By: Cristina Trette
Years ago, I attended a Mindful Parenting workshop at the UCSD Center for Mindfulness. Since that time, a large focus in my life has been that of cultivating mindfulness. Being around small children all the time creates beautiful opportunities to cultivate more presence, awareness, gentleness, and compassion.
So what exactly is mindfulness? Mindfulness is moment to moment, non-judgmental awareness. It is being present and noticing what is going on inside of you, and around you, rather than being stuck on autopilot. There are many benefits to mindfulness practice that have been backed by research such as less stress, improved relationships, and greater emotional responsiveness. Continue reading to learn about how you can apply aspects of mindfulness during your daily life and when parenting your children.
1. Develop a daily mindfulness practice
There are countless mindfulness practices and exercises that you can easily bring into daily life. I know you are busy! But please know that the most basic way to begin being mindful is to carve out moments in your day in which you pause briefly and pay attention to your breath. While breathing, notice your surroundings. If you notice tightness or tension in your body, take a long slow deep breath. With your breath, allow the tension to be released from your body. This is how simple mindfulness can be. From there, mindfulness exercises can be far more in depth and may include the practice of mantras, silent sitting meditation, journaling, experiencing mindfulness in nature, and silent walks.
2. Reverence for ones inner world
There is so much emphasis on our outer experience such as our appearance and behavior. Yet, it is becoming more and more common for individuals to discuss concepts such as feelings and emotions. Social/emotional curriculums are now being taught in many schools as researchers and educators know that ones inner world shapes their outer world (including their ability to learn and be successful in academics and relationships). The mindful parent is aware of her inner experiences including her thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. In addition, she learns to take let go of judgement while learning and growing. Parenting is one of the few life experiences that can bring about immense joy followed moments later by intense frustration or even anger. Parenting can also lead to some distressful thoughts! Learning to recognize, and have acceptance and compassion for what is happening on the inside, is a key aspect to mindful parenting.
3. Honoring of child's inner world
Similarly, the mindful parent is curious about his child's inner world. When a child exhibits behavior that is not socially appropriate, the parent seeks to find out what is happening inside the child that is leading him to act out. The parent also assists the child in recognizing his feelings and helps the younger child put the feelings into words. Many people mistakenly believe that respecting the child's inner world means that limits are not set. This is simply not true! Limits are set with more grace, respect, and ease when the parent allows the child to heard and express what he or she is feeling. For example, lets suppose a child is angry because he does not want to attend tutoring after school. In this situation, the parent will create the space for the child to express his feelings and discuss what is going on inside of him. But assuming the parent still believes that tutoring is a necessary, healthy, and positive experience for the child, the child will still go to tutoring. Yet, the parent, teacher, and child will come together to discuss what challenges the child and figure out a course of action that best serves everyone involved.
4. Awareness of sensations in the body
Notice changes in body temperature, tension and tightness in your body, and increases in heart rate. All of these are clues that something is going on for you that needs tending to. These clues are particularly helpful when parenting because noticing allows the parent to pause before reacting (or exploding!).
5. Celebration of all senses
Mindful parenting involves paying attention to and relishing in all senses. Some examples of this may be noticing the warmth of a morning cup of coffee, feeling the softness of a toddlers cheek when applying sunblock, or enjoying the sound of laughter when children are playing at the park. Using all senses is a lovely way to stay engaged in the present moment.
6. Cultivation of presence even during the mundane
Lets face it, there are many tasks associated with parenting that are dull and mundane! Diaper changes, driving children to activities, making lunches, or even that marathon after-nap time period when a parent has babies and toddlers at home. To change boredom into joy try bringing presence and gratitude to any task typically leads to boredom or frustration. I recently decided that I had to change my entire perspective on cooking. As a mother to three children, cooking is not going away any time soon! I realized that I could go through meal preparation kicking and screaming, or I could bring acceptance, love, and appreciation to all the nourishment that we receive and give during these times. So today, pick one dull task and choose to transform how you experience it by thinking about all its positive aspects.
Responsiveness naturally follows when we commit to a daily mindfulness practice. When bringing mindfulness into your life, you will notice that you begin with respond with thoughtfulness and care, rather than react blindly, to exciting, challenging, or otherwise intense situations and events. To read my blog post on developing responsiveness, click here.
8. Modeling to children
Parents can teach children basic concepts of mindfulness both through modelling and coaching. The parent also models deep breathing. Being stuck in traffic is stressful for me. Therefore, I often say out loud to my kids, "I am feeling stressed right now. I am going to be silent for a little while and focus on my breath". My kids have gotten so used to me speaking like this, that they will remind me to breath when they notice me getting upset. And they remind each other to breath as well! My daughter likes to say, "just imagine you are drinking a warm cup of tea" (which comes from a visualization exercise we have done together a lot). Children that grow up with mindfulness modeled in their home will have many numerous tools available to them that they can utilize during times of challenge or stress that will last their entire lifetime.
9. Open-hearted parenting
The mindful parent maintains a presence of open-heartedness when interacting with children. Warmth, love, compassion, responsiveness, and affection lead with one arm, while expectations, structure, limits, and boundaries wrap around with the other arm. Mindful parents remain the authority figure yet they strive to bring kindness and respect into the parent child relationship even while setting limits or while being firm. Open hearted parenting means that the parent extends courtesy and compassion to children ensuring that they are treated with dignity and respect.
At the same time, the mindful parent knows that there will be many parenting moments filled with challenge and struggle. Progress, not perfection, is the motto. The parent develops a sense of self-compassion and non-judgement around parenting. I practice mindfulness and I make plenty of mistakes! I accept that this will continue to happen. Mindful parenting drops the notion that perfect parenting exists. In fact, it is through imperfections that great growth and learning occur.
What other principles have you found to be important aspects of mindful parenting? I would love to learn from you! Please leave comments in the box below!
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