The bookstores are packed full with an array of instructional parenting books giving advice on how to bring up children and promises of a peaceful night sleep, but there’s nothing that really focuses on mindful parenting in this modern, hectic world. And that, of course, is what we all really need.
Our busy lives seem to be overrun with an abundance of commitments; work deadlines, paying the bills, trying to be a supportive partner, keeping fit, and on and on the list goes – it’s no wonder we get stressed at times. The demands of this modern world can weigh heavily on our shoulders which in turn can take a toll on our minds and bodies. But more than that, it also can have a negative impact on our parenting. Becoming a more mindful parent allows us to take some time out from life’s dramas and connect with our children in a more compassionate way. It enables us to step back and enjoy the moment rather than let it pass us by. Our children’s childhood is so important; how we parent our children can affect them for the rest of their lives. When it comes to parenting there are no second chances, so it’s important to make the most of this time now.
So what is mindful parenting?
The concept of being present and in the moment with your child is a fresh and exciting one; a parent’s attention is by far one of the greatest gifts we can give our children and mindful parenting is a way of providing this. Being mindful means living in the moment, with a non-judgemental, compassionate awareness. It allows us to observe a newfound consciousness intentionally, and helps us sustain that attention over time in the best way we can. Allowing our minds to maintain this attentiveness brings more awareness into our lives and lets us parent in a more instinctual and compassionate way.
Nevertheless, the problem with society today is that we often run on auto pilot, mindlessly functioning day by day, without questioning our existence. Our brains seem to operate in two ways; they are either swirling with past events that we can’t control, or they are preoccupied with future circumstances or concerns. This way of thinking often leaves us feeling stressed, anxious and even depressed; the amount of emotional strain we put on ourselves frequently leaves our minds and bodies exhausted; which can have a detrimental effect on parenting. This is where introducing mindfulness into our day to day parenting can help – it’s about stepping back, taking a moment and looking through our children’s eyes. Being in the moment with our children allows us to understand new possibilities, benefits, and even challenges with a newfound conscious awareness. Allowing ourselves to parent in this conscious way will enhance the engagement we have with our children, promoting a deeper understanding of our family and ourselves, which in turn cultivates a certain awareness. This is known as mindful parenting.
Mindfulness can create the imaginable; practicing it can give you the capability to see past any parenting challenges and certain behavioural issues. It allows us to see our children more clearly and opens us up to be more empathic, compassionate, and understanding. This will create connections that will last a life time. Most parents want to do right by their children – they want to be loving, warm, provide structure, set boundaries, and provide a positive role model – this is where mindful parenting comes into play. Parenting mindfully can be rejuvenating and transformative for both parent and child. However, learning and implementing this style of parenting is a task you’ll need to master.
Where to begin?
Firstly, let’s get one thing straight; you don’t have to be a Zen master to practice mindful parenting. You do, however, have to be willing, patient, and persistent. Just like any new skill, it can take a while to grasp.
An ideal way to begin mindful parenting is simply to be more present with our children. When we are more present our communication becomes clearer and our words become more meaningful. But, as well as being more present, we can also use other tactics to become more mindful, like the ones I share with you below:
Our children are our world, but we often seem to disregard their needs as other priorities take over our day to day life. When we run on autopilot we miss signs that our children are trying to give us, our inattentiveness can, in turn, make them feel worthless, and they may start to feel like they are beneath our attention and will begin to retract inwardly.
For example, if you are preoccupied on your phone or computer when your child is trying to have a conversation with you or tell you something important, they will start to feel inadequate and eventually will give up trying to communicate with you at all. However, we do live in the 21st century and life is fast-paced, so we can’t unplug the whole time we are with our children. Nevertheless, we can control how much time we spend on our devices. Technology is a brilliant thing, but it can affect the amount of quality time we have with our families. So make sure you unplug yourself at least once a week, keep your mind present and fully enjoy your family time; this will enhance your children’s self-worth and make them feel like they are top priority and not having to compete with your gadgets for your time or attention.
Take the Time
In this modern world, time doesn’t always seem to be on our side. But have you ever wondered how we find the time to accomplish menial tasks yet hardly ever take a moment to focus on our family’s mental well being? Ask yourself, how does it feel when we laugh with our family or have a great conversation over a meal, or when we cuddle up with our little ones and really listen about their day – I bet I can answer the question for you; it feels great, doesn’t it?
