Developing Skills for Mindful Parenting

Parents have a lot to handle these days. Here are some methods for staying sane when things get real.

Becoming a parent and having the opportunity to raise a little one of your own is one of the best gifts that life has to offer. Still, as beautiful as the experience is, there’s a lot that goes into parenting that can wear you down until you feel like having a temper tantrum of your own. When it feels like you’re losing control of your emotions, some mindful parenting techniques can help you to dial it back and deal with the situation in a healthy and productive way.

Living mindfully is not a new practice. In fact, it’s an ancient practice that yoga and Zen masters have been practicing and teaching for thousands of years. Defined, mindfulness is “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations.”

While mindful living helps us to really live in the moment and reduce anxiety about the future, the practice is working its way into parenting to help parents keep their cool when things get real.

A New Way of Parenting

In today’s world there are so many things that take our attention away from what’s happening in front of us and when you’re a parent, there’s just so much more to worry about — especially these days! Parenting involves a lot of planning for what’s happening next. It’s easy to lose sight of what’s happening in the moment.

Time moves so quickly and before you know it, your little ones are going to head off to college and start lives of their own. This is why mindful parenting is so important: It allows us to give our children the gift of being fully present in their life.

In order to be a mindful parent, you’re going to have to put in the work it takes and practice every single day. Mindful parenting is essentially re-wiring our brain to react to stimulants with intention instead of falling back on old habits and snap responses.

Through practicing mindful parenting techniques, we allow ourselves to be fully open to experiencing life with our children as it should be — with patience, kindness, compassion and open communication.

When you are able to develop these skills of mindful parenting, you can actually help your children to respond to conflict in a similar way. Children are like sponges and they learn by absorbing the things that they see. In fact, a study conducted at the University of Vermont found that parents who respond to stimuli in a mindful way typically raise children who are more well-adapted with lower rates of anxiety, depression and behavioral issues.

How to Become a Mindful Parent

There are many resources out there for those who are looking to become a mindful parent and they all focus on three main things:

  • Being aware and present in the moment
  • Acting with intention
  • Responding to stimuli with a positive attitude

Lisa Kring, a licensed clinical social worker and mindfulness teacher, lays out five pillars of mindful parenting:

Create safe spaces where it’s OK to just be.

While you’re in your safe space, the only thing that you should focus on is just being. Sit for five to 30 minutes per day in the same spot and allow yourself to be fully present in these moments. When your mind wanders to your to-do list, gently bring it back to center and focus on aligning your breath with your thoughts. When we lose focus on what’s happening inside of us, we tend to harbor feelings of stress and anxiety, which are terribly detrimental to our minds and bodies.

Manage stress in a mindful way.

This is where we must learn to breathe. All day long parents are moving from one moment to the next with a million things to worry about. When we’re always focused on the next moment, we lose sight of the way we’re presenting ourselves to our children and we tend to be a little bit absent in our interactions. When you are able to establish a mind/body connection and bring your mind to the present moment, you can manage stress in a mindful way.

When you begin to feel overwhelmed with stress, there are four things that you can do to bring your mind back to center, as laid out by Kring:

  • Pause in awareness.
  • Bring yourself into your “safe space” mindset, where you connect your thoughts to your breathing.
  • Take note of the way you’re feeling, the way your breathing is making you feel, and what is happening around you.
  • React in an appropriate, intentional way.

Stop trying to be perfect.

Striving for perfection in any area of life is unrealistic — especially parenting. When you practice becoming a mindful parent, you have to let go of the expectation that you will be the perfect parent, and instead be comfortable with being good enough and the fact that you’re going to experience failure from time to time. Once you’ve accepted this notion, you will be able to find opportunities for growth instead of feelings of disappointment.

In fact, it’s important for our children to watch us fail and see that their parents can react to difficult moments with compassion, kindness, humor and honesty.

Recognize your child’s individualism.

Having healthy boundaries and not just seeing your child as an extension of yourself is key to becoming a mindful parent. When you honor your child as an individual, you recognize that they have unique needs that are completely separate from your own. When you are able to do that, you are able to stop yourself from projecting your issues onto your child.

Be kind and compassionate.

In order to be a mindful parent, it’s important to practice kindness and compassion not only for our children, but also for ourselves. Parents give so much of themselves to their children that it’s easy to feel empty and worn out at the end of the day. Through practicing mindfulness, kindness and compassion, we allow ourselves to feel full enough to keep providing kindness and compassion to our children.

As the saying goes: You cannot pour from an empty cup. Becoming a mindful parent and remembering to stop, breathe and act with intention allows us to provide our children with the unconditional love that they need and deserve. Not to mention, it saves us from regretful outbursts and harmful feelings of anger and anxiety.

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

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