Tag Archive for: mental health

An image showing a heart with two hands shaking inside it, surrounded by two additional hands. Below the heart and handshake is a mental health ribbon.

As I sit down to share my journey as a father of a child with additional needs, I’m immediately struck by the depth of emotions that accompany such an experience. My son, a resilient soul who has faced challenges with unwavering strength, was born with Down syndrome, childhood apraxia, and bravely underwent open-heart surgery at six months old, has brought immeasurable joy and lessons into our lives. But alongside that joy, there’s a reality we often hesitate to speak about—the mental health challenges that caregivers like myself face.

May is National Mental Health Month—a timely reminder for us all to confront the mental hurdles we may be facing as caregivers. It’s not just about us; neglecting our mental well-being can have profound effects not only on ourselves but also on the ones we care for.

For many of us, admitting that we’re struggling, mentally feels like a betrayal of our duties as caregivers. We’re conditioned to put our loved ones’ needs before our own, often at the expense of our mental health. But here’s the truth: ignoring our mental needs doesn’t make us stronger caregivers; it makes us vulnerable to burnout, depression, and a host of physical ailments.

The toll of caregiving can be heavy. It’s a constant balancing act—managing appointments, therapies, medications, while also trying to be emotionally present and supportive. It’s easy to lose sight of our own well-being in the midst of it all.

But here’s what I’ve learned: seeking help isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s an act of courage. Whether it’s through therapy, support groups, or respite care, there are resources available to help lighten the load. Organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Caregiver Action Network (CAN), and local support groups provide invaluable support and guidance for caregivers navigating the complexities of mental health.

Moreover, acknowledging our struggles doesn’t diminish the love and joy we feel for our children. If anything, it deepens our appreciation for the beauty they bring into our lives. My son has taught me more about resilience, patience, and unconditional love than I ever thought possible. His presence reminds me daily of what truly matters—the joy of family, friendship, and connection.

So, this Mental Health Month, let’s make a commitment—to ourselves and to our loved ones—to prioritize mental well-being. Let’s break the stigma surrounding mental health and create a culture of support and understanding. And let’s remember that in embracing our own vulnerability, we become better caregivers, advocates, and champions for our children.

Let’s unite and embrace the richness and beauty of life as our children do. They’re not just beacons of hope; they’re our guides to seizing joy in the present moment. They remind us of what truly matters: love, connection, and nurturing each other. Let’s take inspired action and prioritize our mental well-being, honoring their profound influence on our lives.

For those seeking resources to support themselves or their loved ones with additional needs, explore our website at additionalneeds.info.

As parents and caregivers, we often prioritize various aspects of our children’s development, from academic achievement to physical health. However, one crucial component that is sometimes overlooked is the establishment of good sleep habits. Yet, research consistently shows that cultivating healthy sleep routines in childhood lays the foundation for numerous benefits that extend well into adulthood.

Here are some compelling reasons why it’s essential for children to learn good sleep habits:

  1. Enhanced Cognitive Function: Adequate sleep is vital for optimal cognitive development in children. During sleep, the brain consolidates learning and memory, facilitating better academic performance and cognitive skills such as attention, problem-solving, and creativity. Children who consistently get enough sleep are better equipped to succeed academically and adapt to new challenges.
  2. Emotional Regulation: Quality sleep plays a significant role in emotional regulation and mood stability. Children who experience regular sleep disruptions or inadequate sleep may exhibit irritability, mood swings, and difficulty managing emotions. By establishing consistent bedtime routines and ensuring sufficient sleep duration, parents can help children regulate their emotions more effectively and foster a positive outlook on life.
  3. Physical Health: Good sleep habits are closely linked to overall physical health and well-being. Children who get enough sleep have a lower risk of obesity, cardiovascular problems, and other health issues. Sleep deprivation can compromise the immune system, making children more susceptible to illnesses. By prioritizing sleep, parents can support their children’s physical health and promote longevity.
  4. Behavioral Adjustment: Sleep deprivation can significantly impact children’s behavior and attention span. Sleep-deficient children may exhibit hyperactivity, impulsivity, and difficulty concentrating, which can interfere with their social interactions and academic performance. Establishing consistent bedtime routines and ensuring adequate sleep duration can promote better behavioral adjustment and interpersonal relationships.
  5. Establishing Lifelong Habits: The sleep habits children develop during their formative years often persist into adulthood. By teaching children the importance of prioritizing sleep and modeling healthy sleep behaviors, parents can instill lifelong habits that contribute to their overall well-being. Children who learn to value sleep are more likely to prioritize self-care and maintain healthy sleep patterns throughout their lives.

Given the critical role that sleep plays in children’s development and well-being, it’s essential for parents to prioritize the establishment of good sleep habits from an early age. Here are some practical tips for promoting healthy sleep habits in children:

  • Maintain a consistent bedtime routine: Establish a calming bedtime routine that signals to children that it’s time to wind down and prepare for sleep.
  • Create a conducive sleep environment: Ensure that the bedroom is quiet, dark, and comfortable, with a suitable temperature for sleep.
  • Limit screen time before bedtime: Minimize exposure to electronic devices, such as smartphones, tablets, and computers, in the hours leading up to bedtime, as the blue light emitted can disrupt sleep patterns.
  • Encourage relaxation techniques: Teach children relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or mindfulness exercises, to help them unwind before bedtime.
  • Set a consistent sleep schedule: Establish a consistent bedtime and wake-up time, even on weekends, to regulate children’s internal body clocks and promote better sleep quality.

