How to Incorporate Mindfulness into Your Daily Parenting Practices and Manage Challenges
For many of us, becoming a parent leads us to question every value and action we take as we begin to look at how this impacts our little one. This introspective journey can feel like an emotional rollercoaster, and we may often find ourselves trying to Google our way off of this ride with some clear direction. But many parenting methods miss the mark, as they focus on a simplistic strategy that overlooks the nuances of parenting.
Regardless of the strategy you use, there is a layer underneath… where how you as the parent perceive the world and your child and this leads you to act, think, or behave in response to that perception. If we don’t uncover this layer, then we are only skimming the surface of addressing issues as they come up for ourselves and our children.
With regards to parenting the relationship is not just about the one that we have with our child, but the one that we have with ourselves and the world. We carry it in our mind and body at all times and it continues to grow and change. It is incredibly challenging to have the relationship with our child as grounded and solid, if the relationship with ourselves and the world is on faulty or unstable grounds. If we don’t look into what is motivating our behaviors, causing us stress, and forming our experience of the world, then we may struggle to help our child in addressing their behaviors, manage their stress, and help them form a helpful experience of the world.
I am going to challenge you to consider how you are the parenting tool. The values that you hold, the actions you take, and how you perceive the world are the very things that impact your parenting firsthand. Let us walk through two different perspectives for the same event.
Imagine a mom taking her child to the park and sitting by her child in the sand while her two-year-old plays. Her child splashes sand and it gets in the face of the child next to her. One way in which this could go is that the mother will think to herself that she is such a horrible parent for not having previously taught her child “proper” sandbox etiquette. She may then yell at her child out of shame and embarrassment or to overcorrect her own “failure” as a parent… or out of pure panic, and tell her child “sandbox time is over,” as she then whisks her off out of the park.
Another way in which this could go is that the mom could notice that she is feeling tense in her body and startled by her two-year-old’s behavior. She may also feel overcome with shame, but then non-judgmentally notice this and take a breath. Upon calming herself she considers that her child does not realize the impact of her behavior on her peer as she continues to play in the sand oblivious to what just happened. So the mother may utilize this as a teaching moment and help guide her child by saying calmly, “you splashed the sand and it got in the boy’s face. He is crying because it hurts.” She can then go on to teach her child how it is important to keep the sand away from people’s faces and provide guidance as needed during the remainder of their stay at the park.
If we take a deeper look, it is the internal experiences of the parent that determined which parenting route was taken. The first example shows a parent that is taken over by her shame and worries and reacts to her child from this lens. What did the child learn in response? It could be that they learned that they are “bad,” “an embarrassment,” or they could have left completely confused. The second example shows the parent as having a similar internal experience, but recognizing that it is a lens tinting the experience negatively. They go on to manage their internal stress and consider how it would be best to approach their child and help them through the situation. What does the child learn here? “My actions impacted another child. My mom cares about me and is teaching me to play with sand safely.”
I bet it is safe to say that we have all had moments where we were taken over by our internal stress response and reacted to our child. When we take a moment, however, to consider the response we want to give to our child, there’s a good chance we can think up a more helpful response. The other good news is that we can form repairs by going back to talk to our children and even apologize about our reactions when we struggled to respond rather than react. This alone can help our child feel valued and form a better understanding of healthy relationships—where they are not in charge of other people’s feelings.
Think of a time when you may have felt reactive rather than responsive to what your child may need… we’ve all done it. Can you revisit this event in your mind and think about what your experienced in your body (e.g., tension, rapid heart rate, flushed face, etc)? Let’s dig a little deeper now… What was running through your mind (e.g., “I can’t believe my child just did that! I am so embarrassed” or “She is doing this on purpose to provoke me!”) Whatever it may be, we’ve automatically formed a perception of the event, which happens based on our own previous experiences of the world…. But it does not make it factual and it does not mean that we cannot change this perception.
Without further introspection into our automatic thoughts, feelings, and experiences of the world, we will continue to be led by them… often led astray. So how do we begin this journey? It will take much, much practice… and it is truly a journey… but in our practice, Harmony in Parenting, we talk about it as starting with “LOVE.”
Let’s walk through it together… “L” is for Listen: Listen and reflect on your internal experience (physical, emotional, and mental). Notice if you are feeling heated, embarrased, worried or any other emotion that throws you out of your calm state… We cannot think rationally when we are not calm.
“O” is for Overcome: Take a moment to overcome the emotional wave that would otherwise automatically take over. This may mean taking a few deep breaths, a break from the situation, using your senses to become more present, or any number of tools that help you manage when you step out of your calm state. If this is an area of struggle, then perhaps it would be helpful to explore some avenues and seek support.
“V” is for Value: Consider how your child can gain value from this challenging experience. This helps us reconsider our approach to the situation and be intentional in our parenting practice.
“E” is for Engage: We then begin to engage our children in this same “LOVE” where we help them listen to what feelings they may be having, notice experiences in their body, or outward behaviors; help them overcome and cope with their own stress, and revisit the value we formed when taking ourselves through “LOVE” to confirm that this is our desired approach; and then engage in those next steps.
This is not at all simple, which is why it is a journey… a journey that can help us heal our own wounds and rebuild ourselves into the best version of ourselves, while we embrace the little ones that are riding along with us through this long, windy, and beautiful path.