In today’s world, being a parent loads us with so many responsibilities that it may surprise us to hear that after keeping our child physically safe and cared for, our top responsibility is mindfulness, which allows us to
Mindfulness simply means that we bring our conscious attention to our experience, in a non-judgmental, accepting way. When we become more aware of our own feelings, thoughts and body sensations, we gain more ability to CHOOSE our response to what’s happening, instead of getting hijacked by our emotions.
We may know great parenting skills or strategies, but we can’t use them if we’re not calm and centred. What matters most in parenting is who we ARE as we interact with our child. That’s why I say that cultivating mindfulness, so we can regulate our own emotions, is our #1 responsibility as parents.
Our child is fairly certain to act like child, which means someone who is still learning, has different priorities than we do and can’t always manage their feelings or actions. Their childish behaviour is guaranteed, at times, to push our buttons. The problem is when we begin acting like a child, too. Someone has to act like a grown-up, if we want our child to learn how! If, instead, we can stay mindful—meaning we notice our emotions but make a conscious, responsible choice about how to act on them—we model emotional regulation and our children learn from watching us.
There’s a reason the airlines tell us to put on our own oxygen masks first. Children can’t reach those masks or be relied on to use them properly. If we lose function, our children can’t save us, or themselves. So even if we would sacrifice ourselves to save our kids, it’s our responsibility to put on our own masks first.
So just as with the oxygen mask, it’s our job to help our child with their emotions, which is what helps them with their behaviour.
Unfortunately, when we’re stressed out, exhausted, and running on empty, we can’t be there constructively for our child, any more than if we black out on the plane.
That’s why your first responsibility in parenting is always being mindful of your own inner state. Mindfulness is the opposite of “losing” our temper. Don’t get me wrong —mindfulness doesn’t mean you don’t feel anger. Being mindful means that you pay attention to what we’re feeling, but don’t act on it. Anger is part of all relationships. It’s acting on it mindlessly, with words or actions, that compromises our parenting.
Helpful tips in reducing stress and being
a more mindful parent:
• Practice being present with your children—Science consistently shows that a relationship with family is an important source of happiness. Try reserving just 30 minutes every day in which you give them your undivided attention by taking part of an activity of their choice. Set the intention to be fully present, but be patient with yourself if that is difficult to achieve at first.
• Unplug from time to time—It’s important to make clear but realistic rules about TV, video-games and smart phone usage in your home. Enforce these rules consistently and model tech breaks for your children. Try to lead by example as much as possible by taking breaks from technology yourself.
• Practice gratitude—Expressing gratitude is one of the quickest and most powerful ways to feel calm and joyful. Modelling that for your children is a gift that they will benefit from for a lifetime. One simple and accessible way to do this is to establish a routine at dinnertime when everyone gives one example of something that went well that day.
• Teach resilience—Life can be full of challenges for our little ones. You can teach them to learn from setbacks and bounce back – instead of ruminate on failure. So really pay attention when they are facing adversity and help them make meaning from the experience through open and non-judgmental dialogue.
• See the world through your child’s eyes—Children naturally have a beginner’s mind, and often find beauty in simple things. If your child runs up to you with a ladybug they found in the backyard, for example, try to match their excitement and enjoy the experience through their eyes.
• Identify the triggers—Notice when you’re not feeling centred, whether that means you’re getting anxious, annoyed, frustrated or tired.