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Like all other aspects of health, mental health can affect your parenting.  For example, parents who suffer from Bipolar Disorder are 10 times more likely to overreact, which can lead to inappropriate punishments.  Parents who are dealing with depression are often less responsive to their children’s emotional cues.  Here are some ways to mitigate the effect of mental health problems with regards to parenting:

Physical care

There are so many daily life stressors to deal with and many are out of your control.  So chose to focus on the things that you can control.  If you suffer from a mental illness or if you are just going through a rough patch there are things you can do to prevent further decline in your mental and emotional health status which would negatively impact your parenting.  Being mindful of your nutrition and getting healthy amounts of excercise is important.  Rapid increase and decrease in for example blood sugar levels and insulin levels can drastically affect your mood.  Excercise stimulates your endorphins, your brains natural “happy chemical”.  There is a higher likely hood of a healthy mind in combination with a healthy body.  Daily meditation can assist you in stress management and facilitate a healthy body/mind connection.  Getting proper amounts of sleep and rest is equally important, if you are sleep deprived you are more likely to have a short fuse and lose your temper.  Self-care is critical prevention for parenting “meltdowns.”

Remain calm

So what to do when your child’s behavior is difficult?  Instead of always putting your child in “time out”, perhaps you could put yourself in “time out.”  Leave the room or stay if you can, but count to 10 before your respond to what is happening.  This will give you time to not overreact or be impulsive.  Learn how to implement deep breathing daily to decrease anxiety and gain a sense of self-control.  It is so important to model healthy emotional regulation to your child.  If you are able to remain calm, your child will become less emotionally reactive.   

Treatment compliance

Remaining in whatever treatment you are in for mental health is very important.  It is often the first thing to be discontinued or put on the back burner when you are stressed.  It is beneficial for you to follow treatment recommendations from your mental health provider(s), so stay on your medication if you are on any, often clients go off their medication when they begin to feel better and they think that they no longer need it.  Most of the time, they stop medication too soon.  If recommended, seek out additional support in for example support groups or group therapy.  If your mental health provider asks you to journal, it is probably a good idea to actually do it.  If your mental health provider suggests family therapy, at least consider it and discuss it.  The more support you have in maintaining your own mental health, the better you can support your child.

Playtime

“I don’t have time to play around” you might say.  Well, I would encourage you to take the time to implement fun and play with yourself and your child.  Having fun/play time is actually one of the very important human needs.  You need to be allowed to have fun and to play or you will learn to restrict your self-expression and creativity.  This creates over-controlled people and people who can’t just be themselves and “let lose”.  Not only is it important for you as an individual, it is so important in the realtionship you have or want to have with your child.  Playtime promotes positive attachment with yourself between you and your child.  Even if you feel that you have lost the connection you once had with your child or with yourself, your can create or re-create it through playtime and having fun.  This also allows your child the opportunity to express him or her self.

Being a healthy parent doesn’t just mean to look after your child, it means that you have to take care of yourself too.  Taking care of your mental health does not mean that you are selfish, it means that you want to be the healthies parent you can be in order to be there for your child and to connect with your child.  By remembering to do physical self-care, remaining calm, being treatment compliant and implementing playtime you can create a healthy environment for your child and for yourself.  Your child will thank you.  If you don’t have therapeutic support and if you are struggling and find yourself overwhelmed, perhaps it is time to make an appointment with a mental health professional, call today!

Susanne R. Mealer, LCSW, CHt