Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present with one’s present, moment-to-moment experience, with kind attention, without the mind trying to make it different. More often than not, we are on “automatic pilot,” mindlessly driven by mental patterns, preoccupied with a future that never quite arrives and a past that is no longer happening. As a result, we become distracted and distant from our immediate reality and fall prey to reactive emotions and automatic behaviour. By living with greater attention and presence, we respond more effectively to any given situation – be it positive, negative or neutral-in a way that benefits our own and our children`s happiness and well-being.
Mindful parenting is the practice of using self-awareness to know when it is time to self-intervene: to slow down, think, and decide the course of action that will keep your child close to you. It is about doing whatever we do purposefully and thoughtfully, rather than letting our anxiety, frustration, or fatigue dictate our reactions to the challenges that will inevitably arise.
Mindful parenting is about moment-to-moment, openhearted and non-judgmental attention. It’s about seeing your children as they are, not as you want them to be. It is about bringing more awareness to your unmet needs, agendas, issues, so that you take responsibility for what is unfinished in you, rather than projecting it into your children.
Practicing mindful parenting doesn’t mean you are never going to be judgmental, or you will never have fear and expectations—those are part of being human. The process is to really begin to see when that happens, to be able to pause and to ask yourself “How do I choose to respond to this situation?”.
When we talk about mindfulness-based exercises, we talk about formal mindfulness meditations and informal practices.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
1. Make space for a short mindfulness meditation practice, every day
Mindful parenting depends on being more present, so establishing a daily mindfulness practice is very important. Just sit for 5-20 minutes bringing your attention to the breath in the body. When the mind wanders (which it will!), simply notice when this happens, let go of all inner commentary and thoughts, and gently bring your awareness back to the breath in the body, again and again.
2. Mindfully manage your stress
Parents often experience strong emotions when interacting with their children, and these emotions can be difficult to manage and restrain. Mindful parenting recommends pausing before reacting in such situations. You can actually shift from a mindlessly reactive and stressed mode to a mindfully responsive mode by using the STOP acronym below.
S– Stop. Whenever you notice stress or imbalance, simply pause in awareness.
T– Take a breath. Just bring your attention to your breath, paying fully attention to the sensations of the breath. Breath awareness actually harmonizes the cardiovascular systems in the body and increases calmness and peacefulness.
O– Observe. Simply notice how the breath begins to naturally bring balance to the systems of the body. Observe what is really happening, in the moment.
P– Proceed. Having shifted to a more mindfully responsive mode, take an action that is more skillful, appropriate and best attuned to your situation.
3. Listen to your children with full undivided attention.
Listening helps children feel important, appreciated, and respected. A conversation that could have just touched the surface, deepens dramatically when we really listen to our children. How many times you are only partial present in the interactions with your children, while you are lost in the trance of thoughts, worries, distractions or endless multitasking?
Mindful listening is a skill that goes beyond just hearing words. It takes energy and understanding what feelings are beneath the words — the emotions and context within which the words are framed.
The greatest gift you can give to your children is your full presence. You must begin with yourself first. Being present, modelling this capacity for your children, is priceless. Mindful parenting is a lifelong practice. But you can start right now, in this very moment.
Note: This article was published also on International School Parent Magazine