This is blog no. 5 in our 6-week series on How to survive (and even thrive) parenting your child with neurodevelopmental differences.
A resilient parent is not someone who shrugs things off, and simply endures suffering or hardship with a tough upper lip or their head down. Rather, to be resilient involves reflection, resourcefulness, the courage to be open and learn into your emotions and experiences, and knowing your best asset is your support network.
You are probably more resilient than you realise and already have overcome many setbacks, challenges or mistakes in your life journey. This means you already have strengths that you can draw upon. On the other hand, you may also be turning to responses or mind-traps that no longer serve you.
Why mindset matters
Our mindset can significantly impact the degree to which we feel stress, how we respond to stress, and its impact on our wellbeing and parenting experience. It can also influence how quickly we can pick ourselves back up after a challenging experience, ‘bad day’ or set back. This is particularly important for parents of kids with complex needs, as challenges, set- backs and uncertainty are a frequent occurrence.
Stress has a physiological response. The more worked up we get, the less able we are to draw on effective problem solving skills or connect with those we care about. You are seeing your world from your ‘fear brain’, which perceives problems in a life or death intensity and in a black or white manner. This means you are going to respond in more impulsive and unhelpful ways.
Strengthening your mindset
The first step toward strengthening your mindset involves considering your own beliefs, experiences and values and how they ‘show-up’ in the way you parent or respond to your child. It means becoming conscious of your automatic responses and asking whether they are serving you. From here, it is possible to explore different ways of thinking about and responding to your parenting experience.
Here are eight mindset-shifts to help you reframe unhelpful or stress-inducing responses:
- Embrace imperfection. We often feel comfortable and love imperfect people because they give us permission to be ourselves. We appreciate people who mess up, laugh at themselves and are open about their mistakes and limitations. This is also a great message to give our kids – that they can be loved and celebrated because of their uniqueness, quirks and imperfections. Imperfect is, without a doubt, a much more refreshing and positive way to be. Check-in with what expectations or measure you are using and let some go.
- Practice self- compassion. Give yourself validation and kindness for whatever comes up for you. Ask, what would be a kind and helpful way for me to respond to this? What would I say or do if this was my child or friend feeling this way?
- Focus on relationship. So much of the stress of parenting a child with complex needs is the pressure to ‘fix’ and address behaviour or deficits. This almost always comes easier if you focus on your relationship first. Let go of pushing and battling for a moment, and just be with your child in a present, curious, open and non-judgemental manner. Perhaps you can even find a way to connect or have fun together.
- Drop the Rope. Often it can feel like you are in a perpetual tug of war, with your kids or with yourself. Winning the ‘battle’ is not always possible or worth it. Plus, the irony of tug of war is that more you pull, the stronger your opponent pulls and the bigger the problem becomes. This can be a helpful image or metaphor to compliment point no. 3. Notice when you are battling and let go of the rope. Hang out for a while. Even if you don’t like what’s pulling on the other end. This can often help you see more closely what is going on and frees you up to take another pathway forward.
- Be curious and get to know your feelings and experiences. Pause and take a few moments to be curious and open to what you are feeling, thinking and experiencing. If this is too difficult or abstract, start by tuning to your senses – notice what can you see, hear, smell, feel in this moment. This can create the space you need to slow your stress or fear brain, feel safe, and be ready to make your next ‘conscious’ action. It’s in this space where you can feel empowered to respond in the way you most value.
- Pay attention to the small things and pleasant experiences. Don’t forget to be mindful also of the small pleasures and moments of joy in your day. Take a photo, stop to smell a flower, feel the sun on your face, stretch your body in a way that gives comfort, fully taste a piece of fruit, or notice how it feels to laugh during play with your child. Often these moments are dismissed by our problem-solving mind that gets us stuck on something that did not go so well or potential problems in the future.
- Learn to fail or fail to learn. See mistakes or limitations as an opportunity to learn and grow. Just because something didn’t go well today, or there are problems still unresolved, this doesn’t reflect who you are (or your child). Navigating parenting is continuous learning curve and adjustment, and failing is an essential component of this. Without mistakes, we can’t get the information we need to change or grow. Next time you fall short or something doesn’t work out with your child, try adding the word ‘yet’ or ‘this time’ to the end of your self-assessment. Instead of “I’m not good at…”, “I can’t…”, or “I never…”, rephrase your comments to “I’m not good at…, YET” or “I’m learning to…” or “I didn’t get it today, but maybe next time”.
- Acknowledge what you have done well. This doesn’t mean what you have done perfectly. Remind yourself of all the things you have done and any little successes in your day. Write them down! Be fair to yourself and your child about what is a success, even if it may seem small to others or what you see on social media. If getting to an appointment, getting your child to eat breakfast, or doing 10 min of therapy together is a big deal for you and your child then acknowledge this and the tenacity you have shown to make it happen.
Beyond your own mindset work, don’t forget to look to your support network and your team. Whilst taking responsibility for your own responses and experiences is important, the ultimate factor that strengthens our resilience is having great support and remembering you are not alone. Ask, how am I doing? What do I need to keep showing up the way I want? Ask for help if you need it.