Caring for Yourself

When your child is diagnosed with a disability it can affect you deeply. You will experience many feelings and reactions. Sometimes a diagnosis can bring a sense of relief by providing answers and starting appropriate treatment, therapy and services, but some of the emotions that accompany a diagnosis are very difficult to handle, and are huge challenges to overcome.
Families often identify the following as challenges they have faced when their child is diagnosed with a disability or special health care needs:
  • Grief, preoccupation with guilt, and anger
  • Uncertainty and confusion about the diagnosis
  • Questioning or denying the diagnosis, thinking or acting as if "nothing is wrong"
  • Avoidance
  • Attempting to be overly optimistic or dismissive
  • Isolation - professionals or programs seem unavailable or inaccessible, family and friends may withdraw. Sometimes it feels like nobody understands or cares.
All of these reactions are normal and common among parents and family members when their child has received a diagnosis. Because parents care deeply about the child, her life, and her future, grief is a natural part of the process.
However, one helpful thing to remember is that we love our children for who they are, and a diagnosis does not change who your child is. A diagnosis names the condition a child has, and hopefully helps us know how to best treat the condition, but our child is still the same wonderful, unique child we have loved since he or she was born.
One parent says: "When Adam was diagnosed with Autism at 4 years old, the doctor said something that really helped: “This diagnosis does not change your son; he is still Adam.” It was so important to hear someone say that – because I loved every quirky little thing about my little boy. There was nothing about him that wasn’t perfect to me."

Take Care of Yourself First

Most people think it is strange when an airline attendant instructs you to put an oxygen mask on yourself before anyone else--including a child--in the case of an emergency. Most of us would still put the mask on the child first. But believe it or not, the airlines might have something here – in order to take care of others, we must first take care of ourselves.

Taking care of your child who requires long term or critical care can be difficult. It has been documented that caregivers have an increased risk of using alcohol, drugs, and tobacco as coping mechanisms, more so than their counterparts. Depression, stress, anxiety, and marital problems can also result from long term caregiving. The positive news is that you can take a proactive approach to avoid negative effects. By taking care of yourself, you can mitigate the stresses that can result from caring for others.
How can I take care of myself and reduce stress?
It seems that while taking care of the others we often forget to take care of ourselves, but self-care will improve our quality of life and long-term happiness. Exercise, eating a healthy diet, getting enough rest, keeping a journal, utilizing respite, and being socially active can all contribute to your wellbeing, and as a result, to the health and wellbeing of your child and family.
Only you can take responsibility for your care. It is an essential part of your job. Be sure to keep the big picture in mind by considering all you do, and all you can do. Can you squeeze in a 15-minute walk to stretch your legs and relax your mind? Can you take care of important emails or correspondence while your child is sleeping? Or maybe you can take a nap, too.
Evaluate the everyday needs of your child:
  • Does he need assistance with bathing?
  • Can she walk or eat by herself?
  • Does he have behavioral issues that need attention?
  • Does she need constant supervision?
  • Does he have physical, occupational, speech, or behavioral therapy needs? Do these need to be carried out on a regular basis?
  • Can others be trained to help care for and assist her?
Once you determine your child's needs, it is time to determine YOUR needs. Evaluating the needs and cares of your children, yourself, and your partner by making lists can help you to plan ways to involve others who want to help. By clearly identifying ways for them to help and by setting goals for yourself and your child, you can begin to minimize your stress as a caregiver.
Evaluate your own needs:
  • In what areas do you need help?
  • What resources are there to help you? Don’t forget community, friends, family, and religious affiliations. Write down the names of people who have offered to help with anything.
  • Make a list of ways people can help you. When they offer, you can be ready with some ideas that could really help. Even small acts, like cooking a meal, staying with your child or children for a couple of hours, or reading to your child while you take a much needed nap, can make a tremendous difference.
  • Organize and record your child’s healthcare information and schedule. Type out the medications she needs, and her daily, weekly, and monthly activities. Create a notebook that contains all of the important information about your child (see our Care Notebook page). By keeping this information organized, you can easily take it to all of the doctor appointments, instead of repeating it each and every time. A care notebook also can help as a tool for other caregivers who may work with your child.
  • Set goals in order to make things work for you. Break the goals down to small items that can be achieved in a very short time. Sometimes long-term goals can be overwhelming and it doesn’t seem we can ever reach them. By breaking big goals into steps, we can do small things until we meet the larger goal.
Remember, it is not selfish to focus on your own needs and desires when you are a caregiver—it's an important part of your job. You are important, and you are the person responsible for your care.


Information & Support

For Parents and Patients

Family Caregiver Alliance
Here, you'll find information about education, services, research, and advocacy to support family caregivers. A navigator helps locate state-specific services.

Empowering Caregivers
Provides newsletters, message boards, and articles for family caregivers.

Care of the Caregiver Fact Sheet (PDF Document 48 KB)
Information, tips, and resources from the Utah Family Voices Health Information & Support center.

Green Tree Yoga - Audio Yoga Breaks
Yoga for You is for people of all ages, shapes, sizes and abilities. Take a quick yoga break at work, school, at home, or offer it at a meeting. Whatever you are wearing is fine. Just release some physical and mental stress as you listen and take an easy yoga pause. Be more productive, be more focused and relaxed, and be healthier. Several are specifically for kids.

Services for Patients & Families in Montana (MT)

For services not listed above, browse our Services categories or search our database.

* number of provider listings may vary by how states categorize services, whether providers are listed by organization or individual, how services are organized in the state, and other factors; Nationwide (NW) providers are generally limited to web-based services, provider locator services, and organizations that serve children from across the nation.

Authors & Reviewers

Initial publication: February 2014; last update/revision: August 2018
Current Authors and Reviewers:
Author: Tina Persels