How you can protect your mental health when your child is having a tough time

Mum And Child

It can be difficult to nourish ourselves in our parenting journey at the best of times, but in the midst of a global pandemic, when our children are facing their own struggles, it can feel completely out of reach. Right when we need it the most, self-care for parents often drops away. Let’s look at what we can do to protect our own mental health even while we are tending to the needs of our children.

1. Permission to prioritise your health.

It’s not only ok, but it’s also essential. It is a natural and beautiful impulse that we want to give everything we can to our children, especially when they are having a tough time. Often in looking after the needs of others, our own health gets relegated to the bottom of the list. But if there is one thing I have learnt from my own experience of energetic bankruptcy, it is that your depletion as a parent serves no one. Please know that your health matters too. Parenting is a marathon, not a sprint, and your children need you to keep giving and keep going. We are a single human being with finite resources, so give yourself permission to nourish yourself, treating yourself with the same basic respect we give to our mobile phones as we charge them and our cars as we refuel them. The best way to be there for your kid is to nourish yourself - that tenderness, the ability to pace ourselves allows us to be a calm, safe place for our children.

For any parent feeling like self-care is just too much of an ask right now, I hear you, but let’s pare things back. True, there are some self-care activities that take investments of time and energy, but equally, there are other rituals that can be enjoyed effortlessly in a matter of seconds – try some green gazing where you head to the window and look out at the canopy of moving trees in the distance. Feel how this panoramic gaze can broaden your perspective and soothe your senses. In moments of squeeze, drop your day from your shoulders with a shrug and sigh: as you breathe in, lift your shoulders up to your ears and as you exhale, let your shoulders drop with a cathartic sigh. When things get too much place your hands across your heart and repeat some kind and coaxing words to yourself – something like, it’s ok to feel as you do, any human would. This too shall pass.

The beauty of these self-care practices is that the benefits ripple out broadly – they help us tap into greater resourcefulness and resilience and they model for our children healthy habits. Even better than just observing us, invite your children to join you in soothing practices. Get down on the floor and enjoy a childs pose or legs up the wall together. You’ll find many nourishing activities you can relish together in my book ‘Stand Tall Like a Mountain’ and if your children would like a resource all of their own, they’ll find it in ‘This Book Will (Help) Make You Happy’.

2. Cultivate self-forgiveness

We live in a culture that suggests we should be tough on ourselves to get good results when actually, research shows us it is the polar opposite. Punitive and harsh self-talk diminish our self-esteem and they illicit the stress response which can make it nigh on impossible to think straight. Parenting is one of the toughest roles imaginable – “success” is not contingent on effort… you can throw everything you have at your kids and you can’t actually make them sleep, eat or calm down, and you can’t study or make their friends for them. We are exposed to all sorts of parenting messages on social media suggesting we could be cooking with our kids like the chefs, moving with them like the personal trainers, creating together like the artists and it’s just not realistic. When our children are struggling, while we want to help, it’s not our job to be our kid’s therapist. The essential skill for us parents in protecting our mental health is self-forgiveness. Can we make peace with being the ‘good enough’ parent, can we give ourselves permission to get it wrong and to learn and grow with our kids, can we remove the blame and shame we feel when our kids are having a hard time? No parent can prevent their child from experiencing painful challenges. Our role is to protect and support our kids as best we can, to advocate for them and to empower them to advocate for themselves. These are no small things. Permission to be human, it’s ok to find this tough. You will see beautiful things bloom from self-forgiveness.

3. We all need other people

While I am passionate about empowering people with coping skills and nourishing practices, it is vitally important to recognize that it’s not about doing it all on your own. We all need the love and support of other people around us. Parenting can be a lonely experience and with any life challenge, we need a web of emotional support and practical hands-on assistance. Please keep reaching out, letting your friends and family know how they can best support you. Talking to other people who are having similar experiences can be enormously validating and reassuring. Reach out to Kidscape and you’ll find a caring community who understand and who will walk the path with you.

By Suzy Reading

About the author 

Suzy is a mother of two, an author, Chartered Psychologist and Coach. She specialises in self-care, helping people manage their stress, emotions, and energetic bank balance. It was her life experience of motherhood colliding with the terminal illness of her father that sparked her passion for self-care which she now teaches to her clients, young and old, to cope during periods of stress, loss and change and to boost their resilience in the face of future challenges. Suzy is the Psychology Expert for wellbeing brand Neom Organics and is a founding member of the ‘Nourish’ app. She figure-skated her way through her childhood, growing up on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, and now makes her home in the hills of Hertfordshire, UK. Her first book ‘The Self-Care Revolution’ published by Aster came out in 2017, 'Stand Tall Like a Mountain: Mindfulness & Self-Care for Children and Parents' and 'The Little Book of Self-Care’ came out in 2019. ‘Self-Care for Tough Times’ and her first children’s book ‘This Book Will (Help) Make You Happy’ were published in 2021. Her first journal 'And Breathe' is hot off the press and 'Sit to Get Fit' is available for pre-order now.

Join Suzy’s Wellbeing Community at:

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