It is Monday morning. Maybe you woke up late and felt rushed. You thought to yourself “ugh, why do I always do this!” You were agitated and short tempered. When your child became tearful at breakfast, you reacted quickly with a short, harsh comeback about breakfast being an important meal and scooped up their cereal bowl to the sink while you hurried out of the kitchen. This reactive pattern continues throughout the morning and by lunch you are irritable, distracted and feel cruddy. Now, while I would like to believe this is a rare occurrence rather than a common morning routine, I would think that we can all think back to a time that we felt this way. Rushed, irritated, judging ourselves and others, reactive rather than calm.
The practice of mindfulness provides us with an opportunity to respond differently. It is less about reaction and more about being attuned to the present and accepting what is going on right now without judgement or harshness. It isn’t necessarily positive self talk and working to cheer yourself up, but rather the idea that if we can work to intentionally be present with ourselves and our circumstances then we are better able to accept what is happening and work through it rather than become anxious and overwhelmed.
Mindfulness in your daily life is a practice that has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety. Mindful parenting is the idea of approaching your interactions and responses with your child with this same intentional, nonjudgmental awareness and acceptance. Practicing the mindfulness elements of awareness and self-compassion provides an opportunity for you as the parent to remain calm, model self regulation, assist your child in co-regulation and build relationship with your child rather than putting up barriers through harsh tones or hurtful, impulsive words. The research on mindful parenting is growing, but here are a few small steps to try this week to practice mindfulness in your parenting:
- Attune to your own reactions and responses. If you are having a tough moment, own that. It is okay to tell your child (and yourself) that “this is really hard” or “I am having a hard time”. These statements help your child learn what it looks and feels like to be in a difficult place while also helping them understand what to do next. Acceptance of your feelings in that moment can also help you figure out what to do next rather than feeling stuck in the battle of shame and judgement.
- Listen, with intention, to your child. Hearing what your child is saying or experiencing can help you understand what is really going on, help your child to understand what he or she is experiencing and validate the response your child is having to the situation. One of my go to books for helping parents and children work through their feelings cites “children need us to validate their feelings so they can become grown-ups who know who they are and what they feel.” It is empowering to know how to feel and be able to verbalize those feelings. Listening, reflecting and being in the moment with your child is a way to build this ability. Also, this does not mean a 30 minute meditation session each time your child has a hard time. It can be as simple as getting down on eye level, using physical touch like a hug or holding a hand to let them know you are there, reflecting for clarification such as “this seems really hard” or “I am not sure what is going on” and helping model self regulation skills such as deep breathing.
- Self regulate to help your child regulate. Self regulation is an essential element in mindful parenting as it helps you stay present while also assisting your child in co-regulation. Kids are not going to be able to successfully calm themselves when you are agitated, irritable or escalated. The act of calming yourself can bring the intensity level in the room down and can show your child what to do in difficult situations. You can practice breathing together, you can choose to put away distractions and focus on one thing at a time and you can be curious about what body reactions your child is having to help them understand their feelings and be validated. These are simple (though sometimes difficult) steps that can increase your child’s emotional intelligence, self awareness and self concept. Mindful parenting is relationship based and can bring you closer to your children as well as to yourself with goals of less shame and parental guilt.
As you re-imagine your Monday morning scenario, give yourself opportunity to accept that you woke up late, but you are not bad or stupid. You can choose how you respond, knowing that acceptance of what is happening in that moment and kindness to yourself helps you have kindness and compassion with your children as well. As your child is tearfully refusing breakfast, get close to them and reflect that you see their sadness. Be curious and help them tune in to what is happening inside of their own minds and bodies too. Rather than tossing the bowl in the sink and storming off, you can take that same amount of time to offer to do 3 deep breaths together or give your child a hug and squeeze which can help them self regulate. These small changes can provide a positive impact for your day as well as your relationship with yourself and your child. While it won’t be perfect, an element of mindfulness is acceptance that we will mess up and that we are okay. The positive impact of mindful parenting is worth trying, even if it doesn’t go how you would like each time.
A helpful reminder as you take on another day comes from well known pediatrician Dr. Berry Brazelton who said “You know, it may be that the enormous field of child development and parenting has actually done parents a disservice. It has sent them the message that they need to look to experts to find the answers, when oftentimes the answers lie within. They always have.” Trust yourself. You can do this.
If you would like more information on Mindful Parenting, my colleague Amanda Villaveces, LMFT and I will be presenting this topic at the CCC Prevent Child Abuse Conference March 13 at JCTC. We will also be streaming the presentation on FB live on May 16. Please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions!