Joy, anticipation, frustration, worry and pride are all common feelings most parents and caregivers have as they watch their child grow into an adult. These emotions may be even stronger when a child is managing a mental health diagnosis. Parents and caregivers may feel guilt, fear, or overwhelmed as they learn to support their child. Know that all emotions are normal when going through this experience.

Taking time to care for yourself allows you to be mentally and physically prepared to care for your child. You will also model healthy habits for your child; we know this is one of the best ways to help children learn to cope with their own difficult moments. Here are some ideas of where to begin:


  • Don’t expect perfection. Starting with self-compassion will help you manage challenges. Sometimes you, or others in your family, will make mistakes; things will not always go as planned; and progress will not always be straight forward. Navigating a mental health diagnosis with a young patient who has a developing brain is a process full of phases, adjustments and changes. Give yourself grace and take time to notice and reflect on your strengths and successes. Practicing daily gratitude as a family can be a great way to do this.
  • Think small. You’re balancing a lot. It’s OK to aim for a few minutes a day for yourself. What’s truly important is that you are purposeful and choose to do something you value, enjoy, and that brings you some calm or happiness. Examples are brief walks, 10 minutes of reading before bed, organizing a drawer, creating something, listening to music or meditation.
  • Social support. We know that one of the best ways to cope with life’s stressful situations is to rely on our social networks. Unfortunately, a high number of parents report their marriages and significant relationships suffer as result of caring for a child with a mental health diagnosis. Nurture your relationships and reach out to your friends and family. Short conversations or quality time with friends can make a difference. Remember, you are modeling positive behaviors for your child and by doing things that keep you mentally healthy you are better able to support them. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help from your network when you need it.
  • Challenge the negative thoughts. Many parents feel guilt or blame themselves for what their child is going through. Remember that mental health diagnoses often occur due to biological or environmental factors outside of our control. Notice if you’re getting caught in negative thinking patterns about your child’s diagnosis. Challenge the thoughts by asking yourself is that really true? What would I tell a friend if they were in this situation? What’s another way I can think about this?
  • Add positive interactions. Some parents whose children have mental health diagnoses find that their interactions and relationship with their child can become difficult. In those cases, it’s important to find times for a positive interaction with your child. You can review old pictures of them, remember happy times you’ve previously had or name several qualities you love about your child.
  • Educate yourself from reliable sources about your child’s diagnosis.  Sometimes one of the best things we can do to battle our anxious thoughts and feelings is to increase our understanding of what our child is going through. Here are ways to get started:
    • Start by talking to your child’s mental health provider or their pediatrician. Ask any questions you have about your child’s diagnosis, symptoms, and expected outcomes from treatment. Your child’s treatment team will be able to set expectations for you and share ideas on how you can best support your child.
    • If you are looking information up online (we all do it!), be aware whether your sources are credible. Look for information that comes from medical organizations, such as hospital websites, or national organizations, such as the American Psychological Association. Notice who the authors are of the articles you read. Are they licensed mental health specialists?
  • Find a local parent support group. Organizations such as National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Mental Health America (MHA) have local groups across the country. Some churches, community groups, behavioral health organizations, and hospitals also have these types of groups.
  • When possible, notify your manager/employer. You may need to balance your work responsibilities and therapy appointments. Consider talking to someone at work about how to best manage upcoming changes to your schedule.


If you ever notice that you’re having a hard time completing your day-to-day activities or are feeling sad, irritable or anxious most days of the week for long periods of time, it may be helpful to seek therapy for yourself.