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Karen Wang
BY Karen Wang

The Top 10 Ways Parents of Children with Special Needs Can Relax

For several years, my respite breaks were few and far between because of my children’s severe separation anxiety.  Taking a shower while my husband held a screaming child on the other side of the bathroom door was not a relaxing experience.  If I tried to leave the house on my own, my son’s panic attacks would linger for weeks afterwards.

But still I found tricks to take time for myself and make a conscious effort to relax.  Here are 10 ways for a parent of a child with special needs to relax and hold onto a sense of self:

10. Massage

Most people automatically said, “Massage!” when I mentioned the topic for this article. But a professional massage may not be possible due to constraints on money or time.  I used to take my son to the 3 minute massage chairs at the mall – for $1 per minute I got some relief for tense muscles while my son played on the chair next to me.  Better yet, ask your partner for a 5 minute massage.  Enjoying your time as a couple is a wonderful way to relax while also building long-term happiness.

9. Mom’s Night Out

After my children became accustomed to playing with their volunteers at the Friendship Circle, it was possible for me to enjoy an occasional Mom’s Night Out or Respite Night. Friendship Circle provides respite nights where mom’s of children with special needs can get together for a social night out. Some great ideas include going out for coffee, pool party, Painting with a Twist and Comedy Sportz.

8. Become an expert

For parents with a go-get-’em, type-A personality, developing a niche area of expertise can bring peace of mind.  That expertise might be in gluten-free cooking, planning an accessible vacation or building computers from scratch tailored to the family’s precise needs.  That sense of accomplishment can help us feel that at least something has gone right!

7. Create

Painting with a twistThe act of building or creating something allows the creator to reflect and view life from different angles, while providing a sense of purpose.  So pick up a paintbrush, pencil, camera, a hammer and nails, or whatever your tool of choice may be, and bring your ideas to life.

Not only is it relaxing, but it’s also a positive, life-changing experience to model and share with children.  My children often see me writing in my notebook, and my older son has taken an interest in poetry, so I’ve been teaching him to write haiku like this one:

Thunder

Thunder woke me up.

Pouring rain at six o’clock.

But I stayed in bed.

6. Breathe

Breathing is something that most of us take for granted.  Mindful deep breathing techniques are widely recommended by physicians to reduce stress and boost wellness.  Whatever you are doing or thinking, take a moment to inhale slowly until your lungs are stretched full and then breathe it all out just as slowly.  That’s how easy it is to relax.

5. Prayer

Prayer, chanting and meditation are all effective methods for developing feelings of awareness and security.  The experience is both refreshing and relaxing, and can give the confidence needed to move forward.

4. Talk to a friend

Everyone needs an understanding friend.  Sharing daily challenges with someone can be a tremendous relief, and most of the time the people in similar circumstances are nearby:in the therapy waiting room, in the parent lounge at the Friendship Circle, at school drop-off and pick-up.  Some friends arrange for a daily 5 minute call just to check in with each other and see if extra assistance is needed that day.

3. Exercise

We all know the reasons we need to exercise: decreased risk of disease, increased happiness and sense of calm.  Exercise does not necessarily mean jogging 2 miles or 20 minutes on an exercise machine or joining a softball team.  When my children are with me, I play on playgrounds: climbing, swinging, running and sliding, then riding our bikes home.  Their pediatrician once told me that the best way for an adult to stay in shape is to copy every movement that a young child makes!

2. Music

Music is known to have a calming effect on the brain, and it can be squeezed into almost any situation.  When my son was having frequent panic attacks as a toddler, I realized that singing traditional folk songs such as “She’ll Be Coming Around The Mountain” helped both of us relax. Nowadays we sing along to Beatles’ songs like “I Am The Walrus” and “Here Comes The Sun” in the car on the way home school every day.  A friend of mine loves to play piano and guitar with her daughter.  Whatever your musical tastes are, don’t be shy!

1. Laughter

Laughter has many health benefits: improved circulation and oxygen flow, increased endorphins. So find something to laugh about and someone to laugh with you!  When I need to laugh about something, I take a look in the mirror and think of the strange things I’ve done as a mom. Works every time.

So… How do you relax?

Karen Wang

Written on November 15, 2013 by:

Karen Wang is a Friendship Circle parent. You may have seen her sneaking into the volunteer lounge for ice cream or being pushed into the cheese pit by laughing children. She is a contributing author to the anthology "My Baby Rides the Short Bus: The Unabashedly Human Experience of Raising Kids With Disabilities"
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