Mindfulness for Parenting

Raising kids isn’t easy, but engaging in some mindful practices can help you stay calm, centred and ready to take on whatever challenges may come. Finding your way to a more peaceful, happier family and self could be easier than you might think; no silence or chanting required. In this article, you’re going to learn about mindfulness for parenting. It also includes advice on raising a mindful child.

How Mindfulness Helps Parenting

Being a parent is filled with moments of incredible warmth and meaning, like watching your child take their first steps or snuggling up for a mega-hug. But it’s also filled with challenges big and small, from dealing with a temperamental toddler to coping with a moody tween. Having a mindful outlook not only allows you to appreciate the highs, but it can also help you better manage the lows; making for a calmer you and a more peaceful them.

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“We all know parenting is challenging, unsettling and uncertain,” says Mark Bertin, M.D., a developmental paediatrician and the author of How Children Thrive. “Mindfulness gives us the resilience to approach our families more skillfully.”

Mindfulness and Parenting

What is Mindfulness?

So, when we are mindful, we experience life as it is actually happening. We are aware as to where our thoughts are going, rather than just be swept along with them. We are also more aware of our feelings, whether they are joy, sadness, contentedness or anger. And when we are being mindful, it is easier to choose whether or not to act on those feelings.

Mindfulness for Parenting

Our go-go-go, constantly plugged-in lifestyle isn’t making the demands of modern parenting any more comfortable. “Today we have the same stressors we’ve always had, but because of technology, we also have to be constantly accessible to work, jobs and family, and our attention is pulled in all different directions,” notes Kristen Race, Ph.D., the author of Mindful Parenting and founder of Mindful Life, an organisation that trains both adults and children in mindfulness.

In fact, it seems we’re working more than ever. At the same time, our kids are also continually shuffling from one extra-curricular activity to another. And many of us are coping with the challenge of having elderly parents to care for on top of everything else. “There is a lot more to juggle than a generation ago,” Race says.

This hyper-hectic lifestyle puts us into a constant “slightly stressed” state, which isn’t good for us; or our kids. “That fight, flight or freeze state in our brain is triggered every time we get a text or an email, or we’re stuck in traffic or late for a meeting, or we see the news on TV,” says Race. Being stressed also means we’re not using the part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex, that helps with decision-making, problem-solving or impulse control, all incredibly essential skills we need for parenting. Instead, we become distracted, frazzled, withdrawn or highly reactive with our kids.

Mindfulness and Parenting

How Can It Help Us as Parents?

Parents often need to learn fresh techniques to rise to the new challenges of family life. This is undoubtedly true in the first few years. Amongst other things, mindfulness can help us to stay calm in a crisis; feel more connected to our children; be patient; throw ourselves into an activity; not say something we regret and keep a sense of perspective.

Hanging around children is actually like living with the volume turned up to full. Everything seems more extreme, and children can experience the full range of all human emotions each and every day. Parents may be screamed at, vomited on, poked in the eye, woken up several times in the night; they will have to tear apart children who are trying to bite each other; they will hear “I want that lolly” 27 times; they will be humiliated in the supermarket; they will listen to “I hate you” and “I love you” in the same minute; they will, at times, need to everything one-handed. They will have to help a child who is choking; they will need to read the same story six times in a row; comfort one who is crying, soothe one who is terrified of the dark; they will have to navigate through perpetual noise and chaos and mess, perhaps all in a single day. The practise of mindfulness can help parents to cope with all that.

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Mindfulness in Children

Young children undoubtedly live very much in the present moment. When actually engaged in an activity, they are fully absorbed by it, presumably not distracted by any thoughts about the future or past, or by a running commentary in their head. They often approach the entire world with a freshness, examining objects around them; a spoon, an insect, a crack in the pavement with wonder and curiosity.

As children grow, they begin to conceptualise much more and their language increases. Instead of seeing the world as disjointed occurrences to be wondered at, they start to make connections, creating a bigger picture, which gets more complicated each day. That cute fresh-eyed wonder starts to be replaced with notions of categorisation and familiarity. They begin to become more absorbed by their inner worlds of imagination and fantasy. Thoughts start to come hand in hand with language, and their minds, which no longer need to make sense of their immediate surroundings, are more occupied with the future and the past. As their brains develop and move toward a more adult mind, their ability to raise mindfulness grows, and also their need for it.

Mindfulness and Parenting

The solution to all the stress of parenting might be found in engaging in elements of mindfulness, Race says. When you are more mindful, you tend to feel calmer and at ease, and more likely to recognise the positive events in your day, like how excited the dog is to see you when you come home, or how your 10-year-old reaches for your hand as you walk through the parking lot. It also allows you to take time to react in a positive way towards your children, like complimenting them for getting ready for school on time or making their bed without being asked. “When we are mindful, we are more intentional about soaking in the joy,” Race says, adding that “our kids do better too” when they see us more centred and calm.

It’s never too late to integrate a more mindful approach for yourself or your family. Read on for how to make mindfulness a regular part of your parenting style.

Mindfulness and Parenting

Do a Daily “Workout”

Dedicate at least a few minutes each day to formally practising mindfulness. “I define mindfulness as paying attention to the present moment in systematic ways, and that is what a formal mindful practice is; sitting in a chair for five minutes in the morning and paying attention to your breathing. When your mind wanders, you bring it back to your breathing, so you are strengthening your prefrontal cortex,” says Race. “Through meditation, a listening practice, a body scan; all of these skills strengthens this region of the brain.”

