Mindful Parenting: Top 10 Tips
Mindful Parenting 101
Being a parent isn’t easy.
Kids spill stuff; it’s what they do. They draw on walls and throw soup on the floor. They scream at random and roll on the ground in floods of tears for something ridiculously innocuous, like giving them the wrong spoon.
Sometimes it feels impossible, like whatever you do is just plain wrong.
Then you have to contend with the colossal guilt about everything you feed them or let them do. We read advice online that is completely contradictory, and then have to settle on some sort of set of rules (which we’re not even sure is right).
Parenting triggers the amygdala and the stress response. So our bodies and minds feel like we’re in a highly dangerous (think bear-chase) situation when a child spills some orange juice on the floor. Pretty silly really.
Our reactions come from fear-based habit patterns handed down to us from generation to generation.
But luckily, there’s a way to break the chain.
“The buck stops here.”
In this post, you’ll learn how mindful parenting can help you reduce the stress response and tackle ingrained habit patterns. That way, you’ll begin to live more at peace with your children and with yourself.
So what is mindful parenting?
Mindfulness is the practice of watching without judgment or attachment to outcomes. It is witnessing without getting lost in the story of good and bad.
As old Willy Shakespeare once said, “Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
Now, I know what you’re thinking.
“Alright Willy, that’s great, but what about my $200 rug that just got well and truly purple grape-juiced.”
Well, yes, therein lies the challenge.
You have to try and be non-attached (and maybe go for a second-hand rug from a skip next time). When we practice mindfulness, we learn how to keep calm amidst these stressful triggers.
Mindful Parenting: The Research
One study by the University of Vermont found that mindful parents were more likely to exhibit positive behaviour and less likely to exhibit negative behavior and reactions.
Another found that, “Bringing mindful awareness to the parent-child relationship, is associated with several positive psychosocial outcomes in adolescents.” These include self-compassion, mindfulness, attachment security, and wellbeing.
Finally, mindful parenting also significantly reduced stress: “Nearly all of the study hypotheses were confirmed. As predicted, the intervention group showed a significant reduction in general and parental stress”
Mindful parenting will enhance your ability to enjoy family life with your children, but more importantly, it will give your child a huge advantage in terms of their mental, emotional, and social wellbeing.
Mindful Parenting: Top 10 Tips
1. Don’t try to be perfect
Look — at the end of the day, you’re probably going to screw them up a little. It happens. But that’s ok. We’re all a little screwed up. We can’t be perfect and nor would we want to be. Our problems become our challenges to overcome
That being said, hopefully we screw them up as little as possible, because we want them to be able to thrive and experience joy in this life. Yes, you’re going to get it wrong sometimes, so don’t feel too guilty when you do.
Do a little better next time. As you move forward, try to become kinder, calmer, and more compassionate. Take small steps.
Like I said, the phenomenon of parenting seems to come packaged with a large side-order of guilt. But the reality is, guilt is useless and damaging.
We have to accept our limitations, and be kind to ourselves. The more we can accept and appreciate ourselves, the better we’ll be as parents.
2. Respond, don’t react
The way that you react, especially when annoyed, is a habit pattern that has developed in you. It came from your own parents and other environmental factors.
Now you need to start to break those habit patterns, but how can you do that?
Let’s imagine your little angel decides to take a paintbrush and go full-on Michaelangelo on your newly-painted white walls.
Your immediate reaction is to snap. Shout. Point. React.
Instead, when the anger is arising and feel you’re about to snap, take a step back, take a breath. Hell, go and lock yourself in the bathroom if you have to (once you’ve obtained the paintbrush of course).
Take some deep breaths and avoid reacting; notice your emotions. Don’t judge them; be with them. Take that crucial moment. If you can repeat this many times, you’ll be able to stop those negative reactions more often.
A huge part of this process is being able to notice your emotional reactions before you express them. This does not mean repressing. It means noticing them, accepting them, and letting them go.
The practice of labeling originates in Buddhist meditation techniques. It will help you avoid reacting (as in number 2 above). When you notice a negative emotion arising, try to catch it, and then label it before it gets the better of you.
So when you’re getting frustrated with your kids, before you react, notice the feeling and label it. You could say, “I am angry,” or “I am anxious,” and then let the feeling be there for a while without reacting.
It will fade.
Then you can take the appropriate calm action from a place of kindness, not from old habit patterns.
Those patterns are destructive and we want to reduce their control over us. If left to their own devices, they can lead to serious psychological wounds in our children.
It’s worth doing the work now. See yourself as a hero, undoing the pain your ancestors have struggled with for centuries. It is not easy, but you can do it.
4. Get into their shoes
You know, it’s quite difficult, as an adult human with adult consciousness to put yourself in a child’s place. They are kind of alien to us because we’ve got so many conditioned expectations about the way things should be.
