Saturday, February 22, 2014

Parent to Parent Tip# 5 - Taking Time Out

It’s no secret, as parents and caretakers we seldom think to "Take Time Out" for ourselves. I know, you’re thinking, "I don't even have time to think let alone take a break." I understand. That is why it is all the more important for you to come up with creative ways to meet some of your needs. Especially when parenting a child with special needs. It seems there are just not enough hours in any given day to get it all done. After rigorous treatments, therapies and special diets, other children, spouses and pets there’s nothing left. But there is. There are ways to take care of these things and still squeeze a little time for yourself, even if it means getting up a littler earlier in order to start you day with a quiet cup of coffee.

Remember: Taking care of yourself helps you to take better care of others.

I made it a point to figure out how to meet my needs. Here is an example:

I need periods of time to myself throughout the day. How do I achieve this?

Creating a dialog (key words) for your needs is beneficial. You may want to also include non-verbal cues like hand signals, picture cards or signs. Be sure to come up with words that your child can easily recognize for the purpose you intend and try not to send conflicting messages by giving key words with dual meanings, such as, "time Out." You don't want to use "time Out" as a key word for needing a break if you already use "time out" as a form of discipline. The outcome would not be good. You can use "relax" or a word for what you plan to do like, "read" which would work well for both you and your child.

Hand sign for “relax”, as in rest

Pick a place where you want to child to engage in quiet independent activity. Be sure it is a space that is child proofed and easy to monitor. Have the child help you put fun activities in the space. (Suggestion: a quiet corner in family room, kitchen or perhaps a playroom to start.) Choose a space where ever you feel your child will be safe and comfortable. Don't worry about adding distance between you and your child at this point. For now, only concentrate on getting him/her familiar with recognizing your key word and engaging in an activity independently.

Okay, so far we've come up with a key word, "read" and/or “relax” and a safe cozy space for you and your child; Take the child into the space and introduce them to an activity or help them choose a favorite activity. Then say "mommy is going to read (use sign language also) while you (fill in the blank). Move to a nearby chair, sit, say the key word and use sign language if you wish pick up a book and begin to read. It may only last for a few seconds if that, but you are on the road to freedom. Continue this practice a couple times a day, everyday, but not at the exact same time everyday unless there is a need. Encourage your child to play independently for short periods of time. Leave room for flexibility. If you are too rigid in scheduling you may be limiting yourself to having break time at only certain time. If you prefer to keep your schedule a little more rigid than setting a particular tie for breaks will work best for you. Be patient and persistent. Before you know it you may find yourself actually reading a page or two without interruption.  

This method may seem a bit slow, but it is a huge step and major building block for gaining much needed time for breaks and other activities such as making phone calls, giving attention to other children, making grocery lists, cooking, cleaning, taking care of business and so on. Start of small and work your way up to larger/longer projects.

As your child’s independent play increases (5-10 minutes or so) you can begin slowly moving further away from the child. Start of by setting your reading chair a little further away, moving closer to the door and soon just outside of the door during independent play time. Be prepared to reassure your child if they start to become a little agitated about the change. Continue to be patient and persistent. Again, over a period of time you will be able to move further and further away. You will even begin to engage in other activities besides reading. Continue creating dialog about the things that you need to accomplish while your child engages in familiar and fun activities. Encouraging age appropriate independence is a positive thing for all children to experience.

Children need to feel secure at all times. It is especially difficult when your child is accustomed to having your undivided attention at all times. It is difficult to stay healthy with such rigorous demands. We as parents need to put our mental and physical health back on the front burners. If we don’t, we are going to fast run out of steam and when that happens, anger, frustration and fatigue increase. You will be amazed how taking a short break can re-energize and revitalize you. And sometimes add a delicious healthy snack to your break. It is all too easy to forget to eat. Be as conscious of your needs as you are the needs of your family.

Children are not automatically conditioned to be considerate of your time and efforts. That is why it is important to let them know you have a few needs and to teach them to be considerate of those needs. They should know when you are not actively engaging in activities with them that they are still love them and very important to you.

When your child becomes more receptive to independent activity and you are able to squeeze in a break now and then, you will find little pockets of time to think of other ways to keep daily routines healthy, happy and more relaxed.

I started using this method with my son when he was 6 years old. It took a about a month to work up to a 30 minute break and about one year to be able to take as many breaks as I need for as long as I need, make numerous calls, work on writing projects and take care of household business with minimal interruption. It was hard work, but well worth the effort.

Putting in the extra effort to secure a few of your needs will make all the difference.

Happy Parenting!!

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