You probably know that your heart works hard pumping oxygen-rich blood throughout your body, but have you ever wondered how this process works? During the cardiac cycle, your heart first relaxes and allows the oxygen-rich blood to come to itself first. Then — only after it has received oxygenated blood — your heart sends out the life-giving blood to the rest of your body. Pretty cool, right?
You might think this seems selfish — for your heart to serve itself first. But your heart can’t help the rest of your body if it’s not beating. You can’t pour from an empty cup.
Mindful parenting isn’t just about your child. It’s about you too. It’s about filling your cup and being regulated so that you can tend to your child fully. Mindful parenting is a tool to help you avoid feeling burnt out or overwhelmed.
Parenthood is filled with situations that try your patience on a daily basis. Believe me, I know. Cue the spilled milk just minutes after I mopped. If you’ve ever been frustrated or burnt out by these scenes, you’re not alone. While you can’t avoid unpleasant situations altogether, you can choose to respond — rather than react — to the situation. And that is exactly where mindful parenting comes into the picture.
Not only does mindful parenting help you during tense situations, it improves the mental and emotional lives of young children too.
The History of Mindfulness
Mindfulness may be a trending concept right now, but it actually has a rich history dating back at least 2,500 years. Mindfulness as a practice has been recorded within Buddhist and Hindu religions. While it may have roots in Eastern cultures, it’s not tied to any one culture or religion. Mindfulness is a practice.
In 1979, professor Jon Kabat-Zinn paved the way for the inclusion of mindfulness in mainstream America. Kabat-Zinn studied the effects of mindfulness on stress reduction and, since then, the practice of mindfulness has gained a bigger presence in America.
So What Is Mindfulness?
At its most basic meaning, mindfulness refers to your ability to consciously be present in each moment. This means you are aware of your own feelings and thoughts as well as your external surroundings.
In a word, mindfulness is awareness.
Mindful parenting means bringing this level of awareness into your parenting style. Mindful parenting isn’t thinking positively or sending good vibes. In contrast, mindful parenting is being aware of each moment, each feeling, each aspect of your environment with a measure of neutrality. You experience what is without adding judgment to the situation.
What does that mean? It means if your child unrolls the entire roll of toilet paper and flushes it down the drain, you’re responding to just this one experience. It means you don’t draw emotional responses from a similar action your child did three days ago.
Embracing each moment and feeling allows you to respond rather than react to your child.
What Does Mindful Parenting Look Like in Action?
Mindful parenting enables you to respond to your child’s emotional and physical well-being because you are aware of how your child is feeling. Once you are aware of the current situation, you are more likely to:
- Accept the situation for what it is not what you hoped it would be
- Understand your child’s behaviors
- Respond with compassion (remember, you already accepted your emotions)
All mindful parents focus on each moment, but this may manifest in several ways.
Listening to Your Child Mindfully
Truly listening to your child can be a difficult task, especially if you’re pressed for time or if the story is long. However, infusing mindfulness into your listening skills can help you receive your child’s message. From a child’s viewpoint, being heard is a form of connection to her parents.
When listening to your child, keep these tips in mind:
- Limit distractions (e.g., cell phone, TV, etc).
- Look your child in the eye so you can focus on her face (e.g., observe each of her facial expressions).
- Take note of the surrounding environment (e.g., Is it hot? Are there lingering smells in the air? Is there background noise?).
Accepting Your Child’s Emotions
One of the key elements of mindfulness is to accept each feeling or thought as it is. The thought is neither good nor bad — it just is. This idea can take many forms throughout your parenting journey, but acceptance becomes especially important when it comes to big emotions.
For instance, if your child is upset over missing a play date, it’s possible to accept your child’s feelings as they are. You cannot control her feelings, but you can recognize her feelings or emotions as they are. This directly leads to incorporating mindfulness into parenting through teaching emotional awareness.