We need stuff tidy or we get anxious. The chaotic world of the infant imposes so heavily on our sense of order and control that it just throws everything out of whack.
We say things like, “She is so annoying,” or “He is such a naughty child.” We label them with concepts from our own frameworks instead of getting them where they’re at.
I assure you, they aren’t trying to be annoying, even though sometimes it sure feels that way.
They are exploring their world, pushing boundaries, and seeing what they can get away with. Try to understand what it’s like for them. I mean, they haven’t got a clue what’s going on.
You are their guide, so try to be kind, compassionate, and loving to them. Help them to learn what is ok and what is not without anger.
But like I said, it’s not easy. It takes effort and energy to let go of your own need for order and embrace their anarchic little worlds of bedlam.
5. Do one thing at a time
Sometimes, you’re going to be busy. You’ll be making the dinner, tidying up, or doing your work. But you also have to play with your kids and keep them entertained without chucking an iPad at them. This sometimes feels like an impossible dilemma (especially for single parents).
If you can set aside time every day to do nothing but play with them, they’ll be more happy and accepting when you do other things. Set aside time to give them your full, undivided attention and be present with them. Then be clear that they need to entertain themselves when you are doing your own tasks.
If you can have one-on-one time with your kids, it’s a great way to connect with them. Also, give them quiet time in their room every day where they play with their toys. This is important for their development. If they’re bored, let them be bored. It improves creativity, problem solving, and much more.
6. Listen carefully
I’m a big believer that the parent is the boss. It should be very clear that you are the leader, and they are the follower. Otherwise all sorts of problems can arise.
But sometimes we go a little overboard on the boss thing, and it becomes a battle of control. Children want to be heard. Sometimes, especially if they’re upset, open up a conversation, and try to listen fully. The temptation is to advise, to defend, to attack, or to justify. But for a time, shut up, listen and ask the right questions.
Are they upset because of this or that? What could we do better next time? How can we fix this problem together?
When you teach your child to speak about feelings and overcome problems, you are teaching them emotional maturity.
7. Explain how you feel and why
When we understand our own feelings, we are more able to express them in a healthy way to our child.
Mindfulness helps us get to grips with our own emotions. We notice our feelings, but avoid letting them get the better of us.
It’s ok to explain to your child that you feel angry. You can say, “I felt angry with you because…” or “I don’t like it when you…”
Of course, we should say it without anger after the emotions have settled down. This teaches the child to process their emotions in a healthy way.
But when we shout at them or threaten them, they learn to do what we do, which is to let our emotions control us. They learn to be the victim of emotion which can lead to anger problems, anxiety, and stress.
8. Spiritual values and practices
Try to teach your children, in small ways, to live with a spiritual mind-set. The world at this time is of a particularly materialistic persuasion. We worship matter over spirit. But as we move forward, there will be an ever-deepening spiritual connection. It is happening already.
Try to teach kindness, unity, and service, to help them understand that we are all connected and the more we serve and share, the more joy we find in life.
You can also teach them some spiritual practices from a young age. Yoga is great, prayer, meditation, and breathing exercises. Start them young so they are used to the practices when they’re older. Learn about 26 spiritual values here.
The best way to cultivate your practice of mindfulness is to do it every day in meditation.
Mindfulness is a powerful way to combat the stress of parenting, but we can’t expect it to happen spontaneously. We have to water the flowers of mindfulness in our daily meditation practice.
Then when it comes to those difficult situations, you are ready. The stress has less power over you. You become less reactive and angry.
And so those damaging habit patterns fade away, dwindling in the recesses of time.
When your children see that you are meditating, they may also be curious and want to join in. It will help them to develop and cultivate spiritual practices in their own lives.
Here is a complete guide on how to meditate from start to finish.
10. Choose Love
The most important thing in your parenting journey is that you love your child and so teach them to love themselves.
Show them kindness and respect. Give them lots of praise and positive affirmations because your words become their thoughts later on.
Sometimes when we get angry or annoyed, the child concludes that we don’t love them, so it’s important that they know that you will love them no matter what. The easiest way is to just tell them straight. “No matter what you say or do. No matter what I say or do, my love for you never changes. It is always the same.”
Practicing mindful parenting helps you become more attuned to the reality of your child, and so you will be more able to love them, more present for them, and more able to teach them how to love.
Mindful Parenting: Final Words
A couple of years ago, I got so angry with my 3-year-old daughter that I snapped. I let out the deepest, loudest roar, my eyes red with rage.
She was terrified and cowered in the corner.
I never want to let that happen again because if she feels that fear again and again, that will have dire consequences on her mental wellbeing.
When I give my full, kind, and mindful attention to my kids, things tend to go smooth. But when I’m too busy, emotionally distracted, or lacking presence, that’s when it gets tough.
Mindful parenting is the key to a happy family life. It won’t happen overnight, but take small steps and you will notice how much more enjoyable it becomes.
Best of luck on your parenting journey.
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