How To Handle Stress When Parenting A Challenging Child

Parenting is tough.

Shannon Hicks February 01, 2017
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Parenting is tough. Parenting children from hard places can be a different kind of tough. You’ve likely waited for years, waded through stacks of paperwork and convinced several professionals that you will be a model parent. And then your child moves in. Attachment may come easily. It may be a fight. Your child’s behavior may be manageable. It may be completely out of the realm of anything you’ve ever imagined. Even in the “best” case, it will be stressful. Here are a few suggestions to help you navigate the tough seasons of parenting a child from hard places.

Self-care: the basics

It sounds ridiculous to even say, but sleep and food are your friends. Do what you must to make these things happen. There’s no way you’d let your child go without a meal or the opportunity for a good night’s sleep. Don’t deny yourself these things either. Hire a babysitter and go to a hotel for one night (I know you don’t want to interrupt your attachment with your child, but I promise a good night’s sleep will help more than it will hurt). Call in sick for a day or two and catch up on your rest. Order take-out every night or call in a favor from one of the folks who said, “If you ever need anything, let me know.” Eat. Sleep. Everything feels more manageable when you’ve done these two things.

Self-care: the rest

Not long ago, I read an article about the happy list and it resonated with me immediately. As a parent, you will likely make tons of lists. When my son was an infant, I literally had to make a list of every time I fed him and how much he ate (I didn’t want to do anything wrong!). The happy list is an easy way to take care of yourself every day. Make a list of 3-5 things that make you happy. And then do them. Purposefully making time for a few little luxuries every day can work wonders for your mental health during stressful times.

Tag out

There are times when you will need to take a break from dealing with your child’s behaviors for a bit. If you have a spouse, consider “tag teaming” when you feel yourself needing a break (just be aware that children from hard places may triangulate and try to play one parent against the other—make your relationship a priority too!). If you are a single parent, this can be trickier, but I know from personal experience that it can be done. Find a daycare provider that you love. Find babysitters that you trust and pay them well. Gather a village that can help when you are at the end of your rope.

Know when to ask for outside help

Have you tried all of the above suggestions and you’re still struggling to handle stress? You are not alone. There is no shame in asking for help. Find a trusted friend. Ask for help from a faith leader. Find a therapist who has experience working with parents by adoption. Fight for your relationship with your child by getting the help that you need (I did, and I am absolutely a better parent for working through some of my parenting struggles with an incredible therapist). Your child is worth it. You are worth it. Your relationship is worth it.

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Shannon Hicks

Shannon is mom to two amazing kids who joined her family through foster care adoption. She is passionate about advocating for children through her writing and her job as a kindergarten teacher. You can read more from her at Adoption, Grace and Life.


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