By Brandy Browne
As parents, we constantly have a barrage of sensory input rushing our way all the time. Dr. Nicole Libin (2019), certified mindfulness instructor and author of Sticky Brains (a mindfulness and brain science picture book for children), articulates that the practice of “mindfulness helps regulate attention, increase self-compassion, decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety, and reduce stress. Mindfulness benefits families by increasing empathy, emotional awareness, and acceptance” (p 8). Moreover, mindful parenting will increase joy and gratitude and decrease stress within your home.
It is important to note that mindfulness is not about merely sitting still and meditating, as the media portrays it. It is more about being intentional about focusing our attention on what is actively happening within the current moment, acknowledging it, and moving towards acceptance.
So, what are the basic skills required to practice mindfulness?
- Notice what is happening in the present moment.
- Choose what you will focus on.
- Practice grounding to stay in your body.
- Acknowledge your thoughts and emotions and intentionally respond to them.
- Be curious and nonjudgmental about the moment.
- Maintain a kind, compassionate attitude.
Additionally, the following strategies can be beneficial tools to add to your mindful parenting toolbox. 1. Perform a body Scan- similar to progressive muscle relaxation, this practice involves sitting or lying comfortably and taking note of each part of our body. Be aware of where you feel tension and work to relax those muscles. Start at the feet and work all the way up. Notice how you feel when you are finished. This can be helpful when stuck in traffic, waiting for a medical appointment, when you are stuck in meetings for an extended time. 2. Engage the five senses and savor- Much like grounding, explore one sense at a time. What colors and shapes do your eyes see? What can you hear/smell? Can you taste anything? What textures are around you? This is useful at times such as when you have been starting at a screen all day, an activity many of us are devoting quite a bit more time to now, due to the current pandemic.
Specifically, mindful parenting involves choosing to intentionally focus your attention on your children and limit outside distractions. How often does your child complain that your attention is focused elsewhere while he or she is trying to tell a story? Parenting mindfully could look like a no cell phone at the dinner table rule, or a no screen time after 7:00 P.M. rule, designated family activity times that are technology free, etc.
Moreover, you might have noticed that children need practice sticking with boring activities. Our children seem to lack the capability to fulfill requests that they do not deem interesting. They cannot finish a book that does not completely grab their attention. It takes my oldest child hours to wash the dishes because she does not enjoy doing them. As children, we completed tasks that may or may not have been exciting to us. We knew better than to tell our parents we were bored…they would assign us more chores! Much like we cannot ignore our job duties simply because that part of our job is not very exciting, children will still be expected to complete assignments and chores, regardless of how boring they are. Practices such as deep breathing and sense and savor can aid children in building stamina with these tasks. Have them notice how much improvement they feel in their bodies as they use these techniques to complete an unfavorable task.
Mindful eating is another beneficial practice to adhere to because we rarely just eat at mealtimes. We play on our phone, check our email, etc. This is a great time to improve focus on what is happening in your body and improve digestion as well. Choose a particular food to eat mindfully, or try with an entire meal. Take time to notice how the food appears (sight), the sounds you make when eating (crunching, etc.), what it smells like, touch sensations such as the feel of the chair against your back, how the food feels in your mouth, etc. Finally, focus your attention on what the food tastes like. Mindful eating will take longer, so do not attempt this when you have thirty minutes for dinner before rushing out the door to an extracurricular activity.
Additionally, we should be practicing gratitude and joy on a regular basis. Obviously noticing what you are grateful for in any present moment is a beneficial practice to engage in, but take it a step further and keep a gratitude journal. Have each member record what they are thankful for, and then set aside a time to share. Be sure to focus your attention on whoever is sharing…if your attention wanders, note that and simply guide it back to the speaker.
Physical activity is also a way to practice mindfulness. I, for one, feel so much more relaxed mentally after a challenging run. “Physical activity has been proven to reduce stress, help sleep, and improve mood, self esteem, and cognitive function” (Libin, 2019, p 46).
Mindfulness is a way to reduce anxiety and stress in our children. Libin (2019) expresses that the “key to supporting anyone experiencing any sort of trauma is to check your own nervous system first. Kids regulate their nervous systems to the grown ups in their lives” (p 50). Trauma and high stress situations call for a mindfulness practice called grounding before responding to the child who needs comforting. First, identify five things you can see. Even whispering these five items aloud can be helpful. Second, identify four things you can feel. Then, focus your attention to three things that you hear around you. Next, focus on two things you can smell. Finally, focus on one thing that you can taste (any taste lingering in your mouth from the last thing you ate or drank). Take a few deep breaths and notice how you feel. Chances are you will be more relaxed and able to regulate for the little people in your life.
Practicing mindful parenting requires being diligent about what your attention is focused on. Being mindful in your interactions with your family will help you set a positive, peaceful tone in your home. Though this will not prevent stressful events from occurring, it will enable you to respond in a calm manner, which will benefit everyone in the home.
Libin, N. (2019). Mindful parenting in a chaotic world: Effective strategies to stay centered at home and on the go. Rockridge Press.