From the time the alarm clock jolts you out of bed until you lay your head on the pillow at night, you rush from one activity to another. Racing to keep up in today’s world often leaves parents without the energy to respond appropriately to their children. When pressure mounts, parents may resort to a sharp voice as a reaction to their child’s behavior. Not only is this method ineffective, it may cause emotional damage that will impact your child for life.
Mindful parenting seeks to calm the mind, relax emotions and restore the ability to reason clearly. Mindfulness is the ability to respond rather than react.
The Body Scan Technique
To reduce bedtime drama, incorporate body scans into your nightly routine. Because the body can’t discern between an angry bear approaching and your child spilling juice on the new carpet, stopping to think can work against you. The brain has developed strategies to deal with sudden, intense situations. When stressful circumstances occur, the brain triggers a flood of hormones setting off the Fight, Flight or Freeze Response. This deluge of chemicals readies the body to take action in response to the stimuli. While this impulse serves us well during an actual emergency, it can cause problems in less threatening circumstances. This sense of urgency can lead to overblown reactions.
The body scan is an effective way to bypass the Fight, Flight or Freeze Response. A type of meditation, this technique offers many benefits to frazzled parents.
- Bring awareness to the body, which helps locate the source of pain causing emotional distress.
- Release thought patterns related to chronic stress.
- Lengthen the attention span.
- Increase the ability to quickly shift focus and perspective.
- Significantly lower the stress level of each family member when incorporated into a mindful parenting routine.
Performing a Body Scan
To perform a body scan, all you need is a relatively quiet place to lie down to relax your mind and regain control of your emotions.
- Lie down on your back. Let your arms and legs fall naturally. Place a pillow under your knees or head to readjust restrictive clothing.
- Allow your body to sink into the surface. Notice where your body makes contact. Take a deep inhale. With each exhale, allow your muscles to relax even more.
- Once relaxed, take time to mentally observe your breath. Whether you listen to the sound of air drawing in and out of your nostrils or feel the sensation of your diaphragm as it expands and collapses—just observe.
- Mentally focus on the big toe of your left foot. Notice how it feels.
- Connect the breath with the body by sensing the flow of oxygen throughout the entire body.
- Follow your awareness across the sole of your foot. Give each area the same attention as your toe.
- Continue across the foot, ankle, calf and thigh. Shift awareness from the hip downward to the right leg.
- When you reach the bottom of your right foot, sweep back up toward the hip. Continue up through the hips, torso, abdomen and back. When you reach the crown of your head, loop back to discover your face, neck, chest and arms. Don’t worry if you get lost. Simply return to the last body part you remember examining. And don’t worry if you fall asleep.
Using Body Scans in Mindful Parenting
Incorporate body scans into your daily life.
- Before getting out of bed each morning, perform a body scan. Start your day with the right mindset.
- Encourage your child to do a body scan when he or she gets overstimulated or experiences scary feelings. It also helps to do a body scan before a potentially stressful event.
- Establish a family meditation time. Use pre-recorded guided meditations or verbally walk your family through the process until each person can perform a body scan on their own.
- Body scans are the perfect addition to your nightly routine, at the beginning or end of the bedtime ritual.
- For a child who has trouble concentrating on the nighttime routine, a body scan before bath time helps the child to focus, simplifying the process.
- For a child who has difficulty falling asleep, save the body scan until just before you turn off the lights. Scans soothe anxiety, allowing your child to ease into a deep, restorative sleep.
- Body scans are a gentle and effective tool in the mindful parenting philosophy. Realize more peace in your home.
Anthony Cupo is a Trained Mindfulness Facilitator (TMF) from the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. He is a co-owner of Stepping Forward Counseling Center, LLC and has been meditating for over 30 years. Our article is also published in ParentingOC’s Magazine!