An Introduction to Mindful Parenting

Stocksy_txp4e2f17f2k4S000_Small_405050Cultivating mindfulness in our role as parents will certainly be a challenge at times, however the benefits that mindful parenting can bring make it a challenge worth accepting. By being present with our children, and our own emotional process, we can make better decisions and react with greater clarity and compassion.

Children Are Already Half Way There

Small children easily switch from one emotion to another, without clinging to previous thoughts or feelings. In this sense, they are already present; they are in the moment with each emotion. However, what children lack is conscious awareness of their experience. They don’t yet have the language to explain their feelings, and so they express them through their behaviour. They don’t know what it means to be angry, sad, disappointed or exhausted, just that they feel the discomfort from it. As parents, it’s up to us to teach children about their emotions, to give them words for their feelings, to help them understand why those feelings have arisen, and about how to deal with them. Meeting these experiences with mindfulness means that we can do this is an effective and compassion way.

Modelling Mindfulness

Compared to other species, human beings are born “immature”. What this means is that our minds are more open to learning from the environment we are born into, rather than having a set of fixed instincts and reflexes. A major way that we learn how to fit into our environment as children is through imitation. A good example of this is when babies play with toy telephones, lifting it up to their ear and pretending to talk. There is no evolutionary need for a baby to know how to use a telephone; they do it because they have watched us do it many times. 

This really highlights the importance of mindful parenting. Say for example that our child is having a tantrum; if we yell at them to calm down, what they are learning from is our angry tone, not our words. If we can practice mindfulness, and incorporate it into our day-to-day way of being, we can successfully demonstrate mindfulness to our children so that they can imitate it and learn from it.

Where to Start?

The best first step to mindful parenting is to practice mindfulness for ourselves. It may be useful to look through our blog for tips on how to become more mindful in different areas of life, or to sign up for one of our courses or workshops. Our Lab also offers lots of free meditation links, articles and videos to get you started. Most importantly, practicing mindfulness for ourselves will help us cope better with the challenges of parenting, so that we can enjoy less stressful lives.

And Then….

When we start to become more aware of our own thought processes, emotions and reactions, this will change the relationship we have with our children for the better. We can step out of reactivity (although of course we’re only human and will still get caught in emotional reaction sometimes) and into being more present with whatever our children are going through in the moment.

Some Practical Examples of Mindful Parenting

Avoiding Reoccurring Problems

Albert Einstein famously described insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Mindfulness can help us notice unhelpful or unproductive habits so that we can adopt new strategies.

Say for example that going to the supermarket with our children is always a headache. Our child always ends up seeing something they want, we tell them they can’t have it, and so they become grouchy or angry. We may get so frustrated with their behaviour that we eventually cave in and let them have it, just so that we can get some peace. Situations like these can turn into regular patterns that cause a lot of stress.

Being more mindful can help us pre-empt such situations and deal with them before they happen. We can, for example, explain to our child that we will only be buying what’s on our shopping list, and ask if there is anything they can think of now that they might like to add (within reason). We can create a routine whereby the family as a whole stops making impulse buys at the supermarket. This gives our child a structure that they know will always be in place.

Owning Our Emotions

Let’s face it, children can be a non-stop stream of changing emotions and challenging needs. It’s stressful, and this means that, like our children, we may find ourselves on an emotional rollercoaster. Although we don’t intend to, children can provide an easy outlet for our anger or frustration. We can talk to children in ways that another adult would not let us get away with. This is why it’s important to take a step back to acknowledge and own our emotions, so that we don’t unintentionally lash out at our children or make them responsible.

There are different ways that we can take responsibility for our feelings. Sometimes we may need to explain to our children that we are feeling very angry, but that it isn’t their fault. Other times, it might mean that we need to make extra efforts to give ourselves self-care, i.e. that we arrange childcare so that we can take some time out. Self-soothing practices may also be useful, such as placing our hand on our chest, or giving ourselves a hug. In other words, sometimes we’ll need to be our own parent and look after our own wellbeing.

Shifting Our Perspective

Mindfulness helps us reframe situations so that we can see them from a different angle. Sometimes what we think of as ‘problems’ can actually be opportunities for growth and bonding.

For example, in a situation where we discover that our child has lied to us about something, our immediate reaction may be of disappointment or anger. We may want to tell them off or punish them, with the aim of teaching them that it is wrong to lie. However, sometimes it may be more helpful to use the situation as a chance to understand our child better. Applying some openness or curiosity may help us find a deeper bond with our child. We can ask questions to find out why they felt they should lie, and try to reassure them that it is safe to tell us the truth. Of course, for this to work, we must be mindful of how we react to them when they do tell the truth. We may realise that we haven’t made it safe for them to come to us, and so this gives us the chance to be more present with them going forward.

Parenting is a complex process; there is no one-size-fits-all approach. This is why presence of mind is crucial, so that we can deal with each unique situation as it arises. By applying the key concepts of mindfulness, such as compassion and non-judgemental awareness, we can really enrich our family life.

MEDITATIONS:

Body Scan

COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

Mindful Parenting Workshop

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