Parenting and perspective don’t always go hand in hand. Caught up in the myriad stresses of day-to-day life, parents often become overwhelmed and lose sight of what is truly important to them: raising their children in a calm, stable, and compassionate household. Challenging situations (or periods) can provoke extreme emotional reactions that undermine parents’ faith in their abilities and erode parent-child trust. If sustained, reactive parenting can also do long-term harm to a child’s mental health.
Mindful parenting involves using psychological tools to circumvent these harmful emotional reactions and remain centered in the moment, thereby allowing parents to make thoughtfully measured choices. Mindful parents strive to balance self-insight and emotional honesty with meeting the needs of their children, all while fostering values of mutual respect and acceptance. In this article, I will try to explain what mindful parenting is, how to practice it, and how important it is for your child.
What Is Mindful Parenting?
Mindful parenting is, at base, about “letting go” to regain clarity, insight, and control. This philosophy encourages parents to accept themselves – and their children – without judgment, even during periods of conflict. Instead, mindful parents approach situations with empathy and compassion while still fully processing and releasing their negative emotions. Mindful parenting differs from traditional mindfulness in the emphasis it places on altering family dynamics and increasing interpersonal insight, rather than exclusively focusing on self-reflection and self-control.
By applying the principles of mindfulness to family life, parents can retain a moment-by-moment awareness of their interactions with their children. They can avoid becoming preoccupied with past events, concerns about the future, or anxiety about their parenting abilities. Maintaining this unwavering focus on the “now” allows parents to remain wholly present for their children, which makes their children feel heard, validated, and deeply important. Mindfulness also helps parents recognize their own needs and feelings, including times when they have reached their limits and need to take a step back to calm down. Utilizing these skills reduces the incidence and severity of family conflict while building stronger cooperation, communication skills, and trust.
What Does Mindfulness Mean in Parenting?
Learning how to respond purposefully to challenging behaviour is difficult, even for the most patient parent. To parent mindfully, you’ll need to practice using specific interpersonal skills, like the six parenting techniques outlined below. You’ll also need to be patient with yourself: The human brain is hardwired to react to stressful situations by going into fight, flight, or freeze mode, so it often takes months to “unlearn” reactive parenting habits. In some cases, working with a trained third party – like a family therapist – may be necessary to gain insight into your behaviour (or your child’s behaviour) and make adjustments to the way you communicate.
Remember: Part of becoming a mindful parent is accepting your individual rate of progress, having compassion for yourself, and identifying any underlying issues contributing to your reactivity. Many parents who experience chronic anxiety, for example, or who come from a troubled family background, need extra time to master mindful parenting – and that’s okay. If you find yourself frequently struggling to stay calm and centered, reach out for help.
6 Simple Tips on How to Become a More Purposeful Parent
1. Listen attentively.
Being a mindful parent means slowing down and truly listening to your child, even when you disagree with his (or her) point of view. When your child is speaking, remain quiet and take in his words completely before forming your own opinions or offering advice. After your child has finished speaking, verify that you understood what he was trying to say, then ask him if he would like to hear your take on the situation. Processing conversations deliberately is a great way to control their pitch and pace, so they don’t escalate into shouting matches.
2. Use pauses to avoid lashing out in anger.
During tense conversations, pause for at least three seconds before responding to your child. Take a moment to notice what’s going on around you – the sights, scents, and sounds present in your environment – while breathing slowly and deeply. Using your senses to stay grounded will help you avoid going into “fight or flight” mode.
3. Pay attention to your emotions during periods of stress or conflict.
When your child is acting out, it’s easy to become preoccupied with what he (or she) is doing, saying, thinking, or feeling. By only paying attention to your child’s state, however, you may inadvertently ignore your own feelings of frustration or impatience until they unexpectedly erupt in the form of angry statements.
To avoid snapping at your child, monitor how you feel as challenging situations play out. For example, are you feeling embarrassed because your child is throwing a tantrum in public? Are you blaming yourself because your child hit another child at the playground? Acknowledge your feelings, accept them, then breathe and try to let them go.
