Being a parent is a beautiful blessing. It is also really challenging, demanding and all-consuming. There are many pressures and expectations that we feel compelled to meet. As parents, we often fall into automatic habits and interaction patterns with our children that are ineffective at best, and potentially harmful. Many parents describe the experience of having their temper or frustration “creep up on me” or “just sort of come out of nowhere.” While that may feel like the case, there were likely signs that frustration and/or exhaustion were building before the eventual blow-up. Mindfulness can be a vital and effective tool in this arena, as it allows a parent to be aware of his or her own emotions, degree of fatigue, hunger state, etc. For example, a mom who has been up since 5am and ate only half a PB&J and some cold coffee may be understandably testy by 5pm when her toddler throws his freshly cooked (by her) dinner on the floor. She may scold him too severely for the situation or cry out of frustration. But this response could be mitigated if she practiced mindfulness throughout the day and was in touch with her needs. She might have noticed her hunger cues, observed her headache and taken just a few moments to drink water, get some more food, or ask for an assist from another adult because she felt over-burdened. She would also reduce the likelihood of the blow-up if she was mindful of her feelings (“I am exhausted and agitated”) or her automatic thoughts (“How am I going to make it through the rest of the day? If anything else goes wrong, I’m going to lose it!”).
Furthermore, practicing mindfulness and teaching it to children is very effective in guiding the development of their own emotion regulation skills. Monkey see, monkey do! When we model healthy emotional regulation and practice it ourselves, our children are more likely to use it too. In fact, mindfulness is so effective that schools across the country are integrating innovative mindfulness practices into the classroom. Some schools and childcare programs are replacing traditional detention consequences with meditation classes, as research has demonstrated that mindfulness is more effective at offsetting negative, impulsive, or hostile behavior than the consequence of a time out or detention. When we teach children to be aware of how they feel, they are better able to slow down, identify/name the challenge, and then work towards an effective solution.
How Do I Practice Mindfulness?
There are practical ways to practice mindfulness throughout your day which do not require a Himalayan retreat and years of discipline to learn. Mindfulness is not reserved for those with an abundance of time. On the contrary, it made for all of us who are busy. One strategy is to challenge some of your automatic routines and reduce extra stimuli. If you drive with the radio on and eat your breakfast while rushing to work and putting on lipstick or tying your tie as you steer with your knee, how can you be expected to be present? Instead, try taking a deep breath, turning off your radio and driving quietly with your eyes focused on the road for several minutes. Then, add in one thing at a time: take a bite of your granola bar and chew it slowly to taste the flavors and notice the textures of your food. Acknowledge gratitude for the opportunity to eat it and wait several moments before taking the next bite. Observe your sensations. Remember, there is no right or wrong. There is just what “is” and your task is to withhold judgement. If you do have judgement, simply notice it as a thought. Then, after arriving safely at your destination, take a deep breath and take the time to mindfully and slowly fasten your tie or finish putting on your make-up. You will not be losing time, as it is merely the perception that doing all of these things simultaneously will save you time. In reality, it creates unneeded risks of distraction, and a sense of being rushed and frazzled. Ironically, this feeling of being frazzled is what people so often describe when they talk about the stresses of daily living. So, give it a try and introduce mindfulness into your family life. Chances are, you will enjoy parenting that much more.
1. Mindful Schools (2010-2017). Why mindfulness is needed in education. Retrieved from http://www.mindfulschools.org/about-mindfulness/mindfulness-in-education/#why-mindfulness-is-needed-in-education