Ok, if you're reading this as a busy parent you this might seem impossible. Yet just recognizing how far our habits are from what we intend in our hearts, is mindfulness! It's actually observing what's happening when we're on autopilot (lost in distraction about our to-do list, worrying about what's coming next, or imagining things would be much better "if only" things were different).
For many of us, attempting to do "it all" leads to a chronically stressed, pressured state of mind. We may find ourselves doing and saying things to friends, coworkers, partners, and children that we later realize were reactive or harsh, not how we would have responded if we were feeling relaxed and recharged. When we greet each day in this mindset we may end up of feeling drained, ineffective, and like our wished for version of life is different from what we're living. It's "out there" somewhere.
Mindfulness involves developing insight and awareness to acknowledge and step out of self-defeating habits, reduce stress and live life more fully. It's about noticing our impulses and habits, letting go of problematic thoughts, impulses and actions. It involves bringing greater acceptance and presence to each moment.
Mindfulness has been researched and found to be effective in reducing stress, improving symptoms of depression and anxiety, and enhancing interpersonal relationships. The strategies are highly relevant for reducing ineffective coping behavior, reactivity in parenting, and may be beneficial in improving parenting stress.
Applying mindfulness helps our intended parenting be more in line with our actual parenting.
In our modern world, many of us have lifestyles that involve tremendous time pressure and stress as we attempt to live up to expectations. These messages can drive us to work overtime, earn more, buy more, and enroll our children in a barrage of activities to try to help them to be the best they possibly can. We may find ourselves going through the daily grind feeling we can barely keep up, much less have time to fully connect with our loved ones. In this climate we are rarely fully present, much less attuned to our truest needs and to the emotions and needs of our loved ones. We may sense a disconnection from others as stress accumulates.
Chronic and acute stress can cause our bodies to go into a state of "fight or flight", e.g. when a conflict arises with a child and we're overcome with strong emotions (fear/anger) and urges that may lead to ineffective or harsh parenting behaviors. This can escalate difficult emotions and heighten acting out in children. Understanding this process and how to manage it effectively is a foundation of mindfulness practice. Taking a mental "pause" in the heat of the moment to notice, validate and understand emotions, physiological stress cues, and how your/your child's thinking may be being distorted by stress provides an opportunity to stop habitual cycles. A mindful pause can involve: mentally stepping outside of the situation; assessing from a more grounded, rational perspective; calming the body; shifting to a more compassionate perspective; and deciding what needs to happen next from a place of thoughtful, mindful, intention.
Children can also benefit from understanding very basic lessons about brain functioning and how it relates to self-regulation, learning to be aware and compassionate in the present moment, welcoming and valuing their emotions, and gradually learning to evaluate the nature of their thinking. Raising children with mindfulness may help them to be better prepared to learn, modulate their feelings, be empathetic and attuned with others, and better able to manage stress. Research is now exploring positive benefits of mindfulness on brain development.
Promotes mindfulness education: the evolution of greater well-being and a more compassionate society by fostering research training and practices in mindfulness. Free online meditations set a foundation for personal practice.
Greater Good - The Science of Meaningful Life UC Berkeley and HopeLab bring education and practices in mindfulness and well-being.
Promotes a scientific approach to integrating mindfulness with other strategies for well-being.
Mindful.org and it's companion magazine provide a wealth of valuable mindfulness articles and meditation resources.
Keeping stress at bay involves finding opportunities to connect with one another. Spending time together can take on a variety of different forms, and finding what works best for your family is key. But in this day and age pushing back against the domination of screens, demanding work schedules, and multiple time demands can be challenging.
Taking some time out to evaluate of your family's routine and habits along with your goals and intentions for meaningful connection can pay off. This is mindful living - bringing what is happening externally into closer alignment with what you envision and value internally. And it's a gradual, ongoing process. Patience is key.
Here are a few considerations:
Take stock: Make a list of your values and goals as a family, remembering to consider relationships among family members. How are these values being conveyed in your daily lifestyle?
Troubleshoot: Consider how to improve problem areas by defining the concern constructively and using collaborative problem solving.
Organize: Children benefit when routines and expectations are predictable and home environments are generally clean and organized. Regular and developmentally appropriate chores can encourage self-efficacy, encourage gratitude, and lighten the load for busy parents. New routines can be challenging for kids to get used to, but when parents use language that encourages and joins with children it helps to keep the tone upbeat.
Attune: Children thrive when they feel attended to and understood. Helping them name and understand emotions, as well as giving them permission to feel a range of positive and difficult emotions can help them develop self-confidence and build secure attachment. (Note this can involve teaching to manage behavior appropriately even when feeling intense emotions such as anger.)
Play!: Remember the importance of having fun! Just a few minutes of play each day can help ease stress and provide emotional reassurance.