4 Coping Strategies for Stressed Parents of Kids with Speech-Language Delay
Feeling stress as a parent is a real thing, and these days it’s even worse. With the instability of Covid-19 and a changing landscape impacting families, those stressed parents of kids with speech language delay or disorders have it extra hard. Being a parent to these kids is challenging. It can also bring additional stress with spouses, siblings and it can even test your own belief in your parenting abilities.
Psychologists define parenting stress as the distress you feel you just can’t deal with parenting. So. parenting demands are just too intense and high and you don’t have the capacity to deal with the stress or the strategies and resources to meet this stress.
We have all felt this as parents. Yet, when you have kids with speech language delay, such as late talking toddlers, a child with apraxia of speech, a child with autism or other medical diagnosis, it becomes even harder and the resources available to those parents are minimal.
Parents do their best to be patient and kind but there are times when they are so tired or overwhelmed that they just want to quit. As we said, parenting kids is hard enough but parents of kids with speech or language delay or disorder have reported that they might feel any of the following:
- Anger that the day is filled with challenges
- Not being certain about what is best for your child
- Difficulty finding professionals to help
- Sadness about what the future might be like for your child
- Frustration at advice from “well-meaning” family/friends
- Jealousy at other families with “normal” kids
- Guilt that not enough has been done
That is intense and a lot to unpack. And as we stated, the situation with Covid-19 has left parents feeling even more helpless and fearful as families with special needs kids feel they don’t have the support they or their children need at this time.
We also know that the first thing people tell you to do is to take care of yourself. This is where we all struggle the most. We are all super busy. Especially now that more things are happening at home and we don’t get to put our kids at school and get things done on our own. But we don’t want to underestimate the importance of a “time-out” for yourself.
The speech-language pathologists at Therapy Works Together often suggest to parents to use language that kids understand, to explain what the adult is going to do. So we suggest telling your child” “I’m going to take a time out now.” Then take 5-10 minutes each day just for yourself. Yes it’s hard, but your kids need you to do this to be a better parent. During that time you can do what makes you happy (read a juicy blog post, sip some indulgent coffee, sit and stare out the window, or whatever works for you!).
So what can parents do? We’ve asked our speech language pathologists who provide speech and language therapy services kids with speech language delay online what parents report are the strategies that best help them cope during these times. Here is a list of the top tips we’ve seen help parents decrease stress.
1. You are not alone. Get social support
It is no surprise at all but it needs to be repeated to help prompt parents do it. Parenting gets a lot easier when with the support of friends, family, or neighbors who can help. That help can come in many forms and each parent needs to decide what helps them.
Parenting has always been a “team sport” and only these days as multi-taskers (usually moms) and power-parents who think they can do it all (again usually moms) but in the past parents have always needed and had extra parenting support (time, social, financial).
Parents often report that they are feeling isolated and overwhelmed, bu they should know that this is not something unique to them and that they are not failures. Parents should not be isolated. Nor are they supposed to be overwhelmed. They should be connected to a supportive social network.
It’s important to go to reliable friends who can be compassionate, understand and can listen to when parents just need to vent or let you cry and be frustrated. Even if they don’t have the answers it helps. Your partner might be the right person to go to, but parents should also consider sometimes having someone outside of the house to listen to them. Someone who is not also involved in the day to day issues that come along with parenting a child with a speech or language issue.
Sometimes even going to the support networks for an organization specific to your child’s diagnosis helps a lot. There are many support groups for parents on social networks. There are also professional non-profits that can provide a network of support such as those for Autism which can provide reliable information, stories from parents, and even personalized support. There is a support group for families with kids that have Childhood Apraxia of Speech. This organization has support groups for Spanish speakers, grandparents of kids with apraxia and even groups for families with teens who have apraxia. A search online will often yield some great results.
If you don’t want to talk to anyone but want to listen, there are quiet a few video online with parents talking about how they dealt with the stress of parenting a special needs child. You can watch a Ted X talk here about Debra who created her own support network. Or a speech by a mom who talks about the often conflicting feelings of having a special needs child.
What can those parents do that don’t have access to family friends and relatives nearby? Or just don’t have the people in available to them who can provide the support really needed to help with a child who has special issues due to difficulty or inability communicating (with the many challenges that come from that)?
Enrolling in a parenting class can be helpful too. Studies have shown that group parenting classes can reduce negative feelings such as anger, guilt, and stress — especially if the child has difficult behavior problems.
2. Too much empathy stressing you out?
When your child is feeling horrible, you feel their pain and empathize and that can be great because will motivate you to do something helpful for your child. Bu, and that can be a good thing: It may motivate you to help. But this can also go too far and can push already stressed out parents to the edge.
It’s called affective empathy, and going there too much can lead to parents feeling harsh, snapping and just plain burning out. In fact, studies have shown that women who had a lot of affective empathy had higher levels of cortisol when they had to make a decision about their kids who might be feeling unhappy. These moms also had more activity in the hypothalamus and amygdala, which are two regions of the brain linked with anxiety and stress.
What does this mean when your child is having a meltdown or having a very emotional moment? We should not feel guilty about taking a step back from what our child is experiencing and seeing it objectively. We don’t need to adopt their mood but we can stay a bit detached and understand that they will be ok if we let them work it out.
3. Let Children Deal with their Own Stresses.
We aren’t always aware of it , but kids are not born with the innate ability to self-regulate their emotions. They need to learn it, develop it, and see adults doing it. Kids with speech and language communication issues already have a hard time verbalizing what they are feeling because they may not have the language. This gives them a slightly harder time than their peers.
We can teach kids with speech language delay how to deal with their emotions and develop good social skills. Some of the social skills we focus on in speech therapy and that parents can help their child learn is turn taking. You can even be more explicit about it by talking aloud when turn taking (“my turn, your turn”) so that kids start to learn the language they need to use with their peers and therefore reduce conflict.
Speech therapists also coach parents can also model the use of emotion words like angry, mad, scared, excited, silly when they are feeling certain emotions in situations. Then they can prompt their child to use the work in the appropriate time.
Parents, Feeling guilty or worried isn’t the answer. Find resources and get help.
Getting ahead of problems can be a great way to avoid trouble. For example, if you know your kids get into a fight every time they play with a particular toy in the car, decide not to bring it. You can plan and avoid the problems and the guilt later on.
Negative feelings can lead us to overreacting, especially when we have unrealistic expectations of ourselves (and out kids). Worrying and feeling guilty can cause stress so we need to get the support needed to decrease these feelings and realize that we are not supposed to do everything on our own.
Parents need information and real help. There is plenty out there – just remember to go to reliable sources. And help is available online as well. You can often find emotional and therapeutic support that is often free and without a commitment.
Therapy Works Together – Online Speech Therapy for Children and Adults
We care about every child and adult achieving their speech, language and communication goals. You can start speech therapy online now with a certified speech language therapist. We’ll discuss your personal needs, develop an individualized treatment plan, and schedule affordable online therapy sessions online at your convenience.