Self-Care Tied to More Confident Parents of Kids With Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
A new study finds that parents and caregivers of children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) who report greater confidence in their ability to use self-care tend to experience less parental distress, higher family needs being met, and greater parenting satisfaction.
The findings are published in the journal Research in Developmental Disabilities.
“We know that parents who are stressed tend to feel less effective and less satisfied as a parent,” says lead author Carson Kautz, a graduate student in the department of psychology at the University of Rochester in New York.
Kautz is working on interventions to reduce the adverse outcomes for children with developmental disabilities, particularly FASD, together with co-author Dr. Christie Petrenko, an assistant professor and research associate at the University’s Mt. Hope Family Center.
FASD, caused by fetal alcohol exposure, affects about 2 to 5 percent of school-aged children in the U.S. These children often face lifelong developmental, cognitive and behavioral problems, and without the right support they are at high risk for mental health disorders and other life problems.
But kids with FASD are not the only ones who struggle; often their parents and caretakers do as well. Part of the problem is the general lack of awareness surrounding FASD, and the lack of available resources and specialists.
Unsurprisingly, these barriers contribute to the already high stress levels that go with parenting a child with disabilities. Stress, of course, can have a direct effect on family cohesion, as well as the caregivers’ mental and physical health. This is why, according to experts, self-care for parents is a critical resource.
“Of course, stress reduction is important for all parents, but it’s especially critical in caregivers of children with special needs, given that we know of their already high stress levels,” said co-author Jennifer Parr, a graduate student at the University’s Warner School of Education and a project coordinator and therapist at Mt. Hope Family Center.
The paper is the first to describe caregiver strategies for self-care and the obstacles and barriers parents face in raising their children while trying to care effectively for themselves.
For the study, 46 caregivers of children with either an FASD diagnosis, or confirmed prenatal alcohol exposure, participated in interviews and completed questionnaires. The researchers checked for child behavioral problems, parental stress levels, and grouped the various self-care strategies (such as practicing yoga, maintaining physical health, engaging in hobbies, and treating oneself to small luxuries) into seven categories.
“A strategy that really works well for one person may not work well for another, so it’s good to see people figuring out what works for them,” said Kautz.
The results show that caregivers who report greater confidence in their ability to use self-care report reduced parental distress, higher family needs being met, and greater parenting satisfaction.
The researchers also found that the frequency of self-care increases a caregiver’s confidence that self-care really helps. However, the frequency of self-care did not show a positive effect on any other measure of child or family functioning, such as child behavior, parent-child interactions, or perceived parenting effectiveness.
And while caregivers reported a range of useful self-care strategies, they also said it can be hard to fit into their busy lives.
Prior research has demonstrated that stress-reduction interventions, such as behavioral parent training, coping skills education, and particularly mindfulness exercises have shown promise in reducing the stress levels of parents of children with developmental disabilities.
The researchers hope the new findings will inform future clinical work with parents of children with FASD.
Source: University of Rochester
Pedersen, T. (2020). Self-Care Tied to More Confident Parents of Kids With Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 4, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2020/02/05/self-care-tied-to-more-confident-parents-of-kids-with-fetal-alcohol-syndrome/153978.html