By prioritizing good sleep habits in childhood, parents can set their children up for success in all areas of life. Investing in quality sleep today will yield invaluable dividends in the form of improved cognitive function, emotional well-being, and overall health and happiness for years to come.

Here are free online courses from Yale University, Stanford University, University of California, Berkeley, & Wageningen University to help you stay healthy both mentally and physically.

The Science of Well-Being: In this course you will engage in a series of challenges designed to increase your own happiness and build more productive habits. As preparation for these tasks, Professor Laurie Santos reveals misconceptions about happiness, annoying features of the mind that lead us to think the way we do, and the research that can help us change. You will ultimately be prepared to successfully incorporate a specific wellness activity into your life. via Yale University, offered on Coursera 

Child Nutrition and Cooking: Eating patterns that begin in childhood affect health and well-being across the lifespan.  The culture of eating has changed significantly in recent decades, especially in parts of the world where processed foods dominate our dietary intake. This course examines contemporary child nutrition and the impact of the individual decisions made by each family. The health risks associated with obesity in childhood are also discussed. Participants will learn what constitutes a healthy diet for children and adults and how to prepare simple, delicious foods aimed at inspiring a lifelong celebration of easy home-cooked meals. This course will help prepare participants to be the leading health providers, teachers and parents of the present and future. The text and other material in this course may include the opinion of the specific instructor and are not statements of advice, endorsement, opinion, or information of Stanford University. via Stanford University offered on Coursera

The Science of Happiness: The first MOOC to teach positive psychology. Learn science-based principles and practices for a happy, meaningful life. “The Science of Happiness” is the first MOOC to teach the ground-breaking science of positive psychology, which explores the roots of a happy and meaningful life. Students will engage with some of the most provocative and practical lessons from this science, discovering how cutting-edge research can be applied to their own lives. Created by UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, the course will zero in on a fundamental finding from positive psychology: that happiness is inextricably linked to having strong social connections and contributing to something bigger than yourself–the greater good. Students will learn about the cross-disciplinary research supporting this view, spanning the fields of psychology, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and beyond. via University of California, Berkeley, offered on edx

Nutrition, Exercise and Sports: Learn about Nutrition, Exercise and Sports and understand how nutrition can support exercise and sports performance. Nutrition is crucial to live an active and healthy life, to support training, and to optimize performance. In this course, researchers and teachers from Wageningen University & Research will familiarize you with the nutritional aspects of exercise and sports. What are the basic concepts in exercise physiology and sport nutrition science? How is exercise being fueled for the different types of sports like; power sports, sprinting and endurance exercise? And how does protein support skeletal muscle mass and performance? In this course you will learn to estimate energy needs and understand thermoregulation and fluid balance. You will learn about the role of micronutrients and supplements in exercise performance. Moreover, you will be introduced to some health issues related to doing exercise.

This course also touches upon how the lessons learned from nutrition and sports research can be applied during ageing. For example, what are the benefits of extra protein in vulnerable age groups?

Be aware that this course will not tell you exactly what to eat. Instead, you will learn and understand the nutritional aspects of exercise and sport, so you can make your own informed decisions and critically evaluate nutritional advices and claims. via Wageningen University, offered on edx

Picture by Frank Romero

Recently, I was meeting with another additional needs parent and we were catching up on each other’s lives. She was telling me about her life’s challenges. When I shared with her my perspective, that she was going through some growing pains it gave her a new appreciation and lighter perspective.

When we think of growing pains we think of it as something a young child or an adolescent experience. We never stop and think as adults that we would be going through growing pains. What comes with growing pains is discomfort. Children and adolescents experience their bones elongating, their muscles and ligaments stretching hormones changing and emotional imbalance as their bodies are shifting. There’s an awkward clumsiness that also comes along with these growing pains because there’s an adjustment period that happens to and for all individuals as they adjust to their new height.

Just the same happens for adults. It’s different because it’s not physical, but rather emotional, psychological and spiritual and oftentimes all at once. We know we are going through growing pains as an adult when we are presented a situation in which our status quo is no longer acceptable. That in order to proceed or move ahead, we need to change our behavior, our attitude or the way that we relate to others and/or to ourselves. This realization creates discomfort for us because sometimes we don’t know what it is that we’re supposed to shift towards. We don’t know how to relate and it is in that trepidation, in that unknowing, that we are experiencing our own growing pain. Hence we experience our own emotional instability and awkwardness.

Here’s how I’ve gotten through those moments. I recognize that in the times that everything is smooth going it is easy and enjoyable. It allows me to rest and it allows me to digest life. And then come those uncomfortable moments where I realize I am struggling. During those times I have to reflect back to the moments of ease. I realize that in order to enjoy the sweetness of life, there needs to be some sour. Truly when reflecting, think about it, we are never proud of ourselves for those moments when it’s smooth sailing. When we reflect back to the moments that we are most proud of ourselves, it is always in those moments that we didn’t know how we would make it. During these tumultuous times we feel unstable or uncertain in either ourselves, or our surroundings or both and we are consistently trying to find our balance. These are our growth spurts that when we reflect upon them, provide us much nourishment in the form of love and pride for ourselves and those around us.

Please, when experiencing your next growth spurt, recognize and embrace it. Although it may feel rather difficult, remember my favorite phrase: this too shall pass!