They might not do it on purpose, but children know how to push our buttons. As a parent, you have a thousand things to think of, from paying the council tax to picking up the loaf of multi-seed bread you forgot during the Big Weekly Shop.
So when your little one comes home from school with a torn PE kit or your baby throws up on your third (and most definitely final) reserve feeding top, you might start to feel the familiar weight of the world bearing down on you.
This is where mindfulness helps.
Mindfulness is a way of thinking. It’s about being in the moment, so that you pay attention to what you’re feeling but take a conscious decision not to act on it.
Mindfulness doesn’t seek to deny or suppress feelings of anger or stress. Instead, it helps you acknowledge and process them, so that you choose your response, rather than have your emotions choose it for you.
What is mindful parenting?
Simply put, mindful parenting is applying the in-the-moment practices of mindfulness to being a parent.
As parents, we’re usually too busy thinking about what we have to do in the future instead of appreciating where we are now. This causes us stress and anxiety, so when our angel-faced children fling spoonfuls of Spaghetti Hoops across newly painted kitchen walls, our reactions are often, shall we say, unhelpful.
And yet, after the responsibility of keeping your child safe from harm, mindful parenting is perhaps your top priority. This is because it benefits you and your child by creating a calm, nurturing and positive environment in which you can both flourish.
By practising mindfulness techniques, we can prevent frustration and anger dictating our behaviour, so that we respond calmly instead of reacting emotionally. Here are three techniques to try:
1. Embrace your imperfection
Forget Mary blummin’ Poppins and those manicured mums and dads on Instagram - none of us are perfect. And it’s time we embrace our lack of perfection rather than use it as a measuring stick to beat ourselves with.
Much of our anxiety as parents stems from thoughts of ‘I can’t do this’, ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘My friends never seem to have the same problems.’ Well, we’re here to say that you can do this, you are good enough, and your friends definitely have the same problems!
Mindful parenting isn’t about turning you into the perfect parent, it’s about helping you cope calmly with those inevitable, crappy moments all parents face and struggle with. And a big part of doing that is training your mind to think: “Okay, this is normal and I can deal with it.”
2. Breathe deeply and STOP
If you’ve read our blog ‘How to help your angry child calm down’, you’ll know the importance of breathing for your child’s mindfulness. Well, it’s just as important for you.
Breathing slowly and deeply from your stomach slows your hardwired flight and fight response to negative situations, giving you the time and space necessary to put matters in perspective and calmly choose a better way to deal with your problem.
In fact, if you feel a mini-crisis coming, you can adopt the STOP technique:
● S = Stop what you’re doing when you feel stress or anxiety coming.
● T = Take a series of deep breaths: breathe in for 7, hold for 4 and out for 7 and repeat.
● O = Organise your thoughts by acknowledging what you’re feeling, understanding those feelings are normal, and deciding not to act on them.
● P = Proceed with calmness guiding you rather than emotion.
Additionally, keep a record of what makes you particularly anxious or stressed. This helps you identify your triggers and train yourself to respond to such triggers in a mindful way.
3. Have Mindful Moments every day
In the same way that athletes practice the same routine over and over to build muscle memory, by making mindfulness a part of your daily routine, it will become your default mindset when stress threatens to strike.
Take a portion of your day - from a few minutes to half an hour - to suspend your daily agenda and just be mindful. This could mean sitting in the same spot at the same time, breathing deeply and being aware of what you’re feeling. Try not to let your mind wander to worries about the future or concerns of the past - stop those trains of thought in their tracks and focus on breathing deeply, acknowledging your feelings and experiencing the moment.
If you fancy doing something a little more active and that involves your little one, then try our Mindful Monsters activity cards. With the help of our Monsters - Sparky, Thinky, Snug and Giggles - you and your child can take a few Mindful Moments each day. Themed around creativity, concentration, relaxation and positivity, the activities help you and your child be in the present, have fun, learn new ways to cope with stressful situations, and bring you closer together. All without a smartphone or tablet in sight.
Learn more about Mindful Monsters activity cards.
Learning mindful parenting means learning about yourself
So, there are a few techniques to help you master mindful parenting. Remember, you are the most important person in your child’s life, so your mindfulness is as paramount to them as it is to you. And, of course, from good teachers come good students! Your child will learn from your mindful actions and hopefully take them forward into their adult years.
But even if you routinely practice mindfulness, there will be times when you react with emotion rather than respond with calmness. At such times, remember that we’re all allowed to make mistakes - we’re allowed imperfections - so long as we try and learn from them.
How do you practice mindful parenting? If you’d like to share your story, we’d love to hear it. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.