Self-Care Tips for Parents of Complex Kids Part 1

As parent coaches, one of the things that come up over and over again is Self-Care tips for parents with complex kids. Parenting is HARD. It’s a lot of giving, and it can be hard to continually give without rest. This is why it’s so important for parents of complex kids to take the time for self-care and giving back to themselves – and not feel guilty about doing so

Here is a collection of Self-Care Tips for parents of complex kids from over the years that were too short to warrant their own articles but too important not to have on the site as a whole. Enjoy these tidbits! 

Self-care for parents of complex kids is such a big topic, we’ve split this collection of tips into two parts! Click here for part two!

Reminders Why Self-Care is Important for Parents of Complex Kids

Happy Parents are Good for Kids 

It's tough to decide how much of ourselves – our time and our lives – to give to our kids. As a Mom of kids with ADHD, I lean toward giving myself away. What about you? 

Many parents feel torn between choices for their kids and choices for themselves. Often, parents make decisions from a sense of obligation and duty. They want to do what is best for their children, but they have not figured out how to do that and still consider what is best for themselves. As a result, they tend to feel resentful, angry, and guilty. 

Resentment and guilt aren't good for anyone in the family. 

So, what's the solution? I have come to realize that it's REALLY important for parents to do things for ourselves that make us – happy. 

That may mean considering ourselves when we make decisions about how to use our time. I want my kids to understand that sometimes I make decisions for them, and sometimes I make decisions for myself. 

I still have a tendency to give myself away. But now, when I spread myself too thin, I'm aware that I'm doing it, and there is (often) a method behind the madness. 

I am firmly committed to my own pursuit of happiness. I have put myself back into the equation, and it's made all the difference – for myself AND my family. 

Clown Leader vs Lion Tamer

Our kids hold it together all day long at school. At least, they try. They have to sit in their chairs, stand in line, keep their hands to themselves, pay attention to the teacher, answer questions when called upon. 

It's a lot, really, if you think about it. 

So at the end of the day, after they've been trying to control themselves all day, they need to let it out. Be goofy, or silly, or act like a clown. Kids just want to have fun! So this self-care tip for parents of complex kids is simple: laugh with the clown. Have fun, get silly, and find the joy in a silly child's antics. 

If they can get out some of the silliness before they starts their homework, all the better. If they can get the work done while they're being silly, that'll work too, at least for a few years. Until they grow out of it. Which they will. In some ways. But trying to make them be serious, when that's all they've been allowed to be all day? That's just too much. 

Remember, life with kids with ADHD is a lot like a three-ring circus. You want to be the clown leader, not a lion tamer!  

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Take Care of Your Body 

Go to the Bathroom!

This is one of those Self-Care Tips for parents of complex kids that seems ridiculous on the surface, but that many of you women out there will relate to. Stop what you're doing and go to the bathroom! Don't hold it to get one more thing done. Go ahead. Go now. I'll wait. We tend to get so busy with our malaise of one-more-thing-itis that we "forget" to stop and give our bladders some much-needed relief. Perhaps we don't want to hold anyone else up. Or maybe, we feel the need to send one more email, fold one more towel, or make one more phone call. And then we look at the clock, take a quick gasp, and we're out the door before we take the time to take care of ourselves, physically.

For many women, urinary tract and bladder infections are a natural consequence of our delays; for others, urinary incontinence is just around the corner. Taking a break to do what “no one else can do for you” is the ultimate act of Self-Care for parents of complex kids! So if you've been holding it to finish reading this, well, what are you waiting for? GO! 

Heed Warning Signs: Boost Your Immune System

Change of Season gets me every time. The weather gets fickle, and the next thing I know, I've got a cold. I wish I could say I prevented it this year, but no such luck. Last night, I led the new Coaching Group doing my Suzanne Pleshette imitation. (If you don't know who she is, call yourself young and catch an old re-run of the Bob Newhart Show.) I did manage to lessen the intensity of this cold, by paying attention to my body, and boosting my immune system. I faithfully take vitamins twice a day (a large handful).  And when I start to feel run down, or someone else in the family comes down with a cold, I pull out the old faithful: Vitamin C, anti-virals, extra water and a bit more sleep. The next couple of months are going to get a little hairy for all of us. The weather will turn cold (for most of us), the schedule will get even fuller (is that possible?), the holidays will be here in a blink, and the immune system will start running low on steam.  (Note to self: Perhaps it's time to bring in another featured expert on supplements & wellness!) So pay attention when you start to feel tired or run down, and give your body the EXTRA fuel it needs. You might be able to avoid your own Suzanne Pleshette imitation – completely! 

