Self-Care for Parents and Caregivers of Children

This article was prepared by Secure Start Intern, Tara Hearne.

At Secure Start we encourage parents to be conscious and thoughtful about the parenting of their children. This is an effortful process and we are also aware of the need for parents to be conscious and thoughtful about the care of their own selves. Here are some tips for parental self-care:

  1. Do something for yourself.

Take time out each day, 5-10 minutes to just sit with yourself, this could be to do something you enjoy (not something that needs to be done, e.g., housework) or could be to simply sit and enjoy a cuppa somewhere you won’t be disturbed. It is important to have time to yourself each and every day.

Once a week (can be more) do an activity that is not only something that you enjoy doing but has a component of mastery to give yourself a sense of accomplishment outside of being a parent. This can give the sense of being more than “just” your child’s mum/dad. Feeling better in yourself makes you a more emotionally available parent to your child.

  1. Take time to relax.

Use relaxation techniques/strategies regularly. For example, use simple breathing exercises, take a relaxing bath, sit and enjoy the sun when it is out or sometimes sitting quietly and watching your kids play can be relaxing.

  1. Healthy body, healthy mind.

Incorporate exercise into your day. This does not mean you need to join a gym! It can be as simple as taking a 15-20 minute walk each day or even doing your usual housework.

Be conscious of eating healthy and having simple healthy snacks. You most likely are already doing this in providing your child’s daily meals; make sure that you do this for yourself also.

Make sure you are getting enough sleep and rest. Being a parent is tiring and insufficient rest exacerbates parenting difficulties due to being exhausted. Have a planned out good bedtime routine. Again you probably already do this for your child; make sure that you care for yourself in this way also.

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.

Most people in your support network would be more than happy to help you out when you need it. Being a parent is hard work so be kind to yourself; don’t think you have to do it all on your own.

  1. Most important – take the time to enjoy your children.

Take at least 5-10 minutes out of each day and spend quality time with your children and take in all the positives that being a parent can bring. Simple things – seeing your child smile or performing small achievements or just enjoy a hug!

Strategy for Implementing Parental Self-care

Managing to implement any change to your daily routine can be a daunting and overwhelming task – you may be thinking where do I start or I don’t have the time in my day? There are ways to provide yourself with the care you need which make it simple and manageable. This can be achieved by slowly integrating these care tips into your current lifestyle. Slowly introducing any change into your life can help make it feel less overwhelming, gives you a starting point, does not require you to suddenly find a large amount of time in your day to do all things at once, and improves retention of self-care over the longer term by helping them become a natural part of your daily routine.

Use the following ideas to help you break down and incorporate these parental self-care tips so you have the most chance at success:

  • Identify what things you are already doing for your own self-care. Recognising what you are already doing provides you with a starting point onto which you can build and implement your personalised self-care plan.
  • Next, make a list of the remaining self-care items ranking them from the easiest to the most difficult to implement.
  • Now you have a list, you can integrate one thing at a time, beginning with the easiest/first thing on your list. By breaking down what you plan to do into smaller manageable steps and introducing one thing into your life at a time, you give yourself time to adjust to each change. In this way, you make it less overwhelming and more likely to be something that you will benefit from long-term.
  • Provide yourself with cues to remember to do the activity each day. You can do this by having a set time every day or by doing it before/after something you already do regularly. For example, if your first item is spending 5-10 minutes of quality time with your children, you could do this before/after they have a bath or even make it a part of their bedtime routine.
  • Continue with implementing just one thing at a time until it becomes automatic and integrated into your daily life. Only progress on to another self-care item when the previous has become second nature.
  • If you are finding implementing something is too difficult at the present time, try breaking it down into even smaller parts. No step is too small – as long as you keep the momentum of change going. It is all working toward the bigger goal.
  • If you find you are unable to break down the task into smaller parts or are still finding implementing something too difficult, move onto a different care tip and come back to it at another time. Sometimes what we initially think may be simple can turn out not to be so – don’t get disheartened – setbacks are normal.
  • Remember to be consistent. If you apply each step consistently at first, it will eventually become second nature.
  • Keep in mind that implementing these care strategies is not meant to be difficult – they are about keeping you sane and providing you with a means to look after your own well-being.