Self-Care — Caregivers Also Need Care

Learning how to take care of ourselves is one of the most important skills we can develop as caregivers. By modeling how we take care of ourselves, we can help the children learn how to take good care of themselves as well. For many resource parents, the day-to-day grind of caring for a child who has experienced trauma takes an emotional and physical toll. When the stress of parenting affects your own mental and physical health, and impairs your ability to parent effectively, you are suffering from compassion fatigue (also called vicarious trauma). In addition to compassion fatigue, there are other ways that parenting a child who has experienced trauma can affect you. As a resource parent, you may be exposed to the child’s trauma through many ways and can actually cause you to experience the same symptoms associated with traumatic stress, which is called Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS). You can take these steps when you start to feel overwhelmed by STS:

  • Remind yourself that the children are now safe and the traumatic events happened in the past
  • It can be helpful to distinguish our interpretation of what the children experienced from their more immediate concerns
  • It is important to remember that all children have strengths that you can encourage and build upon

Many resource parents are drawn to this work because you want to save other children from going through what you went through. It is possible a child’s trauma and reaction to trauma can serve as a trauma reminder for a resource parent and can actually threaten a placement. Coping when a child’s trauma is a reminder can be challenging, but it can also be an opportunity for healing and growth. If a child in your care is triggering unexpected or intense feelings, reactions or memories of past trauma, it is important to:

  • Recognize the connection between your reactions and your own trauma history
  • Distinguish which feelings are about what is happening at the moment and which are related to your past experience
  • Be honest with yourself, the child and your caseworker about what is happening
  • Research out for support
  • Accept that no matter what choice you make in dealing with your own trauma, what works for you may not work for the child placed in your home

It is important to commit to self-care and make a plan for reducing stress, maintaining a balance between work and relaxation, and between your commitments to others and to yourself. Your self-care plan should include activities that you do purely for fun and include a regular stress management approach, such as a physical activity you enjoy.

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