How to Care for Yourself When Your Child Has Special Healthcare Needs


Most people think it’s 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 a child who requires long-term or critical care can be difficult. It has been documented that caregivers in these situations have an increased risk of using alcohol, drugs, and tobacco as coping mechanisms, compared to 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 or help from family and friends, and being socially active can all contribute to your well-being. As your well-being increases, you can provide better care to your child and family.

Only you can take responsibility for your care. It’s 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 just need to take a nap.

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 medical, 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 and making lists of those needs 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 the important information about your child. 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.
For more information on: Caring for Yourself, Your Relationship, Your other Children, Tips for Single Parents and Caregivers, go to:


This article was written by Tina Persels, a parent consultant for Utah Family Voices and Parent and Family Representative on the Primary Children’s Board of Trustees.