Coping with stress for families and parents of children with disabilities
All families experience normative and transitional life event stressors such as birth, death, and moving. In addition, parents are subject to the inherent chronic stressors of parenting. Parental psychological stressors are related to the worries that parents have about the physical safety and the growth and development of their children.
When a child is diagnosed with disabilities, all of the attention is focused on helping the child. But parents also need assistance in coping with stress, their own feelings and frustrations.
Parents of children with disabilities had very elevated scores on the Parenting Stress Index, signifying that they perceived far more stress in their role as parents than did parents of children without disabilities. A model for teaching parents how to cope with the stress associated with raising children with disabilities was developed. The basic premise of the model is that by increasing coping skills, parents can reduce their own stress and can become effective mediators in reducing stress in their children.
The first step in the study was to ask parents to list specific stressors they associated with raising their children with disabilities. Some of the most frequently mentioned were: parent guilt; worry about the future; parents’ perception that other people think they may be the cause of the problem; difficult behavior of children with disabilities; feeling a need to protect their child; disagreement between parents about dealing with the child; disagreement between parents about the existence of a problem; increased financial burden; finding competent professional services; and sibling resentment of attention given the child with disabilities.
All of the stressors identified by parents in the initial study were compiled into a Disability Stress Index to be used with workshop participants. At the beginning of the workshop session, participants complete the index in order to identify their own specific stressors, and to determine if their stress is primarily internal, external, or physiological.
Internal stress factors come from within the individual and include attitudes, perceptions, assumptions, and expectations. Expectations of parents about their child lie at the root of burnout. When expectations about parenting are not met, the first thought is What did I do wrong? Therefore, parents must learn how to develop realistic expectations and how to recognize when negative self-talk defeats effective coping. Parents should identify their own self-defeating assumptions and think of alternative messages. They must be kind to themselves, to accept themselves and their child as fallible, anal to boost their own self-confidence by noting and using personal strengths and talents.
Beliefs that Lead to Internal Stress
1. Giving 100% every day is what every parent is expected to do.
Coping with stress - Internal stressors
1. Renounce love, affection, and approval from children as needs-rather than bonuses.
External forces also impinge upon parents of children with disabilities. Neighbors, friends, and relatives don't understand why such a normal-acting child is having academic problems. Teachers frequently don’ t fully understand the ramifications of a child's problem. Parents are called upon by the school to help make decisions about the child's school program but often feel helpless as the child's advocate because of their own lack of understanding. Because external stressors are those that are situational, and often involve relationships with others, parents are encouraged to develop assertiveness skills. Problem-solving techniques, time management, and goal setting are helpful when dealing with stressors associated with raising children and running a household. Because coping with a child with disabilities is so emotionally draining, parents also are encouraged to develop intimacy skills and a support system.
External Stress Factors
1. Dealing with school about child's placement or program.
Coping with Stress - External Stressors
Analyze Problems Thoroughly
1. Describe the problem with a specific statement.
Use Time Management
1. List priorities both short and long term.
1. Know your limits and be realistic about what you can accomplish. Say no to unreasonable demands.
The final type of stress is physiological stress. Parents of children with disabilities need to recognize that children with disabilities require exceptional amounts of energy. In order to replenish energy, parents need to be sure they get sufficient rest, eat well balanced meals, and exercise vigorously. During the workshop, parents learn meditation or relaxation techniques to use when they feel stressed, anxious, or fatigued.
Strategies for Coping with Stress
Everyone knows what to do, but doesn't always do it
1. Make a plan and stick to it. Make sure you include all of the elements necessary for a healthy life.
Parenting children with disabilities presents special challenges. Professionals working with parents need to recognize the difficulty parents face when dealing not only with the child's everyday problems but also the associated social and emotional problems of school failure. Parents are eager to learn better coping strategies and parent groups can provide both skill training and emotional support for parents of children with disabilities.