To Feel Well-Rested, Think in Terms of Sleep Cycles

When school is in session, the ongoing battle between early-morning buses and late-night homework sessions rages. I find that I do better with getting enough sleep – and getting good sleep – when I think in terms of sleep cycles. There's something magic about that 90-minute number. My 11-year-old came home from his first day of school exhausted and hit the couch. He was out like a light! I tried to wake him so that he'd sleep that night. No luck. But when I waited until he'd finished the sleep cycle of 1 ½ hours – he was able to wake up and sleep that night. So if you start to feel run down – and let's be serious, the beginning of a school year does that to us as much as the end of the year – pay attention to sleep cycles. Plan a little, and see if that extra 30 minutes between 7 and 7 ½ hours, or better yet, 8 ½ and 9 hours, makes a difference. If getting even 6 hours is a challenge, you might search “Sleep” on the site for some other guidance and take a minute to read.  

Turn Off the Screens

You've heard it before, I'm sure, but it warrants repetition: create good sleep habits. They say you should only use the bedroom for sleeping & evening "relaxation". I don't know how practical that is for everyone. They also say to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Not sure I could handle that one, either. But what IS doable is to turn off all glowing screens at least 30 minutes before sleep. It's a challenge, but it's definitely doable. Before sleep, give yourself the gift of decompression. Let your brain take a break. You'll sleep better, for one. And you might just get back to those books you wanted to read. 

Healthy Eating 

Getting a Good Breakfast On the Go

Breakfast starts our metabolic clock and gives us the energy and clarity to conquer the world – or at least make it to work on time. To ensure you get vital nutrients on busy mornings, take your Breakfast on the go!  Here are some great tips to help:  

  • When you're preparing your kids' lunches, make an extra sandwich. Eat in the car or at work as you're easing into your email.  
  • Drink your breakfast. You don't have to give up that first cup of coffee, but instead of reaching for a second, try a shake or smoothie. There are a variety of products on the market that offer protein, calcium, fruits, and veggies for on-the-go nutrition.  
  • Make your own protein shakes using soy or whey. Look online for recipes and make a week's-worth every Sunday night.  

Boosting your metabolism, jumpstarting your brain, and maybe even tightening your belt a notch – that's worth a few minutes of your time every day! 

Take A Lunch Break 

How often do you see yourself: 

  • sitting at your desk – fork in one hand, computer mouse in the other? 
  • eating lunch in your car, again? 
  • mindlessly putting food in your mouth as you are focused on something else. 

For me, it's a daily occurrence. Lunch, for many of us, has become a time to catch up on work and emails. Even if we do take a break from work during the day, we usually end up doing something else (paying bills, creating a grocery list, or, dare I say it: playing on Facebook!) Perhaps your habit is reading the latest book you grabbed at the library. Regardless of what you do, you aren't paying attention to eating. Research has shown that pleasant conversation while eating does aid in digestion. Anything else likely gets in the way.  We eat too much, not enough, and not the right thing.  Mindful eating goes right out the window. So do yourself and your body a favor.  At least once a week, make a commitment to actually eating lunch and doing nothing else but looking out the window or enjoying the company of a friend. You might miss the latest pin on Pinterest, but slowing down and eating consciously will definitely help you in lots of other ways. 

Conscious Eating & Refrigerator Mindfulness

Have you ever had one of those moments where you find yourself standing in front of the refrigerator with the door open, and nothing sounds good to you?  Chances are you aren't hungry. So why are you there? The main purpose of food is nourishment, but many of us use it for other things,  particularly as a reward or to calm emotions.  Our population has developed an unhealthy relationship with food. So what if you want to change your relationship? One trick is to be more thoughtful about making food choices. I recommend that you put a magnet or note on the door of your refrigerator that says something like, “Why are you here?”  Then, before you take anything out, ask yourself these questions: 

  • Am I hungry? 
  • How am I feeling right now? (bored, anxious, nervous) 
  • What does my body really need? (energy, relaxation, distraction) 

Then take a minute to choose your “best” solution.  If you are hungry, then eat.  If it is about something else, then consider an alternative.  For example, if you need energy, then take the dog for a quick walk.  If you need a distraction, then do the dishes or set a timer and spend 15 minutes cleaning out a kitchen drawer.  Simple awareness can help you create a healthier relationship with food – and yourself! 

