Being a parent is exhausting. Some parents stay home full time, while others balance parenting with their careers. Whatever your situation, balancing everything is a challenge. Even more, according to mindful parenting experts Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn, “We live in a culture that does not uniformly value parenting as valid and important work.” Parents have a huge responsibility: We are raising the next generation of change-makers. Yet we are doing so while cooking dinner, paying the bills, and worrying about how we can afford to send our kiddo to that really cool art enrichment class. Well, I’m here to tell you that there’s something that can help!
Mindfulness is the practice of staying present in the moment. It’s using the power of awareness to understand what’s really going on in your heart, body, and mind. When you practice mindfulness, you tune in to the present moment and notice how your physical sensations relate to your overall well-being and the actions you take. Practicing mindfulness has scientifically proven benefits, including decreased heart disease, improved immune response, and increased psychological well-being.
So, how does mindfulness relate to parenting? Stacy McCaffrey, from Nova Southeastern University, quotes Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn when she states, “mindful parenting has been defined as ‘paying attention to your child and your parenting in a particular way: intentionally, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.'” When you incorporate mindful parenting practices into your family life, you can enjoy your kids in the present moment, increase your connection with them, and stop that mind of yours from worrying.
Check out these three simple mindfulness practices you can start today:
Make Time for Mindful Breathing
Mindful breathing can be used to de-stress your life.
Time: 5 minutes per day
- Turn off the lights and technology. Lie on the ground or sit in a comfortable position with your children.
- Encourage your children to focus on their breath. Remind them to let their thoughts pass like clouds in the sky.
- Discuss some of the body sensations and emotions they felt while their bodies were still and calm.
Extensions: Help your children verbalize body sensations when they are feeling angry, happy, sad, shy, or embarrassed. Explain that recognizing and talking through difficult emotions is a healthy practice and can lead to a better understanding of others and oneself. Check out the Five Finger Breathing practice for more ideas on how to incorporate mindful breathing at home.
Pause to See Clearly
Parents often run on automatic. Taking a moment to pause can bring clarity, purpose, and connection to your day. Teaching your children about the importance of taking a moment to pause can support them in reacting to others with intention instead of their immediate emotional reactions (for example, thinking before you say something mean to a loved one).
Time: A minute or less
- Practice taking a moment of silence as a whole family before you drop your children off at school, after a family disagreement, or before responding to a difficult question your child asks. Simply say, “Let’s pause and breathe.”
- Everyone should close their eyes and breathe in deeply. Exhale. Repeat.
- Encourage your children to take a moment to pause if they are upset about an argument with a friend, a really difficult assignment, or a disagreement with a family member.
Extensions: As you practice pausing together as a family, you can ask your children to focus on their breath. Remind them that breath is life, and it connects all living things. Capitalize on this practice by completing the THINK for Kind Talking activity with your children.
Practice Gratitude During Difficult Times
This activity can help us rewire our brains to focus on the positive instead of the negative.
Time: 3-5 minutes
- During a difficult situation (such as your child having a really hard time completing an assignment from school and is upset about it), explain to your child that you are both going to take a break, step back, and reframe the situation.
- Take a few breaths together and repeat the phrase, “I am grateful for many things.”
- Ask your child to think of something they are grateful for. Encourage them to share it aloud with you or write it down on a piece of paper.
- Share something you are grateful for with your child.
- Continue this process until a lighter feeling replaces the tension.
- Explain to your child that although the situation might feel frustrating right now, it’s important to put the challenge into perspective. Remind your child that many good things are also happening, and you’ll get through the challenge together as a family.
Extensions: Extend your child’s understanding of gratitude by completing the Make a Family Gratitude Jar activity together.
Begin slowly by trying out one mindfulness practice per week. Remember that mindfulness is a journey, and it takes time to figure out what feels right for your family.
Recommended Books on Mindfulness
- Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting by Myla and John Kabat-Zinn.
- The Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom by Rick Hanson.
By April Brown (M.Ed), writer and education consultant based in Austin, TX.