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Self care for families

Sarah McGuinness is a ‘guru’ of self care in New Zealand. With degrees in psychology and communications, Sarah guides people of all ages to be happier, healthier versions of themselves. Families who stay with us often describe this period of their lives as incredibly stressful, scary and overwhelming. We asked Sarah for some simple tips on how mums, dads, and caregivers can practice ‘self care’ while their child is in hospital.

To find out more about Sarah and her ‘Self Care Idea Cards’, visit www.takecare.co.nz/resources.

-What is self-care and why would it be important for families staying with us?

Sarah: Essentially, there are two parts to self care. First, self care is about simply acknowledging how you’re thinking and feeling, and being compassionate with yourself in recognising where you’re at. It’s having that moment to check in with yourself, as you would a friend, and having empathy. Second, self care is about taking steps to care for yourself so that you can thrive, and those steps will depend very much on your needs right now.. For parents and caregivers, there can be a misconception that spending time on yourself is selfish but it’s not the case at all. Taking the time to look after yourself gives you more energy for relationships and more energy to take a kinder approach and be more adaptable to the challenges that arise day-to-day.

-What are some simple ways for mums, dads, and caregivers to relax? Even if they might be at their child’s bedside.

Sarah: There are lots of really simple, cheap (at best – free!) ways for mums, dads and caregivers to relax – even at their child’s bedside. The Mental Health Foundation’s Five Ways to Wellbeing can be a good reference point (Give, Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning). Some simple ideas include: playing a game together with your child, reading, listening to music, talking to an old friend, writing letters, walking outside, doing an art/craft activity, learning something new, listening to an online guided meditation (children’s ones can be great for adults if you and your child would like to do it together!), watching comedy on TV, and putting a warm heat pack on your shoulders. Try using the five senses as well, so enjoy a hot drink that smells good, or snuggle under a comfy blanket. Keeping a hobby you love alive can also help you stay connected with life beyond the hospital walls. All those other wellbeing factors are important too – eat well, exercise and get sleep, and stay connected to your community where you can (big emphasis on  ‘where you can’ – that’s not meant to add guilt or expectation. Even if your only exercise is the stairs at the hospital – even little things can make a difference).

-What would your advice be to friends of families staying with us? How can they support families?

Sarah: As a friend, it can be hard to know what to do or say during a challenging time such as this. I’ve had friends go through challenging situations with children and I’ve sometimes felt ashamed that my words and actions failed to show how much I cared and wanted help. Yet, some of the most simple support you can give is to listen, and validate and acknowledge how the family is feeling. Reach out to the family and let them know you’re thinking of them, and send messages of support on milestone dates (and even randomly). Staying in contact with a family, even if they don’t immediately reply, helps them to feel connected, important and loved. If you get stuck with not knowing what to say, ask an open-ended question, such as, “how is…?” or simply say, “I’m sorry and I’m here when you need me”. Even little things like clearing the letterbox, or popping a handwritten card in the mail can be thoughtful and much appreciated.

IDEAS:  Simple ideas include: playing a game together with your child, reading, listening to music, talking to an old friend, writing letters, walking outside, doing an art/craft activity, learning something new, listening to an online guided mediation – children’s ones can be great for adults if you and your child would like to do it together!

 

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