How to Cope when your Child Can't

April 01 2022

White curve
How to Cope aims to give comfort, help and hope to parents of children who are having a difficult time, whether due to physical or mental health issues.

It is divided into five sections – true stories, why and how to untangle yourself from your child, strategies for coping, practical examples of what worked, and the importance of ‘acceptance’ including what this actually means. It is deliberately written in a way that lets you dip in and out, or read it cover to cover, depending on what you have the mental space for at any given time.

The authors combine their considerable theoretical and practical experience: Roz Shafran is Professor of Translational Psychology at the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, a clinical psychologist with extensive expertise in treating psychological disorders and a former trustee at the Charlie Waller Trust; Ursula Saunders is a fundraiser in the charity sector having also worked as a researcher and producer for Radio 4; and Alice Welham is a clinical psychologist and lecturer at the University of Leicester.

Written with authority gained from experience, the book is both approachable and intimate. The friendship the women share reaches beyond the page to the reader. The authors say they want it to be “a compassionate, non-judgmental friend of a book”, which I found it to be.

As a parent of children who have had various challenges, I can testify to how hard it is to balance pouring time, energy and commitment into caring for the child needing help with caring for other members of the family, including oneself. The book mentions an astonishing increase in adolescent mental health conditions – one in seven according to UNICEF in 2019, ie before the weight of the pandemic had been added. An increasing number of parents will therefore find themselves in the position of having to provide extra care for one or more of their children to varying degrees.

There is a wide variety of examples of the difficult situations we can find ourselves in, showing the everyday hidden worlds that exist all around us. It tackles complex issues of shame and embarrassment that can be part and parcel of dealing with challenging behaviour. How to Cope highlights how we are often hardest on ourselves, fearing we are not good enough, whereas "your friends and the good people in the world will be feeling for you, not judging you." It gives practical tips and guidance in how others have tackled these and other difficult aspects of being a parent-carer.

I particularly liked the responsibility pie chart, which is very helpful when you feel like the weight of the world – or at least your child’s wellbeing – is on your shoulders, demonstrating that there are others who share this burden. "You are not alone" is a message reinforced throughout the book, combatting the feeling of isolation that is common to many carers. It helps put the difficult concept of acceptance of your child’s situation into perspective; it is not the same as giving up. It exudes kindness and caring, with practical and moral support, including signposting for issues where further depth may be needed.

A kind, compassionate pep-talk of a book wrapped up in a non-judgmental, gentle hug.

Jacqie Kohler
Jacqie is a freelance writer and parent to children with a variety of anxiety disorders

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