense of purpose and which will also allow you to value their abilities.
Do something for you
It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day hustle of life but it’s important to take time out for yourself to avoid burnout. Whether that’s signing up for a weekly pilates class, setting yourself a challenge to work towards, meeting a friend for an hour or even taking 20 minutes to get ready in peace in the morning. Work out what you want to do and ask for help from your other half, family or friends to make it happen.
Lots of small steps can lead to big progress. When Little Bear started saying “mummy” at the age of three, it wasn’t really a big deal to anyone other than me but I knew it was also a major milestone for him. Likewise, when Big Bear entered the water voluntarily for the first time in his swimming lesson a few months ago, it was a huge achievement that marked the end of a chapter of screaming at the side of the pool. It’s important to recognise these steps that other parents can take for granted.
Make friends with other parents of children with additional needs
Ok, so don’t make friends with people for the sake of it, but try out groups aimed at additional needs children of a similar age to yours. There’s something to be said for finding friends who are going through a similar journey.
Don’t lose your sense of humour
It’s probably the only thing that keeps you sane at times so for goodness sake don’t lose it. The other week when Big Bear woke me up at 4am, dressed in full Santa costume, the hilarity of the situation overtook my exhaustion. While it may be hard in certain circumstances to see the positive or funny side of life, there are many benefits of keeping your sense of humour – less stress and living longer – even when it proves to be very challenging.
Get some sleep
Lack of sleep is one of the main crushers of positivity. It’s hard to stay focused and look on the bright side if you’re absolutely exhausted. Early nights are the new lie-ins in our house. If your life allows, go to bed early at least three nights a week to try to catch up on missed sleep. An hour or two extra a night can make a massive difference to your mood and help you to take on the world.
Eat a healthy diet
Feeding your body with a balanced diet packed with vitamins will enable you to cope with the day a whole lot better. Keep fatty/ sugary/salty food out of the house to avoid temptation and be aware of what your triggers are for craving these foods. Planning meals and snacks will help to reduce the risk of reaching for the wrong thing when hunger strikes.
Know where to get help
If things do get too much, know where to go for help. It might be a helpline like Samaritans, a GP, or a specialist NHS or private counselling service. Whatever happens, you’re not alone.
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