The Autism Blog

Keeping Your Cool: Tips for Parents of Kids with Special Needs

February 19, 2015

Today we welcome guest author, Beth Crispin, fellow colleague and parent, who shares with us some valuable tips on keeping our parental cool when things heat up with our kids. For those who don’t know her, Beth is a health educator at Seattle Children’s and mom to two great kids.

“I am the parent of Mateo age 10, who was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in 2009, and Grace who is a typically developing teenager. We live in Shoreline Washington where we make it though our challenging days with a lot of flexibility and some laughter.” 

They say that it doesn’t matter if there is a real or paper tiger, the physiological response is the same. Your adrenaline starts to pump, your breath becomes rapid and blood rapidly flows away from the thinking center of the brain to the extremities (preparing you to run!). As a parent of a child who has explosive meltdowns, I often find myself dealing with the impact and aftermath of stress. While I can’t take the meltdowns away, I have learned a few things over the years to help myself. I hope you find an idea or two here that helps you on your own parenting journey.


Find a mantra

I confess, for many years my internal mantra was “Oh my God, what is my son doing?” Or “Oh no, all these people are watching”. I’ve replaced that with more helpful mantras: I often use “This will pass…” and “Breathe, tomorrow is a new day”.

Take a shower

As simple as this sounds, it works wonders for me. Of course this is after the event. There is something about running water and feeling like you get to start over, even if it is your third shower of the day. I also find that for some reason, my son doesn’t bother me if I am in the shower.

Listen to a meditation or calming relaxation

Listen to a meditation or calming relaxation either through CD or online. My current favorites are these free guided meditations from UCLA (I recommend the Loving Kindness Meditation). I often end up doing these several hours after a meltdown but they still help.


At Hogwarts School in the Harry Potter series, they treated sick and traumatized students with chocolate for a good reason – it works! I’m not talking about overdosing on miniature dove candies but treating yourself to a good piece of chocolate. I find a cup of hot cocoa really helps calm my nerves. It helps my son too!

Listen to calming music

Mornings can be very stressful for my son. As a result I often end up driving to work with shaky, sweaty palms and a racing mind. I have two stations set on my radio that help calm me down. Listening to news often makes me more stressed. Classical music really helps me start to slow down and breathe.

Re-program the self-talk

Ok here is my second confession. When my son was in kindergarten and would have a difficult time in front of the school or in front of other parents, I would often be saying to myself, “I hate you parents of ‘normal’ kids…” These negatives thoughts would be running through my head while I was sweating and praying for him to stop. I came to learn that negative self-talk inside my head was not doing me or other parents any good. We all struggle at times as parents and as humans. Recognizing that and deciding to stop putting more negative energy into the scene helped me tremendously. Now my self-talk is “All parents have challenging times; may we all have the grace we need to handle them”.

Avoid re-hashing the scene with your partner

I often have the urge to call my son’s father and rant, “Do you know what our son did?!” This doesn’t help anyone. I’ve learned to provide the facts and not rant and rave.

Use 3-2-1

This is a shortened version of a relaxation technique I was taught years ago. Sit quietly and set an intention. “I will feel focused and calm.” Look around the room and name out loud three things you see. “Blue lamp shade, a red ring, and the orange tape”. Then name three things you feel. “Soft cushion, warm socks, my heartbeat.” Finally, name three things you hear. “Crow cawing, dishwasher running, car passing by.” Next move to naming two new things you see, feel and hear. Finally do a set of one thing you see, feel and hear. Take your time and breathe deeply if you can. This little exercise takes virtually no training and helps me focus and calm down almost anywhere.

We’d like to thank Beth for sharing these terrific tips for dealing with the stress that comes with parenting kids with special needs.