Is Mindful Parenting The Key To A Better Family Life?
Updated March 04, 2020
Reviewer Karen Devlin, LPC
We see all kinds of tips and methods for being better parents and creating a more stable and happy family life. We all want our kids to be happy, healthy, and successful. And unfortunately, many of us are often confused about the best ways to reach those goals because of all the conflicting information we receive.
Mindful parenting does not tell you what things you should do, but it does give you a framework for approaching parenting in a healthy way that benefits you and your children.
Then you'll be happy to know that this article provides you with that framework. You'll learn what mindful parenting is and how it differs from regular mindfulness. You'll find out how to respond rather than react to your children. You'll get tips on building a mindful parenting practice you can stick with. And you'll even discover advice for getting the other parent on board.
Take a look at what mindful parenting entails and how you can incorporate it into your family life.
Goals Of Mindful Parenting
Before getting into "how to do" mindful parenting, you should probably find out if mindful parenting supports the goals you have for your family. Many of the goals are similar to typical mindfulness goals, such as focused calmness, being non-judgmental, and staying in the present moment rather than going back to past instances or worrying too much on the future.
Here are the specific desired results of this parenting practice.
- Less stressed
- More comfortable expressing emotions
- Less likely to engage in risky behaviors
- Better relationship with parents
- More effective
- Less stressed
- More aware of their children's feelings
- Better relationship with children
- Better awareness of and connection to parenting goals
How Mindful Parenting Is Different From Other Mindfulness
It's important to note that mindfulness and mindful parenting are not the same things. In fact, studies show that people who are quite mindful otherwise, may not apply that mindfulness to their parenting practices. This could be because habits are hard to break, and if you are learning mindfulness after already having children, you may already have established parenting habits.
If you already have a foundation in mindfulness practice, however, you can bring that knowledge to your parenting methods. Here are a few tips for switching to mindful parenting.
Pay Attention To Your Feelings When You Conflict With Your Child
We all tend to react instinctively when emotions get high. But this is not being a mindful parent. The first step is being aware of yourself. You want to make a good decision about how to communicate with your child rather than yelling and closing off communication.
Learn To Pause
To avoid blowing up and yelling, learn to pause before responding to your children. Stop and take a few breaths, like you might do when meditating. You can feel angry without responding angrily.
It's easy to cut off a child's opinion when we are angry. But invalidating your child only builds a rift between you and them. Instead, try to stay calm and give the child the courtesy of at least listening to their opinion, even if you disagree.
What It Means To Respond Instead Of Reacting
You may have noticed a theme in the above mindful parenting tips, and that is to respond instead of reacting. Our bodies and minds are tuned in to stress and set to react immediately, typically without thinking. Unfortunately, that doesn't always work out well when the stressor, or perceived "threat," is a surly or aggressive child.
If your child spills milk on the couch, you really shouldn't react in the same way you would if you feel your life is being threatened. But your body doesn't distinguish the finer points of different sources of stress. Additionally, being stressed makes it more difficult to be attentive to the people around us, including our children.
Sometimes, it is especially our children who get the brunt of our stress response because they are not equipped to recognize and respond to a stressed-out an adult. Your spouse or a co-worker, by contrast, may be able to recognize that you're stressed and losing your temper and attempt to help you rather than feeling hurt.
A child, on the other hand, will only feel the hurt and not understand that you are experiencing stress. Your reaction may even seem scary to them. Not only that, but you are modeling to them how adults act when under stress. This is all reacting.
By pausing, you can let the anger or frustration pass. Then you can make a conscious decision about how to respond to your child.
Why is this so important? It's because children only learn how to manage their emotions by watching how you and other adults manage your own. Before you decide this is too difficult,and you're bound to slip up, so you might as well not work on mindful parenting, know that no parent is perfect. All of us will occasionally slip up and react instinctively rather than being mindful.
What matters is the pattern you set most of the time. Your child will be more influenced by the dozen times you responded mindfully than the one time you blew up. The emotional explosion will be an exception rather than the norm. And children pick up patterns.