Teaching Emotional Awareness
Emotional awareness is the idea that you (or your child) can name each feeling you have. You might say something like, “Mommy is upset the carpet is ruined.” This labels the feeling. Emotional awareness is an important skill to learn because it directly impacts self-regulation.
Using Mindfulness to Model Self-Regulation
When you are aware of your emotions — such as anger of a carpet stained by paint — it’s easier to control your responses. Without self-regulation, it’s more likely that you may snap and let your emotions dictate your actions and reactions.
Using Mindfulness to Model Compassion
Even if you’re upset with your child or frustrated by another tantrum, mindfulness helps you respond with compassion to your child. Because you are aware of the moment, aware of your feelings in a neutral manner and have listened to your child, you are more likely to understand your child and demonstrate empathy.
Empathy leads to compassion, and when you are in the realm of compassion, you can deliver positive, loving, nurturing instruction. With compassion in play, you can transform something like a stained carpet into a teaching opportunity.
Benefits of Mindful Parenting
Mindfulness is well-known for its positive effect on mental and emotional health. Regularly practicing mindfulness has been known to reduce stress and improve emotional regulation in individuals with social anxiety disorder, according to a 2010 study published in the journal Emotion. Another study reveals mindfulness also reduces stress hormone levels and perceived stress in expecting mothers.
Here’s the best part: mindful parenting doesn’t just improve the mental health of parents. Mindful parenting improves the well-being of the child and strengthens the parent-child bond.
Mindful parenting positively impacts the daily life of parents and children in other ways too, including:
- Improved communication between you and your child
- Improved decision-making skills
- Less anxiety
- Increased self-control (e.g., the ability to delay gratification such as a cookie or marshmallow)
- Reduced negative feelings (e.g., anxiety, depression, anger, aggression)
- Improved problem solving skills
- Decreased feelings of distraction or hyperness
The Link Between Mindful Parenting and Positive Parenting
Mindful parenting isn’t a parenting style by itself, but mindfulness practices can be incorporated into the positive parenting style. A positive parent is both firm and respectful while demonstrating high responsiveness to the child.
If you practice positive parenting, you might set rules — like putting in effort at school — but you mindfully support your child as he reaches for that goal.
You can rely on mindfulness to thoughtfully set household rules, to listen to your child when he seeks help, and to address problems as they arise. Mindfulness can be a tool incorporated into the positive parenting philosophy.
Is It Too Late to Be a Mindful Parent?
If you find yourself wishing you were more mindful, there’s good news — you can be! Mindfulness is a practice, which means you have the opportunity to practice this new skill every day. Mindful parenting practices can be incorporated into your daily habits.
- Practice deep breathing exercises. Take a deep breath and count to 10 before you respond to a situation. Teach your child the benefits of deep breathing during tense or frustrating situations. Not only does deep breathing lower your stress hormone, it also gives you time to think before you react.
- Engage all of your senses. Take note of the details in your surroundings. What fragrances do you smell? What do you hear? Your senses help ground you in the present moment.
- Offer ways for your child to practice mindfulness. Part of mindful parenting means teaching your child the basics of mindfulness too. Tools like a calming corner can help your child practice mindfulness techniques. Practicing mindfulness improves emotional awareness and boosts self-regulation skills.
- Practice mindfulness meditations. Start your day with a daily meditation — or end it with a reflection. Meditations allow you to dedicate time towards thinking and being. Meditations don’t have to take long either. Many mindfulness meditations for parents are designed with busy schedules in mind. Even a 5-10 minute meditation can go a long way in recharging yourself. You can also encourage your child to do a guided meditation for kids.
Parenting in the present moment is a journey with ups and downs. Mindful parenting can help you enjoy and be present to the imperfectly perfect little moments of life that fill each day. It can also help you cope with big emotions when you feel stressed or overwhelmed. Prioritizing mindfulness training can help improve your parenting skills while helping your kids thrive. When we take the reins of our feelings with mindfulness, we — and our children — learn to manage our emotions in positive ways, paving the way for self-love, self-awareness, and peace.