You Are What You Eat

Some days, I am a mocha latte with an extra shot of espresso! Have you noticed that some foods make you feel refreshed and energized while others drain your reserves? How does food make you feel? You can find the answer by keeping a food journal to get a general sense of what you're eating and how you feel afterward. Once you begin to notice how different foods affect you, adopt the 70-30 rule (ok, the 60-40 rule, if you're just starting out!). Try to eat foods that make you feel good at least 70 (60) percent of the time. No surprise; the foods that make us feel good are good for us. You'll notice that you start to choose healthier foods more frequently. The beauty of this is that you'll eat well by choice, not because you feel you should! 

Order Water

When out at a restaurant, one of the biggest upsells is the beverage. It's the first thing the server asks. It's almost as if we're conditioned to order a drink, even if we're not thirsty. Here are 7 good reasons to order water instead: 

  1. It's hard to drink 8 glasses of water a day. Why not let someone help make it easier by bringing it to you?! 
  2. Drinks at a restaurant are unreasonably expensive and can surprisingly increase the cost of a meal. 
  3. Most drinks we order are either full of sugar or artificial chemicals, neither of which are great for us. 
  4. Drinks tend to fill us up before a meal, and then we don't eat as well. 
  5. Drinking while eating can actually cause bloating and discomfort. 
  6. Water helps with digestion and eases tendencies toward constipation. 
  7. Water aids in a good complexion. 

Take Care of Your Soul 

It's Time to Want!

Are you a people-pleaser? Do you tend to operate out of obligation? Do you find yourself “making an appearance” or saying yes to things because someone else asked, without ever really considering if it's what you want to do?

It's time to turn your “wanting dial” up and see what you notice.

Here's your homework:

For the next week, every time you hear yourself utter a word of obligation – gotta, have to, should, must – replace it with the word "want.” Notice whether you can say it authentically. (Can you even say it with a straight face?) Then pay attention to how much of your time and effort you spend on what you feel you must do for others, or your work, or your house… you get the picture. Notice when you are doing something and feeling resentful – that will take the generosity right out of it, won't it?!

You may discover how often you tend to operate from an obligation. This creates the opportunity to evaluate the choices you are making. Or, you might discover that you want to do the laundry so you can wear that shirt on Saturday night when you want to go to a party that you thought you had to attend!

What Do You Want?

As parents of complex kids, we often have a hard time prioritizing our own needs and self-care. We know that taking care of ourselves gives us more energy to “do” for others. But doing things for ourselves is typically at the bottom of the list. The first step to change is awareness. What is it that you could do for yourself? What do you want? What feeds you? Makes your heart sing? Take a minute – today – and write down 10 things that you love to do. Things that make you feel more alive, fulfilled, happy, and relaxed. Don't worry about cost or time; just start with the list. If you don't know anymore, think about what you can remember liking in your past. Doesn't it feel good just to write them down? To bring them into view? Just talking about getting a massage makes me relax (at least a little). The next step is commitment. Take one thing on this list, and come up with a plan for how to make it happen this week. I know you can do it!

Inspire Yourself

Take a 20-second vacation. When you're bogged down in the day-to-day, you may need a reminder that there is a big, beautiful world beyond the car, laundry room, or office. We can reconnect with that world in different ways. Try finding a picture that inspires you – maybe it's a photo of someone you love or a place you dream of visiting. Tape it up somewhere visible, like the bathroom mirror, your car's dashboard, or your desk drawer, where you keep the staples and the emergency supply of chocolate. When you come across the picture, take a deep breath, allow yourself a 20-second fantasy, and move on. Visual triggers can really help with inspiration and motivation. You'll be surprised how powerful your “mini-vacation” is! 

Read or Write Every Day 

Read or write something for yourself every day. Some people like to get in bed and read every night, and others like to keep a journal. Either way, it's a great way to decompress, to give your brain some space between the active part of your day and your sleep. No, TV doesn't count as complete downtime for your brain. Studies show that, for optimal sleep, you want at least 30 minutes to 1 hour off a screen before bed. So, “What about my kindle or my tablet?” I hear you ask. While it's not ideal, it's better than nothing at all. But just as a test, see what happens if you re-familiarize yourself with words on an actual page of the paper. It may be old-fashioned, but perhaps we don't need to get rid of all that came before the year 2000! 

Engage with Music 

Music is a super-food, providing us the sustenance we need to stay whole. For our kids, it offers order and structure and relieves stress, anxiety, chronic pain, and depression. For us, if it can provide 3-4 minutes of sanity at a time! Sometimes, the lyrics resonate with us; other times, we let ourselves go with the beat or imagine ourselves as a Broadway star or the conductor of a world-famous orchestra. And then, other times, we use it to create a space to cry, to scream, and to release. How can you turn up the music in your own life? Sing at the top of your lungs? Brave karaoke night? Join a chorus? Or just make the conscious effort to turn on the tunes you like each day? This week, take some time to let music heal your soul. 

Make Every Breath a Yoga Class

I'm as guilty as the next one of buying into the myth that “there's not enough time” to…exercise, go to yoga class, take care of myself…fill in the blank! But I had an “aha!” this week when a colleague said to me, “I don't have time to do yoga. I barely have time to breathe!” Seriously?! My response was a moment of brilliance, if I do say so myself. I channeled my former yoga-teacher-self and said, “Of course you do. Every Breath is a mini-yoga class.” And so it is. Take a conscious inhale. Slow and steady, breathing in through your nose. Pause, just for a brief moment. And then release gently, exhaling through your nose (more relaxing) or mouth (more releasing). Pause again. And there you have it. A 3-second yoga class, always at your fingertips – or, at least, at the end of each breath! 


Few things feel as good as moving your body to music. I was at a conference this weekend, and for energy breaks, throughout the day, we cranked up the tunes and boogied (Note: do not use this term with your kids! Try "rocked out" instead.) It's a great way to burn off some energy, re-group, and get your blood flowing. Added bonus for ADHDers – if you get aerobic enough, it can get the neuro-transmitters accelerating, as well. As an extra added bonus, it is also a great way to connect with your kids – laugh, sing, and play. Unless, of course, they happen to be old enough to be embarrassed by your moves or taste in music. In that case, do it anyway, and enjoy the added fun of watching them squirm. Dance party in the kitchen! 

Dare to Dream

My car's in the shop today. Not to worry – I'm optimistic it just needs an oil change.  While waiting, I have taken the time to wander the lot.  After sitting behind the same steering wheel every day for eleven years, I admit that I'm a little bored. I'm not exactly driving my car of choice. I gave up the sporty sedan for larger digs when I went from no kids to three in 19 months. But in my head, I'm still driving around in my 1968 convertible or my 1985 Celica sports coupe. 

Maybe I'll get lucky, and my car will need repair. The last time I got a loaner, my kids were out of town. I got to drive a new Miata, with the top down and full control of the radio – for 3 days! 

So today, as I walk around on this beautiful fall afternoon, I let my imagination run wild. 

It feels wonderful to dream. Not only does it help us to break through barriers when we are stuck in a particular thought or mindset, but it can actually release endorphins into our body that can help us relax and calm down when we are stressed out. Don't we all need an antidote to stress sometimes? 

So, what's your dream? It may not be top-down, 80 miles an hour, wind in your hair. Maybe it's a vacation, a career, or just a break from your day-to-day reality.  Take a few minutes and dare to dream it today. Who knows, maybe you'll get lucky! 

Try Affirmations

We all know something about the power of positive thinking. It makes intuitive sense that when you believe something is possible, you're more likely to make it happen. In fact, if it weren't for positive thinking, Roger Bannister would never have broken the 4-minute mile in 1954. 

An affirmation is a kind of structured, positive thinking. It is a word or expression you tell yourself regularly – every morning when you wake up, before each meal, before bed, etc. – that affirms a belief. I was skeptical of affirmations myself until I was introduced to a Louise Hay book about connections between physical ailments and emotional issues. I wrote down the ones that matched my physical issues – and, let's be serious, at 47, I'm getting some ‘issues' – and then created a brief affirmation of my own that pulled together pieces of what I got from the book. I wrote down my personal affirmation and tried to read it each morning when I put on my jewelry. After a few days, I noticed that I started reading it out loud. At first, I felt a bit ridiculous and spoke quietly to myself. But after a few days, I got bolder and spoke aloud my affirmative beliefs. 

Now, I can't say all my ailments are gone or that anything miraculous changed when I started the practice. But I can say that I felt better when I was doing the affirmations. It definitely worked for me to start the morning with something positive, affirming – and aloud. So, why not give it a try? Positive, structured self-talk can't hurt! 

Self-Care for Parents of Complex Kids

We hope these tips have reminded you of the importance of taking care of yourself!

Don’t forget to check out part two!

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