Another question; why do we make time for boring routine tasks but we don’t allow time in our daily routine to create more positive family dynamics? We seem to procrastinate over and over again, telling ourselves that we just don’t have the time. However, time is truly valuable; once a moment in time has gone we can never get it back. It’s so true, how often you have heard grandparents say “make the most of this time now, they grow up far too quickly”. They are right but the question is why aren’t we spending more quality time with our children?
The truth is this modern world exhausts us, and after a long day in the office or feeling overwhelmed with mundane family chores we are simply tired. This is why the very first step to mindful parenting is self-care; which we will look at in greater detail on my blog, next week. But to cover briefly, we have to make sure we take care of ourselves so we can take care of others. Often parents don’t take time out for themselves; they see putting their needs in front of their families as selfish, unreasonable even. Parenting is one of the hardest jobs in the world. It’s physically and emotionally draining. Therefore, it’s important to take time to recuperate and recharge your batteries, so you can be the parent you want to be.
Go easy on yourself
Mindful parenting can seem like a dream when our children are acting angelic, playing together, or willing to go to bed. Nevertheless, children do have a habit of pushing the boundaries; we all know that feeling that children can conjure up; our blood starts to warm, then slowly simmers, our kids push a little further and we’re now at boiling point, ready to explode! As a parent, this is the time to put your mindfulness into practice, take a mindful pause and just BREATHE. Our children will challenge and irritate us at times (that’s parenting), but there’s always a reason behind such behaviours (reasons that are often out of our control). What control we do have is how we respond when parenting becomes demanding.
Taking a moment to take a breath can have a powerful impact on unwanted behaviour. It will allow you time to gather your thoughts and encourage you to respond to your child’s needs rather than react to them. In general, people use the word reaction and response synonymously but there is a world of difference between the two. A reaction is provoked by certain behaviour; it’s instant. It often has no consideration behind it. You literally meet your child’s emotionally-led behaviour with your emotionally-led conduct. Reacting to your child’s behaviour in an angry, aggressive way simply isn’t the answer; all this creates is a crash of negatives emotions.
Responding, however, gives you the time to allow your child to express their negative feelings; they need to let them out, and if you try to suppress them they will to erupt another time – trust me. If your child does become angry, upset, frustrated respond by letting them have this moment, let them verbalise their feelings without any punishment, humiliation or guilt. This is a time to show your child empathy, consider not just your feelings but the thoughts, feelings, and reactions behind your child’s behaviour too. Portraying a calm exterior will defuse the situation a lot quicker than trying to fight in with a battle of spiraling, negative emotions.
Nonetheless, this is no easy task and is a really tricky concept to get your head around. Responding instead of reacting is a big part of mindful parenting but to others, it can often seem weak, even ineffective. However, the rewards you will reap later in life from this style of parenting will show in abundance. Your children will learn that it’s safe to show their emotions, will talk openly to you about their feelings, and will come to you in times of need. You see, mindful parenting allows us to understand our children’s emotional needs, which in turn builds a closer, more resilient bond between parent and child. What we have to remember as parents is our children are not their flare-ups. Their outbursts are often emotionally led by anger, frustration, tiredness even. These hosts of emotions can play havoc with a child’s emotional guidance system. It’s a struggle for little people to master control of their temperamental behaviours but guide them with love and kindness and they will soon become pros at it. Remember, it’s our job as parents to calm their little minds, not present them with more chaos. I’m going to cover an array of behavioural issues and how to deal with them more mindfully in the next few weeks… but for now here are some conscious ways of how we can respond to our children instead of reacting to them:
|Will you just stop crying!
||You look upset, is everything ok, do you want a hug?
|Will you just get away from me!
||I’m feeling a little frustrated right now, I’m going to take five minutes out to calm down.
|That’s life young lady – you don’t always get what you want.
||I can tell you are upset with my decision but let me explain the reasons behind it (if your child doesn’t want to hear why, walk away and be calm until they do).
|Your sitting at the table until you’ve eaten all your dinner
||If you’re not hungry now don’t worry, I can heat it up later.
|Stop whinging, ask me like a normal child
||Can you ask me that question in your happy voice, not your whinging one.
Mindful parenting isn’t always about managing difficult behaviour, just as importantly, it’s about treasuring the loving, joyful family moments too. This parenting style has so many benefits for children and parents alike; using this method of parenting has been gaining traction as a way of improving happiness and well-being within families for a while now. Studies have shown conscious (mindful) parents engage in more positive and less negative parenting styles which were then linked to more positive, loving behaviour in children. This meant fewer tantrums and less meltdowns. Being a mindful parent means growing and developing as your child grows and develops too. Parenthood is a steep learning curve, but that doesn’t mean being mindful is impossible!