Looking after parents’ and carers’ mental and physical health is just as important as looking after children’s.
When parents and carers look after themselves and feel supported, they are more able to provide their children with the best care they can.
Having healthy parents and carers is also good for children’s mental health and wellbeing. When parents and carers are more relaxed and less stressed, they are more able to relate to their children, make good decisions and model appropriate responses.
They are able to be more responsive, fun and open with their children. This helps children feel secure, relaxed and develop an understanding of how to manage life’s difficulties. When children are raised by parents and carers who respond to life’s challenges in a healthy and calm way, they have the chance to enjoy their childhood experiences and are more able get through stressful times.
Also, when parents and carers look after themselves and accept support to manage difficulties, it can help them address any concerns they have early (eg stress in managing parenting). Addressing concerns when they are first noticed also helps to improve children’s mental health.
Seven tips for parents and carers on looking after yourself
1. Eat a healthy and balanced diet
Eating healthy, good quality food is one way parents and carers can look after themselves. A healthy diet creates a nourished body and mind and sustains high performance in everyday life. It also reduces the risk of getting sick. A healthy diet includes eating a balanced amount of protiens, fruit, vegetables, protiens and grains, eating breakfast every day and drinking plenty of water.
2. Try to exercise for half an hour each day
Being physically active regularly increases energy levels, reduces stress and promotes health. A casual way of including exercise into a family’s routine can be for parents or carers to go for a walk or swim with their child or play an energetic game together. Playing with children helps parents and carers develop a close relationship with them. Children benefit from close relationships with adults who they can trust and share fun times with.
3.Build and maintain positive relationships
It’s important for parents and carers to build positive relationships with other adults. Experiencing positive relationships with other adults provides support from people who are trusted, respected and safe. Children benefit when they see their parents and carers interacting positively with other adults. By watching adults, children learn skills like communicating effectively, relating well to others and how to build and maintain healthy relationships. Supportive relationships can be a positive factor that helps parents and carers cope with difficulties. Children, parents, carers and families cope best when they have support. Support may be available through friends, extended family members, health professionals, community organisations, school and early childhood staff. Being able to draw on support is especially helpful during hard times.
4. Try to spend time alone doing things you enjoy such as reading, writing, swimming or taking photos
Parents and carers who maintain personal interests also provide children with a model for a balanced life. When parents and carers have time to relax and do things they enjoy, this allows them to be happier and less stressed when with their family.
5. Try to recognise when you are feeling stressed and what might be causing this
Recognising signs of stress is an important part of parents and carers looking after themselves. Stress is the body’s reaction to change or overload. This reaction can be experienced physically and mentally. Stress may be the result of changes or overloads related to work, family, relationships or in fact, any event that requires a person to respond physically, mentally or emotionally. Stress can be managed so it is kept at a useful level rather than a harmful one. This requires awareness and an understanding of stress. When parents and carers do things to help them manage their stress, it is easier to make healthy life decisions for themselves and their children.
6. Try to reduce risk factors and build on protective factors
Recognising when your family is exposed to mental health risk factors and observing how well you are all coping helps work out what to do and what support you need to access to meet your family’s needs.
7. Access support and resources that may be able to help, such as family support services or health professionals
All journeys through parenthood will be different. It is very important all parents and carers have access to the support of family, friends and health professionals to help them on this journey. If concerned, a good place to start is your family doctor who can refer you to local psychological supports and services.
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