I used to yell at my kids. A lot. As a social worker, parenting researcher, and family life coach, this is super embarrassing to admit. But it's true! I had been to therapy, read all the parenting books, done all the things but I still could not seem to get my anger and frustration under control. Mindful parenting was not even on my radar!
It was easy to blame my circumstances for this: my oldest has anxiety which showed up in the form of intense tantrums, which lasted LONG past the "terrible twos." When she was 9 months old, I went back to school to get my Master's degree in social work, and my middle daughter was born 2 weeks before my graduation. Less than 2 years later, my son was born! Needless to say, the first 7 or 8 years of parenting were just hard.
I didn't know how to juggle all the diaper changes and school projects, let alone how to keep my cool while doing it! The truth is, I was a mess. I was stressed and overwhelmed. Had I taken on too much? I wanted to be good at everything I was doing - being in school, parenting, working - and I felt like I was sucking at all of it. Sometimes the pressure was more than I could handle. And I was taking it out on my kids.
I know you can relate. You want to be a calm, mindful parent and keep your sh*t together when your child is falling apart because you didn't cut his sandwich into triangles or because you took the iPad away. But it's just SO. HARD. to find the time for self-care. It's impossible to sit still long enough to meditate for just five minutes. Or you're feeling so anxious, rushed, and overwhelmed that a little bit of meditation just isn't cutting it.
There's tons of research on the wonders of mindfulness, from emotional to physical benefits. People who practice mindfulness experience more calm and well-being and even have reduced rates of certain chronic illnesses (amazing, right?). But what does it mean to practice mindful parenting? And why in the world should you even bother?
It means pulling yourself out of reaction mode and training yourself to be more responsive. It does not necessarily mean meditating all the time (though this can be a powerful mindfulness tool, for sure!).
The good news is, mindful parenting does not mean making major changes to the way you're doing things at home. It's not "just one more thing" you have to do or think about. In fact, there are so many simple actions you can take right now and throughout the day to improve your mindfulness, attune to your child, and experience calmer and connection.
Here are 5 small actions you can start implementing TODAY to become a more mindful parent:
One of the great benefits of mindful parenting is shifting from reacting to responding. By taking a little pause, you can be just a tiny bit more thoughtful in your response to any given situation, whether it's a child having a meltdown, a flat tire on the way to work, or some unexpected bad news. I used to yell at my kids because I did not have a habit of pausing before reacting to their behavior. I did not take the time - just a split second - to pull myself together, gather my energies, and respond mindfully. I was just in reaction mode. Put a little cushion between the stimulus (the child starts whining) and your response. Slowing down, even just a little bit, is a surprisingly brilliant parenting hack!
Notice what is going on around you. This may sound simplistic or obvious, but sometimes we are so caught up in our thoughts, our to-do list, or our mental grocery list that we forget to just notice. The practice of noticing is central to mindful parenting because mindfulness is all about being in the moment.
If you're not sure where to start, you can literally go through the five senses:
You might notice that you see crayon marks on the wall, you hear your child crying, you feel a lego under your foot, and you smell dinner burning, but noticing and naming your experience FIRST will help you detach the experience from the emotions.
The practice of setting intentions has changed my life. Instead of rolling through life on default, choosing how I want to feel and how I want to show up for my kids has allowed me to feel more in control and more confident. Learning that I get to choose how I feel by setting an intention was HUGE! How does it work? You simply decide "Today I choose to feel_____________" or "my intention today is to be kind." I find it very effective to write my intentions in a journal or even on a sticky note, but if that feels like too much work right now, you can just say it to yourself.
You can set an intention for your whole day or break it down and mindfully set an intention for one aspect of your day. "My intention is to smile and look into my child's eyes at school pick up today." "My intention for bedtime is to go slow and listen," I promise this practice will help you stay in the moment and be the kind of parent you want to be - because you're constantly reminding yourself of the parent you want to be.
Breathing is the only part of the stress response system that you have any control over. When you are stressed, your heart rate increases, your palms may start to sweat, and you may start to take shallower breaths. The good news is, you can change your breathing in a matter of seconds (and that will slow your heart rate). Sometimes it is hard to remember to breathe. Seriously. Ever notice that you are holding your breath, or that you haven't taken a nice, full, deep breath all day? It takes practice to become aware of your breathing and be intentional about it.
Using "triggers" from your environment is a simple way to become more mindful of your breathing. Here are some examples: every time you walk through a doorway, when you get into or out of the car, while you are washing your hands when you pick up your coffee or water bottle.
This might sound fancy or complicated, but taking a micro aromatherapy break is one of the simplest, most effective ways to mindfully shift your mood. Inhaling a pure, high-quality essential oil helps you to take deep breaths more mindfully (and we know from #4 how powerful deep breathing is!) because essential oils communicate directly with the limbic system - or emotional center - of the brain. How amazing is that?!
Here's what you do:
Put 1-2 drops of pure essential oil into the palm of your hand, rub your palms together, cup your hands over your nose and mouth and inhale deeply 3-4 times. That's it! It takes about 30 seconds (I just timed myself and it took me 32 seconds, inhaling slowly 4 times). This powerful emotional reset is a game-changer for mindful parenting!
It's a practice and it takes time and patience. Small, doable actions are THE way to begin your mindful parenting journey! You will be surprised how quickly some of these practices shift your perspective, your mood, and even your relationship with your child.
Which one of these mindful parenting actions are you going to try first? What else have you tried that has helped you to be a more mindful parent?