Incorporating Mindfulness into Parenting
By Tyler Jacobson
Being mindful means that you keep your thoughts on what is happening right now, and you don’t get lost in negative thoughts about the past or the future. Using the techniques of mindfulness helps both parents and children to reduce stress, anxiety, fear and depression, and helps to increase their focus and concentration.
Develop your own mindfulness practice
Mindfulness practice does not mean that you have to take an hour to sit still and meditate. Your life is busy, so start small and simple. Sit for five minutes and focus on your breath going in and out of your lungs. If sitting still is difficult, walk while you breathe mindfully. If you are having trouble starting a practice on your own, you may like one of the meditation apps for your phone, which provide guided meditations that you can listen to, and daily reminders to meditate.
Set a good example
When your children see that you take time for mindful meditation, they will get curious. Invite them to join you. Teach them how to breathe deeply into their bellies and let the breath out slowly. Mindful meditation could become part of their bedtime routines. There are plenty of websites that give advice for teaching mindfulness to kids and teaching mindfulness to teens.
In mindfulness we learn to control our emotions, rather than letting our emotions control us. These are good techniques for you and your children. When something upsetting happens, pause for just a moment before you react. Take a few slow, deep breaths. In your mind, step back from the situation. Observe what’s happening. Notice your emotional reaction to it. Are you feeling angry, frustrated, overwhelmed, embarrassed, afraid? Try to understand what is really happening here. Consider the best way to respond to it. What do you want as an outcome? What can you do or say to make that happen? How can you respond with compassion? If there isn’t really anything you can do to change the situation, then how can you accept it? The human mind processes thoughts incredibly fast, and you can do all this processing in the space of a brief moment, while you’re taking those deep breaths. Then you can choose how to respond, rather than rushing in with an emotional reaction. You will feel calmer and more in control, and you will handle the situation better.
Teach your children well
Children don’t know how to control their emotions, so it’s important to teach your child to deal with anger and other strong feelings. When children are acting out because they feel angry or frustrated, teach them to respond mindfully. Let them know that their feelings are natural, they don’t have to be afraid. Help them to name their emotions. Show them how to pause and take some deep breaths. Tell them an appropriate way to react to what has happened. Practicing mindfulness will also help you to stay calm when your children are not calm.
When we mindfully communicate with our children, we give them our complete attention. Rather than just hearing the surface message, look for the deeper message. Notice facial expressions and body movements. For example, imagine a child talking about her friend’s bad behavior and the punishment the friend received. A parent may be hasty to judge the friend and her parents, or be angry, or forbid the daughter to see that friend ever again. What the daughter really needs is a discussion on why the behavior was wrong, what her friend might have done instead, and why the punishment was appropriate or not. The parent could ask what she would do in a similar situation, or ask if she has ever been in a similar situation. This is a perfect opportunity for a discussion of values and consequences, and a good time to build trust and keep communication lines open. Listening mindfully will help you to see these opportunities.
When your child breaks the rules be sure to discipline mindfully. Again, pause and take a few breaths before you react to his misbehavior. You don’t want to respond out of pure anger. Make sure your child feels safe and loved. Let him know you don’t like what he did, but you still love him. Listen to his side of events to make sure you understand the complete situation. Then use this opportunity to teach him why his behavior was inappropriate, how he should have behaved, and what the consequences for his actions will be. Make sure the consequences are reasonable. Don’t tell him he’s grounded for the rest of his life. Discipline is meant to teach and to guide, not just to punish. Remember that it’s natural for parents and kids to have power struggles. Children will always test the limits, especially as they become teenagers. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed to find help for your teen if he has serious behavioral, emotional or psychological problems. It does not make you a failure as a parent, it means you have come to accept the need for help.
Learning mindful practices for yourself will help you to better cope with the stress and challenges of being a parent, and better appreciate your own life and the time you spend with your child. Teaching your child mindfulness will prepare them to cope with difficult emotions and situations, and better enjoy the good things in life.
From the mountains of Utah, Tyler Jacobson writes about his experiences as a father and husband. By sharing the struggles and solutions his family has faced, Tyler hopes to help other parents looking for a way to better their lives. You can connect with Tyler and read his helpful insights on Twitter.