by Jacquelyn O’Malley
We can be happier, less stressed and more effective parents simply by paying attention and pausing to breathe. These simple ideas form the heart of mindfulness, a type of focused concentration and meditative breathing that’s emerged into the national consciousness thanks in part to studies linking it to increased productivity and reduced anxiety.
Many times, most of a parent’s anxiousness and anger are tied not to what is happening right now—say, a child did not turn in his or her homework—but from mentally tying a current event to a previous experience, or imagining a multitude of usually unpleasant, often unlikely consequences or future behavior patterns. Focus on only the situation at hand, and it becomes much smaller and more manageable.
Here are some tips to get started.
Becoming a Mindful Parent
- Notice how often you engage with your children in a fully present way—not while also looking at the computer, texting, checking emails, talking on the phone, watching TV, etc. Work to increase your fully engaged interactions.
- Practice truly listening to children, not just hearing them. To fully listen, we must let go of our agenda and absorb.
- Notice how often fears, rather than the facts, are guiding interactions.
- Practice taking long, slow, deep breaths at regular intervals throughout the day. The dopamine and serotonin this brings to the brain will calm, make it easier to concentrate and increase the ability to take the steps above.
- Begin to become aware of how often we are hijacked by our emotions. When it happens, stop and breathe deep. The more we practice noticing habitual or knee-jerk reactions, the easier it will be to stop, breathe and respond calmly instead.
- Simply be still. It is in quiet stillness that we can hear our own wisdom.
Encouraging Mindfulness in Children
Mindfulness comes easier to children than it does to adults, but taking the time to be mindful is just as good for them as it is for us. A pause and a few deep breaths before taking a test or responding to a situation with friends can provide a boost in calmness and confidence and lead to better decision making.
- Be the mindfulness model for our children. We must believe in the practice before we can expect kids to do it.
- Get outside with kids and practice noticing (a form of paying attention) nature. Watch the clouds, notice the moon or the sunset. Look for heart shapes in nature. Make it a game.
- Praise children for their effort, not the end result.
- Give kids time to just be kids. Stop over-scheduling. Let them go outside. Let them get dirty.
Mindfulness is wonderfully useful in positive and neutral circumstances, too. We all know intuitively that children will sometimes do things we’d rather they not to catch our attention. Even a small amount of time focused exclusively on them can strengthen your bond.
Simple does not mean easy. Mindfulness takes practice. But one needn’t achieve perfection to experience mindfulness benefits.
Jacquelyn O’Malley, MEd, is a mindfulness coach and counselor, bringing mindfulness to Greater Philadelphia parents and kids through The Center for Mindfulness and Wellness. O’Malley, who founded the Flourtown nonprofit earlier this year, offers individual sessions and group classes at the center and also works with teachers and students at area schools. Connect with her at 215-370-1626 or ProjectMindful.org. August 2015.