4. Strive for balance.
Unlike conventional parenting, where children are automatically expected to come first at all times, mindful parenting aims to cultivate a healthy equilibrium between the needs of parents and their children. This parenting philosophy recognizes that parents and children are emotionally interdependent: When parents’ needs aren’t being met, their children quickly sense their discontent and internalize it in the form of guilt or anxiety. Similarly, few parents can be truly happy when their children are not doing well.
As a mindful parent, you’ll need to make an ongoing effort to remain in touch with your needs, including your need for support, downtime, socialization, and hobbies. Far from being a selfish act, ceasing to ignore key aspects of who you are will allow you to be wholly present for your children. To a child, this feels like complete focus, commitment, and love. By looking after yourself, you’ll also show your children how to incorporate self-care into their daily lives and approach their own needs with acceptance and compassion.
5. Identify your emotional triggers.
Many parents have repressed fears that cause them to overreact in certain situations. Parents who experience social anxiety or low self-esteem, for instance, will often feel particularly intense shame when their child misbehaves in public because they’re anxious about being judged. These deep-seated anxieties can be hard to manage because they often trigger our fight-or-flight response before we’re consciously aware of them.
Think about times when you’ve automatically reacted to your child with anger or extreme upset: Can you see a pattern in the type of events that set you off? Alternately, are you more likely to become frustrated at certain times of the day; for example, immediately after you’ve come home from work? By getting to know your emotional triggers, you can take steps to defuse potentially problematic situations before they occur.
6. Try to see situations from your child’s point of view.
Children rarely act out for the sole purpose of aggravating their parents. No matter how exasperating your child’s behaviour feels, his actions are being driven by his own unmet needs, unspoken fears, sadness, or frustration. Try to uncover the emotions driving your child’s outbursts and respond to them with empathy, compassion, and forgiveness.
Being compassionate doesn’t mean you should accept inappropriate behaviour, of course; setting rules and boundaries is still an essential part of raising healthy children. Instead, mindful parents seek to understand the negative feelings underlying their child’s difficult behaviour and use discipline to help him learn, grow, and change – not to berate or punish him.
What is Mindfulness in Child Development, and How Does it Improve Kids’ Mental Health?
Adopting a calmer, more centered approach to parenting does more than reduce familial stress and strengthen the parent-child bond. Research consistently shows that mindful parents raise more mindful children, which has important implications for child development. By watching their parents self-regulate, children can learn how to manage their emotions, control their impulses, and moderate their behaviour. Having these skills is linked to a wide array of advantages, including greater self-esteem, improved academic achievement and social performance, reduced anxiety, and better physical health. Having the ability to self-regulate can also significantly reduce dysfunctional behaviours related to hyperactivity and improve focus, making mindful parenting especially helpful for children with ADHD.
The benefits of mindful parenting begin in infancy and extend well into adolescence. Toddlers who have mindful parents are better able to identify their emotions and shift their attention away from negative feelings, for instance. In school-aged children, mindfulness confers a heightened ability to manage stress, which is crucial to helping kids in this age group cope with the increasing complexity of their social and academic lives.
As kids continue to develop into young adults, mindful parenting can make their transition toward independence more peaceful and reduce risky behaviour. Mindful parents are more likely to remain close to their teenage child and communicate effectively with him (or her), which increases the sharing of positive emotions and prevents conflict. By maintaining a constructive relationship through mindful parenting, parents can effectively decrease the likelihood that their adolescent will abuse drugs or experience conduct problems. Teens with mindful parents are also better able to form healthy peer and romantic relationships; as such, they may be less vulnerable to peer pressure and abuse.
Ultimately, mindful parenting helps parents create a safe, nurturing family environment where their children can explore, learn, and grow without fear of undue criticism or reprisal. For a child, this unconditional acceptance is foundational to the development of robust confidence and resilience. For a parent, the exchange of honest, heartfelt give-and-take that’s gradually established via mindful parenting often becomes a wellspring of sensitivity, wisdom, and kindness.
This is an update for the post published on Jan 10, 2017