Think of it like going to the gym, Bertin adds. “Bringing your awareness back to the moment, breathing deeply and gathering your attention are all practices we can do during the day to build our mindfulness muscles.” And the more you engage in mindful practices, the easier it will be to call on them even during stressful times. “The traits that we are developing while practising mindfulness begin to spill over into everyday life.”

Really Be There

We know it’s tough to be on form every minute you’re with your kids, but make an effort to really pay attention to the time you spend with them. That means, first and foremost, putting down your phone or placing it on silent mode, so you’re not distracted. Then fix your focus on what your kids are doing. “Kids notice when you give them your full attention, not just putting down your phone, but really being there, not ruminating about work,” says Bertin. Bring your awareness to when you’re together, whether you’re reading a story, eating or even washing dishes. If your mind starts to wander with worries about the past or future, bring it back to the here and now; just like in your meditation practice.

Mindfulness and Parenting

Deal with the Hard Stuff

Sure, it’s one thing to enjoy a baby smiling back at you or to take a calming breath when the house is still, and quiet, but what happens when your toddler refuses to put on their shoes and you’re late for work, or your tween tells you you’re the worst? When these inevitable moments occur, Bertin suggests a STOP approach: Stop. Take a deep breath. Observe what is going on around you and what is going on internally. Pick how to proceed.

Taking this pause gives you time to avoid the stress reaction and stay calm. “When you’re in the midst of a power struggle or running late, or someone cannot find their jacket, pause; you take a slow, deep breath or two, and then you choose the response that leads to the most positive outcome. It allows you to put some thought into the situation, instead of saying something you might regret. Whether you have a 2-year-old or a 16-year-old, it’s always going to be beneficial to be thoughtful instead of reactive,” Race says.

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Hug It Out

Depending on how old your child is, there are different in-the-moment practices you can deploy during stressful moments to help everyone. For younger children, Race suggests the “three-breath hug.” When your child is upset and overwrought, offer him a hug and take three deep breaths together. At first, he may not be able to take those three calming breaths with you, but you’re slowly working on teaching him that he can use his breath to regulate his emotions. It will undoubtedly help you take a minute to catch your breath and settle yourself.

Older kids may require different strategies. If your primary school kid is venting about an annoying classmate, help them focus on the positive. Ask them “who was a good friend to you today?” If you’re faced with an upset or angry tween or teen, calm yourself first, because that sense of calm will provide comfort and safety to them, even if they don’t act like it. And make sure you’re not being triggered by old scripts or habits. Respond to the situation at hand, not the time three years ago when they were two hours late coming home from a party. Then, as Race says, “pause, breathe, respond with intention.

Make It a Family Affair

When you are together, such as during a meal or a drive, ask each member of the household to share three good things that happened during their day. Schedule consistent time together and do your best to be entirely focused during those moments. There’s a trickle-down effect that can occur from these mindful practices, says Bertin. “When we take the time to take care of ourselves and are more settled, that influences everything around us. The depth of the practice is realising that when we develop these traits in ourselves, that changes everything for our kids and, in subtle ways, even beyond that.”

Child’s Play: Raising a Mindful Kid

  • Foster their EQ: Help your child build emotional intelligence even at a young age. “Let’s say one child pushes another to get by. First, take a breath to calm yourself; then name their emotions and give them a different script for how to handle a situation,” advises Beth Anspach, a conscious discipline certified instructor. “You might calmly say, “You seem frustrated. You wanted a turn. It’s hard to wait. Say “excuse me.”
  • Breathe in: Ask your preschooler to place her favourite stuffed animal on her belly and rock it to sleep. “This is a simple way for little ones to focus on their bodies and breathing,” says Bertin.
  • Problem-solve: With older kids, work together to brainstorm solutions to problems in a mindful way. If they’re upset about a situation with a friend, non-judgementally repeat back what they’re saying until they settle down.
  • Cede control: “With teens, you put the skills back on to them,” says Anspach. “If they’re angry or scared, say to them, “you seem really upset about this, what would be helpful for you to know right now?” Leave the ball in their court if you can.” It’s also okay to give them permission to table whatever is going on until they’re calmer, she adds. Once they get back from their guitar playing, bike riding, manga drawing, they may have ideas on what they’d like to do next. Let them have their emotions and feelings, and give them the space to figure things out with you there as a support system and resource. Ultimately, “the goal is to work ourselves out of a job as a parent,” Anspach advises.
Mindfulness and Parenting

How to be a Mindful Parent

  • Attach mindfulness to a specific activity: Ideally, we would like to be mindful all the time, but sometimes it’s worth earmarking a particular activity for special mindful attention. It doesn’t matter what you choose; it could be hanging out the washing or reading to your child or walking up the stairs. Keep the idea as a regular mindfulness activity, so that you practise each time you do it. You get many of the advantages of formal sitting (although perhaps not with the same lovely depth of relaxation). Yet, you can do the activity while carrying on with your daily business.
  • Make time for play: Putting aside special times for being together is a beautiful way to protect those times, especially for reconnection. It could be that we need to actually schedule at certain times in the day; perhaps at bath or bedtime. Alternatively, look for opportunities to seize as and when they come along.
  • Keep shopping fun: If you have to go to the shops together, reduce the sensory overload by slowing down the task, perhaps by taking time to mindfully explore the aisles; noting all the different smells and colours.
  • Work out some strategies in advance: When we are faced with a new or tricky situation, the need to act swiftly may make it difficult to choose the best action in that moment. Later, however, see the incident as an opportunity to learn. Rather than getting hung up in regret, this is a chance to handle the situation differently next time.

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I hope you enjoyed my article on mindfulness for parenting. If you have any comments, questions or suggestions, please leave them below, and I will get back to you as soon as possible.

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