The start of a new school year is filled with apprehension, excitement, and the heady possibility of mental and emotional growth. However, this excitement can quickly turn to fear, anxiety, and behavioral issues for some children. When little ones get stressed out, busy parents often find it difficult to find enough energy and emotional restraint to respond with loving guidance. If left unexamined, small problems that present themselves at the start of the school year can warp and grow into huge disruptions that endanger the long-term success and happiness of the child.
Mindful parenting techniques are the perfect tool in the battle against the new school year blues. Using active listening powered by compassion, parents can use mindfulness to reduce the impact of back-to-school stress on the entire family.
What Is Mindful Parenting?
Mindfulness has come into popularity in the last several years. From spiritual gurus to t-ball coaches, a wide section of the population relies on mindfulness methods to help them stay in control of their emotions in the midst of difficult experiences. Mindfulness adherents often report reduced stress response in the face of adversity and the ability to remain calm in emotionally turbulent circumstances.
When mindfulness is applied regularly, practitioners are better able to access logical processes during heated encounters. Rather than out of habit or knee-jerk response, mindfulness adherents are able to choose their reactions based on their principles rather than emotions.
Parents who are facing back-to-school battles can use a variety of simple yet powerful mindfulness techniques. When applied correctly, these tactics can defuse potentially explosive situations involving your child at school or in the home.
Active listening. Active listening goes far beyond simply hearing the words your child speaks. When parents engage in active listening, they use a combination of emotional validation, leading questions, and empathy to help their children discover the roots of their problems.
Organized communication. In any relationship, communication is key. This becomes even more important in the parent/child dynamic. Mindful parents make deep, meaningful, and non-judgmental communication a part of their families’ daily routine.
Meditation and self-examination. The basis of the power of mindfulness is self-observation. Adherents learn to monitor their own responses. This information allows them to see when they’re engaged in an unhealthy or counterproductive interaction and gives them a chance to adjust their response before speaking.
Personal mindfulness practice is the cornerstone of this approach. Each family member must commit to the practice for the best results. The most successful mindful parents regularly engage their offspring in discussions and meditations, which makes communication flow more easily throughout the entire family.
How Family Mindfulness Practice Improves the Back to School Experience
The back to school season is an incredibly busy time for families. Shopping for school supplies, new clothes, and the special equipment demands precious time and resources from already overburdened parents. At the same time, children are often wrapped up in their own set of worries. Thoughts of negative peer pressure, social integration issues, and problems centered around academics put a lot of pressure on young ones.
During this time, the emotions of nearly everyone in a family-run high. Without the right interventions and management techniques in place, this combination of stress can cause even small problems to balloon into a power struggle. In many families, that leads to hurt feelings and misunderstandings that could negatively affect the parent-child relationship for many years.
Mindful families can use the techniques mastered in their individual practices to diffuse a lot of the tension around going back to school. When applied consistently and with loving intention, mindfulness techniques can help families avoid the unpleasant effects of back-to-school stress.
Clear communication is often a challenge for many young people. Lack of vocabulary and an uneven understanding of their own emotional responses make it hard for children to express big, complicated emotions. Parents can use mindfulness practice to teach their children how to state what they feel in a way that facilitates healing and mutual growth.
Parents, of course, can’t always be there when their children need them. When back to school means being exposed to bullies, overworked instructors, or returning to an unpleasant social situation, mindfulness can help young ones navigate many situations without the input of an adult or authority figure.
Special needs families can’t always depend on verbal communication. For children who have a hard time putting their thoughts into words or who simply can’t communicate verbally, it can be tough for parents to decipher the root issue of behavioral or academic problems. Mindful observation allows parents to see patterns in their child’s behavior that could help them find a solution without relying on words.
For students, mindfulness goes far beyond the parent-child relationship. Once these habits are embedded, students will see improvements in their relationship with instructors, fellow students, and other school officials too.
Mindfulness Strategies for a Smoother Transition
Going back to school doesn’t have to be stressful. Incorporate these mindfulness techniques to help you and your child keep a firm grip on emotional responses while encouraging real empathetic connections.
Make mindfulness a family affair. Involve everyone in your mindfulness practice with group-guided meditations, regular family meetings to discuss important issues, and informal one-on-one time for each child.
Take care of yourself. As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Burnt out parents need regular self-care to give their children their most beneficial attention. Prioritize yourself regularly to keep your empathy reserves intact. When problems do occur, you will already be in a position to approach them with emotional maturity and control.
Make positive thinking a family priority. Start each day with a smile to help struggling little ones maintain their emotional balance throughout the day. Spend time at the breakfast table discussing things that make each member grateful, place inspiring notes in lunch bags, or use a display board to share a mindfulness-related quote each day.
Plan for success. Children with executive functioning issues have a hard time keeping track of schedules, due dates, and similar obligations. This can manifest as academic or behavioral issues. Place a family calendar in a prominent place to ensure everyone stays on track with assignments, appointments, and extracurricular activities.
Mindful parenting makes back to school season easier for everyone. Parents, students, teachers, and peers all benefit from your family’s emotional maturity. Institute a mindful parenting plan before the new school year starts to ensure your team is ready to take on new challenges without unnecessary stress.
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.