Mindfulness is the practice of choosing a complete and nonjudgmental awareness of our thoughts, emotions, and experiences moment to moment. It helps us to be more calm, conscious, and focused. As there are so many benefits to being mindful, this practice has come to permeate even everyday activities such as eating, tidying up (Marie Kondo, anyone?), and now parenting.
While this sounds like a lot of hard work, parenting without mindfulness may allow the negative emotions you definitely feel as a parent to control you. Mindful parenting is then an invitation to recognize that you can always put these negativities away to be more engaged and present with your children. Here are some tips to help you practice mindful parenting:
Airlines tell us that, should the need arise, we should put on our own oxygen masks before putting on those of our children. And this advice can also be an excellent analogy for parenting! When you’re stressed out, exhausted, and overwhelmed, you can’t be 100% available for your child because how you feel can be contagious.
Nothing is more beneficial to a child’s mental health than having a happy and peaceful parent. So find time to do the little things that make you happy–be it enjoying your coffee while it’s still hot or taking an uninterrupted shower even for just ten minutes. You’ll be so much better to others when you’re good to yourself because it all starts with you!
To completely enjoy a movie in the cinema, we are advised to turn off our phones or switch them to silent mode. The room is darkened to ensure your eyes only concentrate on the screen. Talking to your seatmates is frowned upon and even going to the toilet is somewhat discouraged so you don’t miss out on anything. That’s mindfulness in practice–being fully present in the moment.
While it definitely takes effort to sustain being this present because parenting can feel like a 24-hour job, you can always start with putting your phone away. Then, practice not thinking about what you’re making for dinner while your child tells you a story. Listen to your kids and ask them about their interests or even simply about something that made them laugh today. Try to catch yourself the next time you get distracted too: “Am I hijacking my present with unpleasant thoughts? Am I letting my worries keep me from fully enjoying the present with my children?”
Sometimes, we don’t realize that the words we speak aren’t true reflections of how we feel. Reacting is usually done without much thought. But, responding instead means taking the situation in and deciding the best course of action to take based on your values. Mindfulness in this way means watching ourselves when something upsetting happens, paying close attention to how we react, and choosing a better response.
So hit pause on your reaction and give you and your kids a time out when they’ve done something wrong. Take time away from the situation to check yourself before your anger gets the better of you and consider how your child should be disciplined. Think: what lesson is there for you to teach? Regaining your composure first will help you hear your kids out, let them know why what they did was wrong, and tell them how they can do better next time. By talking first and giving consequences after, you are reinforcing that discipline is necessary for growth and for them to learn the differences between right and wrong.
Even as parents, we make mistakes and there are moments when we let our emotions get the better of us. Forgive yourself for these moments because parenting is difficult and you’re trying your best. And don’t forget to take note of how you can be better and make time to take care of yourself, too. (Always go back to tip no. 1!) You can also model this kind of compassion and understanding for your kids by complimenting them when they’ve done something good, scheduling quality time, and sticking to that schedule!
Forming little habits like these will let your kids know you are there for them and will also set an example for being actively mindful. As parents, we set the bar for how our kids treat themselves and how they can expect to be treated by others. We are their loving authority figures and guides in this life. So cultivating our parental roles with the goal of being more present can help us set the example for how they themselves can learn to build meaningful, engaging, and respectful connections with others.