Gwen Payne   |   May 12, 2022

Parental Fatigue: A Self-Care Guide for Parents of Children With Special Needs


Parenting is challenging, even in ideal circumstances. Certain parents, such as those who have children with special needs, are particularly vulnerable to parental fatigue, also known as “compassion fatigue,” and its negative health impact.


If you have a child with special needs, keep in mind that you need to care for yourself to properly care for your child. Learn more about managing parental fatigue via self-care by following these tips.

Understanding Parental Fatigue

Parental fatigue is more than just being tired from the daily demands of parenting. It is a sustained state of exhaustion that significantly interferes with your ability to function, and it is not relieved by rest.


Children with special needs require a higher level of care than a typically developing child, which places an overwhelming burden on parents and makes them more susceptible to burnout and subsequent health issues.

Assessing Your Level of Fatigue

Multiple physiological, psychological and situational factors can contribute to fatigue levels. Consider the following questions to determine your level of parental fatigue:


  1. How Effective Is Your Parenting?

There is a known correlation between fatigue and parenting self-efficacy. Breathe a sigh of relief. It’s not you — it’s your fatigue, so approach this question as objectively as possible.


  1. How Is Your Social Support?

Reliable family members, close friends and trusted acquaintances can provide childcare and household support, giving you a much-needed break.


  1. How Are Your Child’s Behaviors?

Manifestations of your child’s disability, such as inappropriate language, sensory aversions or emotional outbursts, are added stressors that can increase the intensity of your fatigue.


  1. Do You Have Symptoms of Anxiety and/or Depression?

Depression and anxiety rates are higher in parents of children with special needs. Symptoms to look for are:

  • Lack of joy
  • Persistent worry
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Isolation
  • Task avoidance


Managing Your Fatigue Levels With Self-Care

Incorporating self-care practices can help you combat parental fatigue. Here are three ideas to get you started:


  1. Create a Home Environment That Optimizes Wellness

Make your home a space that exudes health and peace by adding houseplants, pan reducing clutter or diffusing scents that promote positivity.


  1. Pursue Personal Goals

It’s difficult to maintain an identity outside your caregiver role. Carving out time for your own interests can reinvigorate you, giving you more energy for parenting.


Try taking up a new hobby. Whether it’s sewing, drawing, exercising or something else that you enjoy, dedicate even just a few minutes a day to an activity that’s just for you.


Turn your passion into a business. Forming a limited liability company is a lower-risk option as it provides benefits such as limited liability, tax advantages, less paperwork and more flexibility. States have varied regulations regarding LLCs, so check the rules before moving forward.


  1. Start a Gratitude Journal

Research shows that gratitude improves mental health. You can jot down five things you’re grateful for daily or use prompts for guidance.


Anticipating Negative Outcomes of Initiating a Self-Care Plan

Be mindful that enacting your self-care plan could result in unintended outcomes, such as under-treating anxiety and depression, overcompensating for partners and overburdening those in your social network.


As you manage your parental fatigue, know that you are doing the best that you can. Give yourself the grace to accept that there are limits to what you can do. Show yourself the same compassion your child needs. You need it, too.


Project Heart is dedicated to funding research for congenital heart disease. Learn more about how you can donate your time and energy to help. This article was written by guest author, Gwen Payne, from


Photo via Pexels

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