April is National Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month. Unfortunately, child abuse happens every day in our community. By addressing it, we can help others become aware and ask questions. It is through real-life conversations that we increase awareness and therefore prevention. Particularly in the field of child abuse prevention, addressing caregiver needs related to well-being is a critical part of reducing risks and increasing safety and protective factors in both biological and foster families. Promoting well-being involves understanding and addressing caregiver functioning in physical, behavioral, social, and cognitive areas.
As a caregiver it can feel as if the whole world is on your shoulders. Everyone needs you, yet there’s only so much you can give before you will feel mentally, emotionally, and physically drained. That’s why it’s a necessity to spend some time taking care of yourself so that you can recharge and feel empowered to continue to support and care for others. The Children’s Bureau, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggest the following tips for caregivers:
Take breaks. It’s essential to regularly schedule a few times each week, even for just an hour or two, when you can get away and have time for yourself. Once away, that time is yours, so don’t feel guilty about how you spend it. Nap, read, have coffee with a friend, go shopping, whatever allows you to relax.
Eat right. It’s no surprise that living on coffee and junk foods can leave you feeling tired and run down. If you know you’re going to be out, carry nutritious snacks with you, like fruit, granola bars, sandwiches, or nuts. And if friends offer to bring homemade meals to your home to help out, take them up on it.
Exercise. Whether through a brisk walk, a bike ride, or yoga, most people find that exercise helps clear the mind, boost energy levels, and improve sleep. Even 20 minutes can do the trick, so save a bit of time every day to get moving.
Ask for help. Your friends and family likely want to help you, but might not be sure about what you need. If someone says, “If there’s anything I can do…”, and there is, say so. You’d be surprised at how running an errand, doing some laundry, or just sitting and listening to you talk about the day can not only benefit you, but also can make a loved one feel useful.
Be aware of the signs of “caregiver burnout.” Caregiver burnout is a true state of exhaustion, both physical and emotional. It tends to happen when caregivers try to “do it all” without getting the help or rest they need. Because caregivers tend to be on autopilot, they’re not usually quick to recognize burnout in themselves. Other people might notice the symptoms first, which can include changes in appetite and sleep patterns, withdrawal from social activities, increased anxiety, or emotions that are either heightened (such as excessive crying or irritability) or decreased (feeling empty or unconcerned). Take it seriously if someone you trust notices any of these things in you.
We encourage all caregivers to take some time for themselves in order to be refreshed and renewed this month and always. Remember that you are not superhuman. You’re a parent doing your best. So give your time, your encouragement, your attention, and your unconditional love. Just be sure to save a little bit for yourself.
During the month of April, Families First of Florida challenges the community to take a stand and take action to support children who have been abused or neglected. Foster parents can make a difference for these children by providing a loving home, ensuring they receive needed services, and helping to work toward family reunification or finding a “forever family”. Please contact us at 813-290-8560 to learn more.