How To Incorporate Mindful Parenting Into Your Family
So you now understand that stress causes us to react in ways that we may not find to be our best responses. Can't you just avoid stress, or teach your kids not to push your buttons? Unfortunately, children quickly learn their parent's triggers. It's a part of their self-exploration and exploration of the world.
You should feel pretty good that they do this because it means they trust you as a person they can test the world with. And honestly, sometimes children have no idea that they've hit one of your triggers. They're not always devious. Because it is inevitable that your child will stress you out multiple times during their life, it is beneficial to find a way to cope with their behaviors and mistakes in a way that also teaches them and helps them grow as a person.
Here are some tips.
Learn Your Vulnerable Times
Everyone has a particular time of day when they are more vulnerable to stress. During these time periods, you're more likely to be exhausted and get angry easily. Start paying attention to when these times are for you. It may be in the morning rush of trying to get everyone ready for the day. Or it may be after work when you're feeling tired. Or it could be a particular day of the week that is especially busy for your family.
You're probably less emotionally available to your children and others at these times. By being aware of these, you can make an effort to respond thoughtfully. For instance, you can remind yourself to be extra vigilant about your responses during these time periods. Or you could decide not to make any decisions or take any disciplinary actions during those times, instead of postponing a discussion with your child if appropriate.
Learn Your Triggers
Certain behaviors trigger certain people. You probably can't change your triggers-the things that aggravate you more than other behaviors. But you can become aware of them so that you can learn to stay calmer in dealing with triggers behaviors.
As with the vulnerable times, you'll need to practice recognizing the things your child does that make you feel angry, frustrated, embarrassed, or afraid. Then you can practice responding more logically to those encounters rather than reacting to your emotions.
Building A Mindful Parenting Practice
Once you are aware of your instinctual reactions and emotions, you can begin working on being mindful of your child's point of view. We were all children once, so the best way to do this is to connect with your inner child. That may sound silly, but all it means is remembering what it feels like to be a child.
Think about how certain experiences felt to you as a child. Your child may not feel the same, but chances are they are experiencing many similar emotions. Think about the last time you negatively reacted to your child. How would your child self-have felt about being the kid in that situation? How would you, as a child, have wanted a parent to respond?
Sometimes, what a child wants is not always what they need, but by tapping into those child emotions, we may see better ways of communicating with our children.
In addition to being aware of your child's viewpoint, you need to remember to practice self-care. Self-care allows you to destress and reduce your vulnerable time and the degree of your triggers. Self-care may mean allowing yourself a break, or time-out, from parenting. If you feel a situation is escalating or going downhill, it's okay to excuse yourself temporarily to the bedroom or bathroom to sit and breathe.
This does not take away the respect your child has for you. In contrast, it shows them that you are a self-aware person who is worthy of their respect because you are acknowledging the situation and acting intentionally. Remember that being mindful does not mean never getting angry or frustrated. It means recognizing when you're angry or frustrated and pausing to form the best response you can at that moment.
When It Comes To Embarrassment
Most parents are guilty of acting based on embarrassment from time to time. You're in the grocery store,and your child throws a tantrum. Instead of communicating with them appropriately, you get embarrassed and make the situation worse by yelling at them. Just as mindfulness calls you to pause in making judgments about yourself and your child, you should also stop thinking about other people's judgments of you.
If you can be present at the moment, and pay attention to what your child is feeling, you can pause and form an appropriate response. It doesn't matter if other parents don't think it was the right response. You'll be forming a better foundation for you and your child, and setting them up for a better future of managing their own emotions, and that's what's important. You'll also be setting an example for them to make right choices based on their priorities rather than worrying what others think is right for them.
Involving Your Partner In Mindful Parenting
Mindful parenting is a decision that you make for yourself. That being said, it can be extremely beneficial to your family if all present parents make an effort to practice similar strategies. You can talk to your partner about mindful parenting and let them know that it is something you intend to practice, and even that you would like them to do this with you, but it's best not to force them into cooperation.
If they disagree, they may turn around after seeing the results you get from this practice. And if they don't, you will still be a calming influence in your home. Disrupting you and your partner is not going to be healthy for your relationship or your children. Talking to a certified family counselor can help you with your mindful parenting journey, as well as mitigating disputes about parenting styles.