Angel Knapp serves in a Senior Director position for Damar Services. She has supported some of Damar’s most important family-based initiatives for more than 10-years. She is well known for her innovative and best practice work to support families in times of significant stress – locally and across the country.
Resolve to De-Stress this Year
This time of year, we typically find ourselves thinking about how we can make the new year better than the last. And the list of areas we’d like to improve inevitably includes family life. We want it to be smoother. More predictable. More important. Less stressful.
Of course, parents often think that stress simply comes with the territory – and parents of children with special needs know that to be the case. Still, with a few simple steps, parents in any household can limit family stressors and make daily life more predictable.
So, here I’m offering five tips to help you out. Will these ideas eliminate stress from your life? No, but they can help reduce it to a more manageable level.
1. Set a schedule, and make it visual
Schedules help everyone. They help to structure our lives in ways that give us confidence and help us get things done. As a result, they make us feel more successful.
This goes double for kids. They might resist schedules, but the truth is, they thrive with structure and generally don’t like surprises. So, do everyone a favor and make regular schedules.
And when you make your schedules, do two things to make them more successful:
• Involve everyone. Have a regular conversations with all family members about what should be on the schedule, and collaborate on putting it together.
• Make it visual. Put the calendar in a common area where everyone sees it. Use stickers, colored markers and other embellishments to help your family enjoy the scheduling process and pay more attention to the calendar.
2. Offer choices
Kids are like the rest of us: They like to make decisions that affect them. So give them that opportunity – with some controls.
Offer the kids choices, but not such broad options that they might choose things that conflict with what you want. For example, if you’re deciding where to go for dinner, don’t ask, “Where do you want to go?” Instead, narrow the choices and then let them choose. “Hey, we’re going out for dinner,” you could say. “Would you like to go to Applebee’s, O’Charley’s or TGI Friday’s?”
3. Laugh it up
Sometimes fun is more than just fun. Sometimes it can be a strategic way to resolve tense situations. So, if things get stressful, find a lighthearted distraction. Share a funny story, or take a moment to watch a silly video. Then, when you get back to the stressful issue, you’ll probably find you’re all better equipped to deal with it.
4. Celebrate success
It’s easy for families to get caught up in the hard stuff and forget to celebrate the good, but it’s important that we recognize the great things that happen in our lives. So, put those school papers on the refrigerator. Have a special dinner when someone achieves important milestones. Or have a dance party if someone simply has a good day.
The fact is, parenting – but especially parenting a child with special needs – is a marathon, not a sprint. At the same time, it’s about winning moments, not scoring big victories every day. So win that moment and celebrate it.
Life can be hard, but it also is packed with victories, big and small, that we can celebrate. Let your kids know you’re proud of their achievements … and allow yourself to feel those victories, too.
5. Take care of yourself
This might be the most important tip – but also the hardest one to put into action. Parents can get so focused on making sure children have everything they need that they overlook their own needs. This can be especially true of single parents, but couples need to be aware of this, too. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to do your best for your kids.
So be mindful of self-care. Put time in your schedule to relax and recover. To have fun. To get away from your stresses and responsibilities for a time. Look for a “parents’ night out” at your church, or find support groups. Lean on family and friends who are willing to help you out. Don’t be afraid to ask for a break – it will help you be a better parent and spouse.
If all of these tips have one thing in common, it’s that they might take a little time to put them into action – and, so often, that’s what parents feel they have the least of. But, trust me: Take the time to put these actions to work for you, and you’ll find that it’s time well spent … time that will help you ensure that 2018 is a great year.