How mindfulness can help you be a better, more confident parent…
You’ll be hard-pushed to find someone who doesn’t agree that parenting is one of the hardest jobs in the world.
For many, taking on the most gruelling of obstacle courses might be easier than navigating the treacherous terrain of raising well-rounded, respectful, emotionally sensitive and intelligent beings. Add to the mix the need to earn a living, the routine of daily commuting, managing a household, school and extra-mural activities, hours saturated with screen time, mobile phones glued to palms, and the stress of living in a fast-paced, technology frenzied world, and parenting is a momentous task.
So, among the chaos of life, how do you give your children the best of yourself when it’s so difficult to know what that is?
Mindfulness, a growing meditative trend adapted from Buddhist and Eastern traditions such as yoga, may raise a few eyebrows, but there’s no doubt this practice is taking off. So much so that science and psychology have started to support its benefits, which can have an impact on your health and wellbeing in extremely positive ways.
Connecting to the present moment
Mindfulness is the ability to connect to the present moment, to tune out the other white noise of life and engage with the moment, giving it your full emotional and physical energy.
In Everyday Blessings: The inner work of mindful parenting, authors Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn describe it as the practice that “affects our brains, our capacity for attention, emotion regulation, impulse control, perspective taking, executive functioning in general, and many other important traits that make us who we are, such as our ability to realise our deep connectedness with each other through our innate capacity for attunement, empathy, compassion, and kindness”.
And if you can harness this ability for yourself, to tune into the present moment and regulate yourself, then you can become an effective parent while instilling the benefits of mindfulness in your children too.
Put it into practice
Parenting mindfully means taking the practice of mindfulness and applying it to your everyday interactions with your children and family.
It means during stressful parenting moments, when your to-do list is pulling you in various directions and stress is weighing heavily on your mind, that you don’t ‘lose control’ and let your emotions dictate your reactions. When you react to stressful situations, the brain is dominated by the flight or fight response, which means you act on impulse without clearly thinking of what you say or do. This can lead to moments when you scream and snap at your kids or melt down at a toddler tantrum. In that moment you’re not thinking about children’s perceptions, and these reactions are not only scary for kids, you’re also modelling that this is how adults react to stress. Instead, choose to be more mindful by pausing and taking a breath or two before responding.
Teach your children that they too can pause and choose to respond mindfully, rather than reacting. It’s easy to forget that the biggest lessons kids learn about how to be in the world come from watching their own parents interact with and within it.
This doesn’t mean mindful parents are calm and collected beings who have no negative emotions. Of course they do!
But they choose not to act ‘mindlessly’ and compromise their parenting abilities. “Mindful parenting is hard work. It means getting to know ourselves inwardly, and working at the interface where our lives meet the lives of our children,” write Myla and Jon. ‘It is particularly hard work when the culture is intruding more and more into our homes and into our children’s lives in so many new ways. And our attention spans are becoming shorter and shorter and our minds more and more distracted.’
Parenting mindfully means taking the practice of mindfulness and applying it to your everyday interactions with your children and family
“Our lives are undeniably deeply connected. Our children’s wellbeing affects ours, and ours affects theirs. If they are not doing well, we suffer, and if we are not doing well, they suffer. This means that everyone benefits when we are aware of our children’s needs as well as our own, emotional as well as physical, and work at finding ways for everybody to get some of what they most need… Through the quality of our presence, our commitment to them is felt, even in difficult times”. – Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn
7 things mindful parents do
1. Make the choice to be present
This is the first step in the mindful parenting journey and will require effort and training your brain to incorporate mindfulness practices into your daily life. You may forget to be mindful at moments – it takes some time to learn. But as soon as you realise you’re distracted, take it as an opportunity to bring yourself back to the present moment.
2. Do one thing fully
Make the effort to bring your awareness fully to the task at hand, whether it’s preparing dinner, or interacting with your children or spouse. Try switching off technology and limiting other distractions.
3. Learn to first connect with yourself
You can be a mindful parent only when you have connected to it within yourself. “To parent consciously requires that we engage in an inner work on ourselves as well as in the outer work of nurturing and caring for our children”, write Myla and Jon.
4. Actively listen
Be fully present and engaged when talking with your children. Take the time to listen to what they have to say, even if you don’t agree with it. Give them the gift of your presence and the feeling of being seen and heard.
5. Breathe before reacting
Pause, stop and breathe before reacting to situations. Be aware of your feelings and whether they’re impacting negatively on the situation.
6. Be aware of your own triggers
Raising a mindful family involves applying self-compassion during the stressful moments and applying awareness to yourself and understanding your triggers.
7. Find joy in the mundane
Most of life is made up of moments in the routine of daily life. Simple moments together, like the morning rush for school or commuting, go by unnoticed and unappreciated. Mindful parenting makes an effort to ‘see’ and be present in these moments and experience them as moments of joy and connectedness.
Download: Mindful Parenting (available for iOS and Android; Mymindfulparenting.com)
Listen to: Mindful Parenting in a Messy World podcasts with Michelle Gale
Read: Mindful Parenting: Simple and powerful solutions for raising creative, engaged, happy kids
in today’s hectic world by Kristen Race