Your emotions can impact on how you cope with caring for your child and how you feel about them. All parents feel stressed and angry at times, and most parents experience sleepless nights with their children – even when they’re teenagers!
When they’re little, your days and nights are likely filled with taking care of your child. Sometimes you might feel as if you have little or no time for yourself, your partner, family or friends. It’s good to remember that you’re more than just a parent, you’re a person too. Taking care of your needs will make parenting easier.
It helps to remember that there’s no such thing as perfect parenting. All parents have good and bad days. Go easy on yourself – let your best be good enough.
- setting small goals for yourself, rather than trying to do too much.
- to be calm, as babies can become more unsettled if you are stressed. Do what you can do – don’t exhaust yourself by trying to do everything.
- talking with your support people about how you feel and how they can help.
- accepting offers of help to make busy times easier to cope with.
- to relax, cuddle and play with your child.
- to do something you enjoy each day - go for a walk, play a game, read or watch TV.
- spending time with your partner, family and friends, but only leave your child with someone you trust who is 14 years and over.
- not to be critical of yourself.
Coping with tiredness
The first three months of your new baby’s life may be the most exhausting for you as a parent or caregiver. New parents are often shocked at the impact of sleepless nights on every aspect of your life. Babies aren’t born knowing the difference between day and night, and it takes them a while to start sleeping more at night. At this stage, it’s important to sleep when they sleep – everything else can wait.
Older babies and children also go through stages where they may have issues settling into sleep, or with waking in the night. When they’re teething or sick, they’ll likely wake and need your comfort and attention.
At these times, it can be really hard to get the sleep you need. The next best thing is to rest as much as you can, and to have strategies to help you relax.
Broken sleep, combined with trying to care for a child, can make you feel exhausted. The ideas below may help you cope with your tiredness:
- sleep or rest when your child sleeps
- arrange for a trusted friend or relative to care for your child for a while so you can have a sleep, rest, or to get out for a walk
- turn your phone off when you’re resting
- talk to visitors about the best time to visit, and let them know how they can help
- have a relaxing bath or shower
- try to have quick nutritious snacks and meals available that need very little preparation
- share getting up in the night with your partner or support people
- asking a friend or relative to stay may help
- talk about your tiredness with others.
You can PlunketLine any time, day or night, on 0800 933 922.
Coping with anger
It’s normal for parents to sometimes feel angry – at times it can all feel too much. All the demands of parenting, coupled with a lack of sleep, can sometimes mean you have a shorter fuse than usual.
Feeling angry isn’t necessarily a bad thing – as a parent, it’s how you express anger that matters. Children learn from you how to deal with their own anger.
Here are some things you can do to deal with anger:
- recognise the early signs of anger. You could even let your child know that you’re feeling grumpy or angry and you need some time to calm down before you can talk to them.
- try to calm yourself down. You could:
- try some mindfulness exercises and deep breathing. To slow your breathing, taking long deep breaths and letting them out with a big sigh
- stop, and count to 10 slowly. If you’re not feeling calmer when you get to 10, start again.
- make sure your child is somewhere safe and remove yourself from the situation
- take a warm shower
- go outside for some fresh air
- go somewhere quiet - that could even be the bathroom
- if someone else can watch your child, do something physical – go for a run or a walk, dig in the garden, clean something, hammer something – whatever works.
- do something that soothes you, like looking out the window, listening to some music, or reading a magazine.
As you calm down you’ll feel your heart rate slow and your muscles relax.
- Once you’re calm again, look back on what just happened and think about why you got so upset, whether you need to do something about it, and how you want to sort it out if it needs sorting. This can help you learn from it, and to handle that kind of situation better in the future.
- Talk to your children about why you felt angry, and apologise for losing your temper, for yelling, or for saying something hurtful. It’s better to say this than to apologise for being angry, which can send the message that anger isn’t okay. Let them know that you could have handled things better – for example, ‘I should have walked away and calmed down, shouldn’t I,’ or ‘I should have practised my deep breathing instead of yelling at you, shouldn’t I.’ You can start to talk to your children about your feelings in simple terms when they are quite young, around one or two years old.
Thinking about what has made you angry, and what triggers your anger, helps you plan to do something different next time.
If you’re violent towards your child, or you’re worried you might hurt them or someone else, seek help immediately by calling 111. If you need help, you can call the Family Violence Information line on 0800 456 450 to find local organisations that can help you.
Coping with stress
Some stress can be helpful, giving you the rush of adrenaline you need to get somewhere on time, or motivating you to get things done. But too much stress – or ongoing stress – can be overwhelming, and if you keep going full-speed ahead your body will tell you it’s had enough.
Even positive changes, like having a baby, can be stressful. Lots of things you feel when you become a parent – that you have too much to do and not enough time to do it, uncertainty about whether you’re doing the right thing, or that you don’t have control of your environment, can be stressful.
If you’re overwhelmed, it may be helpful to try some stress management techniques.
It’s a good idea to:
- figure out what makes you stressed – you may be able to avoid stressful situations, or prepare yourself. For example, if you’re stressed by how long it takes to leave the house with your child in the mornings, try getting yourself and/or them up earlier.
- change unhelpful thinking and instead do some positive self-talk. For example, if your child cries every time you take them grocery shopping, you might think ‘everyone’s looking at me and thinking I’m a bad parent.’ Challenge yourself on those thoughts – ask yourself if you’d think that about someone else if you saw their child having a meltdown in the supermarket. You’d likely feel empathy for them!
- be realistic about what you can achieve in a day. Stress often means you’re trying to do too much. It’s a good idea to set realistic goals for your day. Break larger tasks down into smaller, more achievable ones. Make a plan, and ask for help if you need to.
- stay connected. Talking things over with other people can help you keep things in perspective.
- take care of yourself and your own needs – physical and emotional. Rest when you can, eat as well as you can, and get some exercise.
- find a local Plunket group or parent group to meet and share experiences with other parents. Talk about your feelings, particularly if you are stressed or feel depressed.
Call or text 1737 any time to speak with a trained counsellor.