Woman holding baby boy

Effective Stress Management for Parents of Children with Special Needs

Everyone has sources of stress in their lives.  Parents of children with special needs have a completely different list of stressors that can impact them.  Are they making the “right” decisions for their children?  Are their children going to be accepted?  For parents who struggle with the health and development of their children, doing the “right thing” can feel uncertain.

It is important that parents also focus on taking care of themselves so they can take the best possible care of their children.  Every parent needs to take a break and recharge once and awhile, and parents of children with special needs may need more than most.  It is important for parents of a special needs child to:

  • Take a day off of therapy with the child if the schedule allows
  • Accept help when love ones offer it
  • Refrain from being a “super parent” and take one day at a time

Journal Writing

Another effective stress management technique is journal writing. This can be a great way for parents of children with special needs to get in touch with their feelings and confront their worries.  However, it can sometimes be hard to find the energy or inspiration to keep up with a journal. Setting aside ten minutes every other night or after an important appointment or milestone is a great way to make time.  It is important to set a realistic goal for journaling and not dwell on missed opportunities.

Taking a “Time Out”

Parents need to be mindful of giving themselves a “time out” when they feel like they’re about to lose their temper.  It is a healthy way to deal with stress in the moment and models good coping skills for their children as well.  Parents can effectively do this by finding a quiet place for a few minutes, practice deep breathing, close their eyes and tune out the chaos long enough to regain composure.


Getting out of the house long enough to get some quality exercise can be hard for parents of children with special needs. Some effective alternatives are:

  • Taking a walk with the child on a nice day
  • Practicing yoga or stretching during nap and bedtime
  • Getting outside for some fresh air or gardening

It is important for parents to find something that works for them and their family to ensure they are taking time for themselves and staying happy and healthy.

Raising a child with special needs is unique for each family and techniques to maintain stress need to be individualized to meet the needs of the family.  If a parent does not have an internal support system in place to help like a spouse, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or other family, then the parent could look into a respite program allowing him/her to take a needed break and regroup.

Everyone could use new tips for stress reduction.  What is your favorite and most effective way to reduce stress?

Amy Bontempo is the Manager of Family and Community Engagement at Penfield Children’s Center.  She supervises the Community Outreach Educator, Volunteer Coordinator, Parent Mentor Program, and Family Programs of which Penfield host over 60 per year.  She has served on the Board of Directors for the Down Syndrome Association (DSAW) of Wisconsin since 2011 and previously served on the Volunteer Respite Committee for Children’s Service Society now part of Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Community Services, and the Family Resource Connection of Milwaukee Co.

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