Parents can help special-needs kids by caring for themselves

Flight attendants always remind us to put on our own oxygen mask before helping others, and this advice has been taken to heart by Encinitas author Siobhan Wilcox in her new book, “Thrive Now Blueprint: Self-Care & Success Strategies for Parents of Special Needs Children.”

Originally from Ireland, Wilcox is a stress management expert and spiritual life coach who began her journey after burning out from stress at the age of 24. She devoted herself to increasing her health and well-being, and began to pass her knowledge forward, hosting retreats, working with private clients and speaking at events.

As the mother of two sons, one who is on the autism spectrum, she saw firsthand how these techniques also worked in her life as the parent of a special-needs child. She wrote the book to help others better cope with these challenges.

Here’s what she had to say about caring for a special needs child and the importance of caring for yourself first.

• Why do you think this topic hasn’t been written about before in terms of parenting children with special needs?

Honestly, parents are just so overwhelmed. The time and energy focused on healing their children is often immense. At one point, I was taking my son to therapy of one sort or another five days a week, sometimes twice a day. These demands don’t even give parents the bandwidth to consider taking time for themselves, because where would they possibly fit it in?

• Why did you decide to write this book?

After recovering from stress burnout, I realized the need to support my own physical and emotional well-being. So when I brought my son to Occupational Therapy, I would also bring my yoga mat to do some relaxation exercises or simple yoga poses while he was in his session. When we went to vision therapy for him, I would bring an inspirational book to read, and during his physical therapy, I would perform mindfulness exercises to notice how my body was feeling and then consciously release any tension that was building in my shoulders, back, etc. I was always there with him doing my parenting role, yet also allowing myself to have the necessary space and time I needed to come back to balance.

People kept asking me how I looked so relaxed, so energized, when obviously everything was very challenging for me. So I decided to share the tools and techniques I have been using in my own life and teaching clients for over 16 years.

• Why is it so important to care for ourselves first?

As the Dalai Lama said, “The creation of a more peaceful and happier society has to begin from the level of the individual, and from there it can expand to one’s family, to one’s neighborhood, to one’s community and so on.”

I discovered years ago when I was working with a group of single mothers that when they brought the tools and techniques I outline in this book into their lives, things changed in a way none of us expected — calmer kids going to bed on time, more compliancy at home, more laughter. I was so surprised, I had them ask their kids what was different. They returned with tears in their eyes and answers like, “You’re not shouting at us as much,” “You are just being nicer,” “I feel more relaxed because you are smiling more.” Even now, I get emotional about this because these results blew us all away. They prove that our children are super-sensitive to how we, as parents, feel. They are sponges, and when we take the time to nurture ourselves, it directly impacts those around us. It’s what I like to call being “wisely selfish,” a phrase I have adopted from the Dalai Lama.

• What is the most important thing you can do for yourself as the parent of a special-needs child?

Realize that you are number one, that it is not selfish to look after yourself. Doing so brings new energy and vitality to your life and allows you to be more present with those around you.

• I love when you quote Olympic Gold Medalist Wilma Rudolph, who said, “The doctors told me I would never walk; my mother told me I would. I believed my mother.” How does that fit into the philosophy of your book?

Our children always do better when we believe in them, when we focus on their gifts and abilities rather than what they appear unable to achieve. When we take the time to balance our own health and stress levels, we have more energy to be positive, to be supportive and to not always feel we are being challenged.

• At the end of each chapter, you feature exercises that invite self-reflection. What do you hope readers will get from these?

When I began unfolding a way to recover my health, I realized I had to take responsibility for my own well-being and not blame others. I became empowered, engaged, focused and healthier, and my life changed dramatically for the better. The exercises in the book are designed to bring insights and awareness while being gentle and supportive. I consciously designed this book to be easy to consume — no chapter is more then 10 pages in length, the exercises are simple to complete, and I offer an online tool kit with video and audio support to help the reader get even more guidance.

• What’s the one message you really want readers to get from your book?

You are important, you are valuable and you are worth spending time on. When you do, all those around you — particularly your special-needs child— will benefit.

You can find Thrive Now Blueprint on Amazon, Kindle and at SoulScape in Encinitas. Visit www.SiobhanWilcox.com.

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