By Debbie Mayer, LCSW
Mindfulness parenting is all the rage these days, and there’s good reason for it. The general idea behind mindfulness is the ability to practice being present and aware without judgment. Now, combining this approach with parenting is not necessarily what you might instinctually think to do. ‘You mean, you want me to be more present when my child is screaming at me?? Those are the times I want to check out most!’ If you are able to tune into your experience in the moment – such as feeling overwhelmed, judging yourself for the fact that your child is upset (“If only I would have…then he wouldn’t be acting this way”), finding that you are checking out (“I wish she would just stop yelling all the time” vs. “wow, she’s really feeling overwhelmed right now”) – then you are already practicing mindfulness! As awareness increases, so does an ability to focus on being more present, which can result in your child feeling more heard and respected as well as you feeling less focused on what’s driving you crazy.
As a parent myself, I can easily find focusing on what I think might need to get done and get lost from what is presently happening. Just the other night when my child was having a more challenging night going to bed, and I was exhausted from a long day myself; I found my thoughts drifting off to what I wanted to get done that night. Fortunately I caught myself in this pattern, and stopped to pay attention to the present moment. What was my child asking of me? What was my child’s emotional need in this moment? How could I be more present for my child and support my child during this challenging time? What I found was, the more I was able to be fully present with my child, the more calm the environment became as an experienced sense of understanding was incorporated into our interaction.
While mindfulness parenting encompasses many aspects I’m going to explore a few areas specifically: being able to slow down to heighten awareness, increase a connection with your child, and letting go of judgment.
Let’s first look at the idea of slowing down to increase your sense of awareness. This can be supported by asking yourself questions like: What is going on around me? What sounds do I notice? What am I feeling? What is my child feeling? When you are able to recognize that your thoughts are drifting off away from what is happening in the present, you are better able to be attuned to your child’s needs and meet your child where he or she is. The more ‘distant’ you are, the more your child may be expressing himself in ways to seek your attention. When you are able to connect and be truly present, your child will know and respond in ways that acknowledge you are there. When you are present with your child you can often experience a sense of slowing down life, being in the moment, not the past or future, but there actively with your child. This can happen at nighttime like how I shared above, during playtime in the day, at meals, in the car, at the grocery store, in a museum, or at the park.
Another benefit of incorporating mindfulness practice into parenting, is increasing a connection with your child. When you connect deeply with your child on her or his level, where your child knows you are present and desire to be there, your child is experiencing being valued, loved, and respected. Attachment theory teaches us how children’s sense of self is increased when they have a relationship where they experience being safe and feeling secure. Mindfulness parenting goes hand in hand with this notion; when you are placing your attention in the present moment you are able to enjoy singing a song with your child, delighting in them running on the soccer field, feeling the cold of the snow together, or laughing together as you bite into yet another piece of burnt toast. These connections are building blocks for your child in building a healthy sense of self-esteem, and in time feeling confident in abilities for school, peer relationships, sports, future romantic relationships, employee interactions, etc.
The third area I’ll talk about here is practicing mindfulness parenting without judgment. In discussing the many benefits children can receive through mindfulness parenting, there is also the support we provide ourselves. Mindfulness parenting can help you not only practice increasing your awareness to the present, but also to not judge yourself. Practicing letting go of thoughts such as: My child is upset, I should have… or I’m no good at this mindfulness thing, I keep thinking about all the things that need to get done. The reality is thoughts will drift in and out, that is natural. When we treat ourselves with kindness verses judgment we are more likely to treat our children that way too. I am having a hard time being present right now, that is ok. Let me tune back in to what my child is doing… or I realize now that I could have handled that situation differently, I’ll talk with them to repair that situation. Judgment can come from voices in our past (parents, teachers, friends, experiences), however being able to free ourselves from those to truly be in the moment with our child is an invaluable experience for both parent and child.
I challenge you to find one way today to incorporate an aspect of mindfulness parenting with your child. Find a time where you notice that you are smiling and connecting with your child, where you find your thoughts drifting off and you say that’s ok but now I’m going to tune back into being here, where you feel overwhelmed and need to take a break, or you find an activity your child enjoys and spend time noticing what it is about the activity that truly makes your child happy. And remember, practicing mindfulness parenting is just that, a practice! Feel free to welcome the days it’s easier and the days it’s more challenging. Practice at your own pace, and explore how mindfulness parenting fits for you and your family.