A mindful parent is the practice of being present in the moment and thinking before you react. That can be especially hard when you’re parenting. It’s not that you ever want to react irrationally or out of anger. But you’re dealing with a lot every day, and children have a way of pushing your hot buttons in a way that no one else can. When your toddler spills a drink all over the floor that you’ve just finished mopping, when your elementary schooler just won’t stop teasing their younger sibling even though you’ve asked them to stop one hundred times, or when your teenager comes home hours after curfew when you’ve spent those hours walking the floor and worrying, it’s easy to snap. It’s even easier when you add in the stress of work, the demands of other family members, and your own thoughts and worries about finances or your health or world events.
Those moments of stress happen to every parent, and you won’t always handle them well. No one does. Practicing mindfulness won’t make you into a perfect parent because perfect parents don’t exist. However, practicing mindfulness can make you better able to handle those stressful moments. You’ll be able to handle more of them the way that you would like to, and not in ways that you regret later. Take a look at some tips that can help you become a mindful parent.
Practice Mindful Parenting by Turning off the Tech
Teenagers get a lot of flack for being constantly attached to a smartphone or other type of device, but the reality is that it’s not just them. Today’s parents are often just as connected as their teens, though they may be plugged in more for the sake of working or keeping on top of the news than for socializing.
The problem is that texts, calls, and other notifications are distractions that make it more difficult for you to focus on what’s happening at the moment. When you’re focusing on your cell phone or your computer, it’s a lot easier to jump to a reaction to something that your child does without really thinking about it.
Consider implementing no-tech zones or times in the house. For example, you might make the rule that there will be no cell phones or devices at the dinner table or you might ask that all devices are turned off between 6:00 pm and 8:00 pm. But whatever the rule is, keep in mind that it’s for you as well as your children. This gives you time to focus on parenting and interacting with your children without the distractions that prevent you from being present in the moment with them. You’re not just setting an example for your children by turning off your own tech in favor of family time (though you’re doing that as well) you’re also practicing being a more mindful parent.
Be an Active Listener
Children have a lot to say, especially when they’re young. The constant chatter and frequent questions sometimes come at inopportune times, and it’s easy to find yourself reflexively saying “tell me later,” or sending them to ask someone else, like their other parent, an older sibling, or a teacher.
Of course, you want to hear what your children and teenagers have to say, and you’re probably not intending to give them the brush off. Sometimes a story really does need to wait for a better time, and sometimes another person really is the better choice to answer a question.
But you want your children to come to you – not only now, but later on, when they’re older and may be more reluctant to tell you things – and you also want them to listen when you speak. So it’s important to establish a pattern of active listening now, both because it encourages children to continue talking to you and because it models the behavior you want them to show when you talk to them.
Whenever possible, stop what you’re doing when your child wants to ask a question or tell you something. Face them, make eye contact, and smile. Don’t interrupt when they’re talking, but do ask engaging questions and let them know that it’s OK to stop and take a breath if they’re having trouble getting out what they want to say.
Model Healthy Expression of Emotion
Practice acknowledging your emotions – even the negative ones – and expressing them in ways that are healthy for you and those around you. Try stating what you’re feeling out loud, as well as stating why you think you feel that way and how you’re going to handle that emotion. For example, you might say, “I feel grumpy today because I overslept and it threw my whole day’s schedule off. Going for a run will improve my mood, so I’m going to do that now.” You can do this for positive emotions as well – you could also say, “I feel happy because I hit only green lights on my drive home. I’m going to put on some music and sing along.”
There are a couple of reasons a mindful parent should work on expressing your emotions this way. For one thing, naming your emotions out loud, as well as the reasons for them and the actions you take because of them, helps you to be more mindful of what it is that you’re really feeling and why and helps you think about your actions before doing them.
You’re also modeling healthy emotional expression for your child. You aren’t born knowing how to express your emotions in a healthy way. It’s something that you have to learn, and naming your feelings out loud and stating what you’re going to do before you do it may feel strange or silly at first. But not only will you become accustomed to it, but your child will also as well, and as they get older, this will become their go-to method of managing their own emotions. You’ll be giving them a more mindful approach to use from an early age.
Mindfulness is helpful in all areas of life, but mindful parenting serves a dual purpose – it not only helps you to parent more effectively, but it also gives your children tools they can use to live mindfully themselves through your examples. This can help your children get through many difficult situations they’ll face in their own lives.