Mindfulness is a word we hear talked about often in the yoga world. As many of us may come to find out, mindfulness can be much easier practice to talk about than to actually put into practice, especially in challenging moments. And, what is mindful parenting? Can we really tap into being mindful, present, and calm when our toddler throws something at us out of anger or spills their entire breakfast on the floor out of protest? Can we really be mindful when our five-year-old hits their sibling, or when we discover that our teenager has lied about where they were after school?
The answer? – Yes. With a committed practice to respond vs react in conflict and disagreements with our children, we can become a more mindful parent.
Remind me – what exactly is mindfulness, again?
According to Merriam Webster, “[Mindfulness is] the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.”
This means, in each of life’s situations and experiences, we are practicing mindfulness by noticing what’s happening right now. Notice what emotion you are experiencing in that moment. Notice if there are any physical sensations happening in your body, and where you feel them. And as you notice what feelings are coming up, practice non-judgment by not labeling anything as “good” or “bad”.
Putting Mindful Parenting into Practice
When we practice mindful parenting, we are training ourselves to pause and respond instead of impulsively reacting to a situation. So, for example, let’s say your three-year-old doesn’t want to wear shoes to the park. Even though it’s muddy outside because it’s been raining, she wants to go barefoot and you want to explode with frustration. Even though you may be saying to yourself “I’m still trying to learn mindfulness myself, how do I teach my toddler mindfulness?”
Before the explosion, guide yourself to take a moment to pause by taking a slow and full breath in, and a releasing exhale. A great quote you can refer to is one by author and philosopher Viktor Frankl who wrote “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is a power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom”.
What are you feeling in that moment as your toddler is resisting? Maybe anger or frustration? A lack of control? Heat in your belly or in your cheeks? Remind yourself that these emotions and feelings are not bad. They are simply your feelings at this moment and you are in control of how you will respond to them and your resistant child.
Enter compassion and empathy. These are also words we may hear a lot of in the yoga space. In this scenario, we can practice self-compassion by being non-judgemental and gentle with our emotions as they arise. We can practice both compassion and empathy with our toddlers by noticing that they, too, are having big emotions. They may also be feeling a loss of control in not getting what they want, and frustrated because they feel misunderstood and are not equipped to express their emotions in a more calm way. This moment, right here, has now opened a door for connection between parent and child through mindfulness.
Managing our responses to our own emotions is key to teaching our children how to manage theirs. When we pause to take a breath and check-in with ourselves, we show, through example, that it is okay for kids to do so too. Invite your child to take a deep breath with you as a calming practice (and remind yourself that it’s okay if they don’t want to; you are showing them, through mindful practice, that you are pausing before reacting to your emotions). When you feel a little more grounded and able to move forward, re-establish connection with your child. Validate their feelings by letting them know that you can see that they are frustrated and maybe angry. You can also share how you are feeling so that they hear you express and label your emotions. In this space empathy is being practiced – you are both feeling together.
Creating a Safe Container
As parents, we have the responsibility of setting boundaries for our children as they are still learning how to set them for themselves. From a more calm, compassionate, and connected space and parenting mindfully, we may feel more clear on the boundaries that need to be set here.
Perhaps, in a situation where our child feels like they have little control, we can give them a couple of options.
- “It’s been raining and the playground may be a little wet and muddy which will probably make our feet really wet and dirty. How about we bring our shoes with us and if you want them when we get to the park, we’ll have them with us!”
- Is there another pair of shoes you would want to wear instead?
We can create a safe container by giving our children options and inviting them into the decision-making process. It can move from authoritative to becoming a collaboration. Of course, this may not always play out the way we want it to. Our children can continue to resist, and we may need to start the mindful practice over many times in one situation. In those times, we can remind ourselves that mindfulness practice is a journey, not a destination.
Why is Mindful Parenting Important?
Sometimes (maybe many times) you won’t get the result you want in an emotional situation. Let me remind you that that is absolutely okay. It’s not about getting it “right” every single time. Mindfulness is a life-long and daily practice that we have to choose to show up to. When we do choose to parent mindfully – awesome! In the moments when our reactivity takes the front seat, we can be mindful in the repair. We can acknowledge when we’ve acted in an unkind way and apologize with the commitment to do better next time. There is an opportunity to practice mindfulness in every moment!
Here is a list of benefits of mindful parenting that applies to both parents and children:
- More positive interactions with your children
- Stronger relationships
- Teaches compassion and kindness
- Lowers stress and anxiety
- Better problem-solving skills
- Decreased impulsivity
- Increased emotional intelligence
Another wonderful benefit? Calmer parents will lead to calmer children. And the more parents that choose mindfulness, the larger the ripple effect will be on future generations. When we choose to parent mindfully, we help our children move through challenge, conflict, and discomfort in a more calm and compassionate way. When raising a mindful child we help them see that every moment matters. That more than one emotion can exist at the same time, and we have the power to choose how we want to respond.