Parenting is one of the hardest jobs an adult can have. At times as parents it can feel as if you are being put through a tumble dryer, pushed and pulled from all different directions; work, family, partner, family, and the list goes on. Life can sometimes seem overwhelming. So it can definitely become increasingly difficult to find space, time alone, or a place to just be calm and think. Mindful parenting is the practice of checking in, rather than checking out. It involves the capacity to be fully present with one’s moment-to-moment experience as it arises, in a non-judgmental way. It can help a parent find that quiet space within their minds to pause and then consciously choose a way to respond, rather than react. And the great news is you don’t have to add anything to your life in order to do it! Mindful parenting requires nothing additional, is it an internal shift rather than an external one. It is a process where a parent notices their own body physiologically, senses how they are feeling inside their own skin, links those physiological sensations to a feeling, takes a moment to acknowledge their experience of sensations and emotions, pauses, and then chooses a response. In parenting terminology this simply means that when the house has fallen apart, chaos is descending and it appears as if anarchy is imminent, instead of reacting to our children’s behaviour and following the chaotic descent we are taking a moment inside our bodies, inside our minds, to pause and then consciously choose a way to respond to our children, which instills and models a calm environment, where we can work with our children to put the house back in order. This process includes responding to our children’s emotions in a similar fashion: assisting them to notice their feelings, self-soothe, and then choose a behaviour that meets their needs when they are calm. While some may think this sounds impossible, we say it can be simply achieved by following a few general principles. But before we explain how this magical unicorn can become your very own reality, it's important to know why being a mindful parent is so important.
Five ways to be a more mindful parent:
1. Be Mindful. Being mindful can help you as a person become more sensitive and attuned to yourself and your needs, as well as those of your child. When you are consistently checking in with your own feelings and sensations as well as your child’s, you are growing the mindfulness muscle in your brain, and increasing your capacity for awareness of what is really going on. This is accomplished through the process of “checking in” with your own emotions first, before you respond to your child.
2. Develop Self-Awareness: self-awareness improves your capacity for your own emotional regulation in your parenting. The act of noticing your own emotions can have a powerful effect on how much you are thrown by them. The more frequently you check in with what is going on in inside your body by simply pausing for a moment and noticing the sensations and emotions, the more you are able to respond in a calm manner, rather than react with emotion. This then allows you to feel more empowered and positive about your parenting, as you are connecting with the way you want to parent. You can include this in your daily life by choosing times throughout the day to simply stop and notice what is happening around you and inside of you. When eating a meal, when showering, when driving the car, anything that you do regularly can become a place to practice mindfulness. This can also be done as a family at times such as mealtimes or bedtime. A simple one minute check-in where every member of the family notices what is in their body/what they are feeling can be a very simple and effective way to start building and growing this skill.
3. Notice the words you use. Being aware of how you speak to yourself and others is very important. If our self-talk as well as our language to others is critical and judgmental we can create negative experiences in our family interactions. Try to practice noticing any feelings or sensations that may stir within your self or your child. When we notice these emotions we can then make space for it, allowing it to be there. This means that you can cultivate compassion for your own behaviours and actions as a parent, because you are looking at the emotion that is underneath those behaviours, and therefore seeing and understanding why you may have acted in this way, rather then being critical of yourself. Taking some time to reflect each day or each week on your parenting, and noticing with kindness what emotion was driving your behaviours - even if it is just for five minutes, can help to increase this capacity for self-acceptance.
4. Recognise and understand your child's emotions are not because of you. By recognising your child’s needs and feelings, you strengthen your relationship and connection with your child/children. When you are able to respond to your child’s distress with mindfulness, they will feel validated and understood, and it will increase their trust in themselves and in you as a parent, which will help you both feel closer.
5. Stand back from experiences by zooming out. It is important to give yourself some space to respond, without feeling like you have to act immediately. This allows you room for choices in your responding. When you have choices, you can find solutions! Taking a mindful pause before reacting allows you to begin to notice patterns in the dynamics of your family and children. Keeping a diary or jotting down notes on paper, in a phone, or just in your mind about what is working/what isn’t, and how you, your partner, and your children are responding to different situations can help bring out the genius problem solver in you. We all have it in us to be brilliant parents, it’s just a matter of pulling back from the emotional reactions for long enough to see what is really going on. A daunting task, we know! But remember, all it takes is one breath, one pause, and one choice to try something different and see what happens.