Preventing Mental Burnout in Parents (And Kids, Too!)

You want to do all that you can for your kids, but being a “Superparent” can come with a downside — burnout. It’s important to recognize when you might feel that mental and emotional burnout rearing its ugly head. Though it can look different for everyone, parental burnout is often described as a feeling of overwhelming exhaustion and ineffectiveness as a parent paired with emotional distance toward your child. Experts say this burnout may lead to general irritability and frustration; adopting addictive behaviors like drinking or smoking; the onset of sleep disorders and other health issues; and a higher risk of anxiety or depression. It’s easy to see how quickly parental burnout can affect not just one parent but the entire family. 

Parental Burnout

“Parenting is tough, and there is no instruction manual that comes with children,” says pediatric neuropsychologist and licensed school psychologist Amanda Slonaker, Ph.D., HSPP. “Children are a priority, but you as a parent are a priority, too. It’s important to prioritize self-care to be able to be at your best to care for your child, especially when children are young.” 

When caregivers feel rested and less stressed, they can put forth their best effort toward their families. This might look like being more patient, having more energy to play, and being more present in the moment rather than distracted by stress.

When parenting responsibilities overlap with work, household chores and other life responsibilities, it can become challenging for parents to make time for themselves. “Most people have heard the saying, ‘You have to put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others.’ What gets scheduled gets done,” Slonaker says. 

Kids Can Experience Burnout, Too

Although burnout is a term that’s typically associated with adults, kids can experience it, too. According to the website Brain Balance, signs of burnout in kids can include feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and out of control with areas of their life. Kids can also display more irritability and distractibility at home and at school, or they might find it harder to focus to start or finish tasks, which can result in feeling unprepared and falling behind. Stressed-out kids might also focus more on the negatives and worry a lot more than usual.

Tips for Battling Burnout

So how can you and your family battle burnout? Start by scheduling time for self-care. People who prioritize themselves have more bandwidth to be able to help others later. Fortunately, there are many practical steps you and your family can take to fit in little bits of self-care in just five or 10 minutes a day!

  • Take 5 minutes before bed each night to listen to a sleep meditation. Free apps like Calm and Headspace are a great place to start.
  • Find an interesting podcast and listen to it when running errands.
  • Is there a book you just haven’t had a chance to read? Schedule 10 minutes before bed or make it a goal to read just five pages per night. 
  • Listen to your favorite song.
  • Call a friend or family member while cooking or folding laundry, or simply take a moment to appreciate the quiet during simple tasks.
  • Practice mindfulness while brushing your teeth.
  • Take deep breaths in and out between meetings at work or when you have a spare moment at home. You can also practice deep breathing with your kids as a part of their bedtime routine.
  • Take a walk outside.
  • Light candles for dinner.
  • Buy or pick fresh flowers and display them in the house.
  • Eat healthy food, or indulge in something special!
  • Place positive quotes or affirmations on a Post-It note and place it on the mirror.
  • Keep a small journal and write three things you are grateful for each morning or night.

If you can manage to find a little more time than five minutes here or there, Slonaker suggests scheduling an “ideal week” on the calendar. Instead of thinking about how your week typically goes, pencil in all the things you’d like to see happen. “What do you have to get done and what would you like to do for yourself if you could? Exercise? Meditate? Have brunch with a friend or family member? Sleep for a full eight hours? Schedule it in!” she says.

Another helpful tip is to make a list of all the things you have to do in the next week or month. Is there anything on the list that you can choose to say “no” to? “By learning to say ‘no’ to activities and people that drain you, you create more time for yourself and those you love which is a lot more fulfilling!” Slonaker says. 

Creating a healthy habit can start by doing just one thing just for yourself a week, and then increasing it as you go along. “This might also mean enlisting the help of a partner, friend, or family member. Is there a way you could trade off and help them schedule in their self-care, too, so you both benefit?” Slonaker says.

Parents who struggle with self-care on a consistent basis may need to reach out to their support network. “This can be a friend, family member, partner, counselor/therapist, or small group within a church or spiritual community,” Slonaker suggests. Many people want to be there for others, to listen and offer a different perspective on life’s experiences. Ask yourself who are the friends you want to be there for. Most likely, they want to be there to support you, as well.

“No one can push through parenting for years at a time without becoming completely burnt out and exhausted, or even resentful and upset, if they do not focus on their own health and self-care,” Slonaker says. “In reality, you can best take care of others when you take time to take care of yourself. Your children and family are worth it … and you are, too!”

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