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Wellbeing For Parents Of Kids With Special Needs

Becoming a parent is a huge life-change but most people muddle along, meeting each challenge as it arises and doing their best to raise happy, healthy kids. But when you have a child with special needs, there are often extra demands on a family’s time, resources and patience.

We often hear the phrase ‘you can’t give from an empty cup’ – in which case, how can these parents look after their own wellbeing so they can withstand the frustrations and problems that often come with bringing up a youngster with SEN?

Having a Child with SEN Changes Your Life

Anne Williams, who lives in south London, is a parenting coach with more than thirty years’ experience. She agrees that parenting is hard for everyone at times, whether or not a child has SEN, and that each person will react differently to stress depending on their temperament, upbringing and individual circumstances.

“Having a child with extra challenges can affect every aspect of your life,” she comments. “It can feel like an emotional rollercoaster. You might be fighting schools or social services or having endless meetings with professionals. You might feel a sense of guilt and think, ‘Did I not take enough vitamins during the pregnancy?’, ‘Have I been too strict?’ or ‘Why didn’t I notice my child’s dyslexia earlier?’

“It can also impact you socially – you can feel judged by other parents if, for example, your child had an outburst at school and threw a chair across the classroom. You might even feel judged by your own family if, say, you come from a background where people with special needs are seen as ‘weirdos’. It might affect your relationship – are you and your partner on the ‘same page’ when it comes to managing your child’s difficulties? You might also have other children to look after.”

Finding What Works for You

Anne adds, having a child with an obvious disability might be slightly easier than having a neurodivergent child as the wider world is more likely to be sympathetic. A child with autism or ADHD who has behavioural problems but looks the same as everyone else may be labelled ‘naughty’ causing a parent to feel shame.

Some parents, she says, rise to the challenge of dealing with schools and medical professionals and fighting for their child’s rights while others may feel at sea. “It’s a good idea to acknowledge that none of us is superhuman. It’s fine to not know what the best thing is to do.”

Anne points out that it’s important to note that there is no one solution to coping with the struggles of raising a child with special needs and that common ‘tips’ for self-care such as taking exercise might not suit everyone. For someone with mobility issues, for example, or a person who is a round-the-clock carer, even a walk round the block might be impractical.

“People always say that soaking in a bubble bath is a good way to unwind. I remember one woman I worked with who tried it because someone had told her to but then her child started banging on the bathroom door because they didn’t like being separated from her. Hardly relaxing!”

Sharing Your Worries is Essential

The most crucial piece of advice for parents who are feeling overwhelmed, Anne urges, is to find a trusted person to talk to who will help you find your own solutions. “You need somewhere where you can be heard without judgement,” she explains. “It’s important to identify the part you play in the equation, how you feel, what you offer and what you would like to achieve.”

This help could come in many forms – a counsellor, parent coach, friend or family member or even an online forum – although it’s vital to be discerning, about who you confide in, she says.

“What’s unhelpful is not being heard and taking on other people’s opinions,” she carries on. “You don’t want someone saying something like, ‘They just need a good smack!’ Find someone who will listen and not give unwanted advice. And try not to compare yourself to how other people are doing things. Be prepared to learn from them but don’t assume you’re getting it wrong.”

Anne Williams is available on 07908 101767 or

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