Overcoming Caregiver Burnout: How OTs Can Help Caregivers of Difficult Children

Overcoming Caregiver Burnout: How OTs Can Help Caregivers of Difficult Children

Healthcare professionals should create a supportive and non-judgmental environment regarding burnout for caregivers.

Caregivers providing care for children with challenging behaviors are at a high risk for burnout. Research shows 60% of caregivers experience burnout. Research also indicates the importance of support for caregivers for long-term success with caregiving. Healthcare professionals should create a supportive and non-judgmental environment where caregivers feel comfortable expressing their concerns and challenges regarding caregiver burnout.

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Active listening allows healthcare professionals to understand the specific needs of the caregiver and the child. From speech-language pathologists to occupational therapists, a multi-disciplinary team of healthcare professionals can provide critical support to caregivers. This team can address the physical, mental, and social-emotional health of both caregiver and child.

Addressing caregiver burnout: Resources and support

The Child Mind Institute lists caregiver supports that help caregivers struggling with burnout.

  • Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) is an evidence-based practice for caregivers and children ages 2-7. Caregivers learn to acknowledge the child’s positive behavior while remaining calm when the child exhibits aggressive or misbehaviors. Caregivers receive coaching to provide consistent consequences for positive and negative behaviors.
  • Parent Management Training is similar to PCIT. In these cases, however, the therapist usually works with the caregivers.
  • Collaborative and Proactive Solutions focus on collaborative problem-solving between caregivers and children regarding the cause of concerning behaviors. It also focuses on proactive solutions versus reactive measures.

Focused support for caregiver fatigue and stress

  • Utilizing respite services
  • Setting realistic expectations
  • Setting boundaries
  • Seeking counseling
  • Utilizing social supports
  • Engaging in leisure activities
  • Engaging in mindfulness activities
  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle

Utilizing respite services for caregiver burnout

Encourage caregivers to explore respite services to provide a break from the demands of caregiving. Assist caregivers with identifying the type of respite services they need and assist them with locating services that are local and financially compatible.

Caregiver burden and setting realistic expectations

Caregivers may need assistance with setting realistic expectations for completing daily tasks and for the frequency of providing calm, positive support for challenging behaviors. Healthcare providers can encourage the caregiver to exercise self-compassion by encouraging the caregiver to be kind to themselves and understand the emotional toll caregiving can take. Caregivers also need to have realistic expectations for the child’s behaviors as they are working on more adaptive responses to behavior triggers.

Setting boundaries, seeking counseling for caregiver stress

Caregivers may need assistance with setting boundaries to protect their time and energy. Once they can set realistic expectations for their physical and mental energy, they will need to prioritize obligations whenever possible.

Refer caregivers to other health professionals who can assist with the emotional challenges of caregiving and assist with providing coping strategies. These can be helpful in managing the secondary effects of caregiving such as depression and anxiety.

Developing a strong social support system for caregivers

OTs and other healthcare professionals can help caregivers identify their current social support system and determine if it is adequate for their needs. Encourage the caregiver to consider support groups to gain knowledge and social support.

Some may be reluctant to discuss their child’s challenges with people they do not know. However, there is a benefit to being a passive participant as well.

Engaging in leisure activities to combat caregiver burnout

Accessing the leisure interests of a caregiver and helping them to incorporate pleasurable activities into their week can give them a temporary reprieve from the stress of caregiving. It will also help to build up their mental and emotional resilience.

Mindfulness and relaxation activities allow caregiver to shift their focus from the stress of caregiving to being present in the moment. Examples of mindfulness activities are:

  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Deep breathing
  • Practicing gratitude

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle to prevent mental burnout

Eating a well-balanced meal, staying hydrated, and engaging in physical activity will allow the caregiver to stay mentally and physically healthy. However, a caregiver who has been consumed by a caregiving role may need guidance in identifying what a healthy lifestyle looks like for them.


Caregivers must understand that caring for themselves is an integral part of caring for their children. If the caregiver is unwell physically, mentally, or socially then the system of support they are building for their child will not have a strong foundation.

Multi-disciplinary healthcare provider support can aid in providing well-rounded support. Healthcare providers should schedule regular follow-up appointments to check in with caregivers and assess their needs. Regular communication ensures that caregivers facing burnout feel supported and that any issues or concerns are addressed promptly.

This article was written by Tasha Holmes, MOT, OTR/L, BCP.

This article was written by Laurie Siegel

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