Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present and aware of our moment-to-moment experiences as they arise. It involves not being overly reactive, overwhelmed, or “caught up” by what’s going on around us…easier said than done in the life of a parent, right?
The good news is that becoming a mindful parent does not have to involve a formal, structured practice but instead can occur more organically a few minutes here and there throughout each day. Mindful parenting in no way implies perfect, calm parenting. In fact, mindful parents are free and expected to practice emotional honesty with their kids.
The “STOP” method is a short practice that parents can put into place throughout the day, especially in response to emotional or stressful interactions with their children.
S-- STOP what you’re doing at that moment, refrain from acting on initial emotional reactions, allow your body to be quiet and still for a moment.
T-- TAKE a few deep breaths. Feel the air coming in slowly through your nose and out slowly of your mouth or down the back of your throat; allow your belly to gently fill with air, like a balloon, with each inhale.
O—OBSERVE your experience in the moment. Notice any thoughts you might be having and accept them for what they are—just words. Notice if you start getting pulled into certain thoughts, especially the self-defeating, judgmental, or anxious ones. Remember, each thought does not require you to react. Similarly, observe and label any emotions you might be experiencing, including where and how you are feeling them in your body.
P—PROCEED with a more appropriate, skillful response or action. This might mean letting your child know that you are going to take a short break and do something for yourself (take a warm bath, call a friend, read a book). Talk honestly and openly with your child about the feelings you are having and what kind of things you try to do or say to yourself to respond to these feelings in a helpful way. Practice actively listen to your child, provide genuine empathy, and attempt to discover what your child might really be trying to tell you with her behavior. There may also be a need to collaborate with your child and brainstorm possible solutions to any struggles that may be present at home or school.
Practice forgiving yourself for the mistakes you make with your kids. Remind yourself regularly that it is not fair to expect perfection as a parent and, in fact, doing so only feeds into feelings of guilt, shame, and helplessness that perpetuate negative interactional patterns with your kids. Be aware of how busy, rushed, or tense you and your kids are day-to- day and try to create more balance in your routine and schedule. For example, allow your child to take a day off from a regularly scheduled activity if she appears tired and overwhelmed.
Designate a day of family “downtime” and do nothing but eat yummy food, play games, read, or be silly together. Make an effort to slow down the pace of transition times, especially morning and bedtime routines when we really tend to rush our kids. Consider allowing extra time in the morning to sit down and eat breakfast with your kids, while listening to some cheerful music. Try to let it go if you’re running behind and remind yourself that creating a peaceful, calm environment for your family is way more important than being a bit late dropping your kids off at school.
Our psychologists at Metta are here to support you in learning ways to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life. With the guidance a counselor, you will gain confidence in using strategies that will reduce feelings of stress, depression, and anxiety that can occur with the ups and downs of parenting.