By: Cristina Trette, MA, LMFT
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. Mindfulness is also a practice. There are mindfulness meditations, exercises, and experiences we can all bring into our life on a regular basis. And, in every moment we can adopt mindfulness.
Mindful parenting is a way of being in relationship with our self and our children. What I appreciate the most about mindful parenting is that it does not focus on children's behavior or emphasize techniques. Rather, the mindful parent cultivates their inner world, highlights presence, and strengthens relationships with their children.
There are many benefits to mindfulness practice that have been backed by research such as less stress, greater immune response, and stronger 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 the 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. Today social/emotional curriculums are taught in many schools as researchers and educators know that our inner world shapes our outer world (including our ability to learn and be successful in academics and relationships).
The mindful parent is aware of inner experiences including thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. In addition, they learn to let go of judgement (of self and others) while learning and growing. Parenting is one of the few life experiences that can bring about immense joy and within seconds bring up frustration or 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 their 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. The parent also assists the child in recognizing, understanding, and feeling feelings. 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 hears and understands their child's inner experience.
For example, lets suppose a child is angry because he has to do something that he does not want to do (such as chores). 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. The parent will extend empathy and validate the child's inner experience. Yet, the parent will still hold the boundary that the child does the chores.
4. Awareness of sensations in the body
When we are mindful, we will notice changes in body temperature, tension, tightness, and increases in heart rate. We will also notice when our body feels open, expanded, and at ease. 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, challenging or intense moments, situations and events.
8. Being the student and the teacher
When parents adopt mindfulness they teach it to their children naturally through modeling. Children will obersve their parents being present, focused on their breath, and being tuned into the moment. Parents can also teach their children basic concepts of mindfulness both through modelling and coaching. For example, if I am becoming overwhelmed, I will 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. 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. Parent as leader
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 are leaders yet they strive to bring kindness, empathy, and compassion into the parent child relationship even while setting limits, holding boundaries, or creating structure and routine. 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!
Hello! I am Cristina Trette. I am a Couples Therapist, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and Certified in Perinatal Mental Health. I write on all things related to relationships, parenthood, and connection.