Starting next week, we'll kick off our fourth Stress-Less Parenting workshop: Mindful Parenting with Carla Naumburg. Carla writes the Mindful Parenting blog for PsychCentral.com and is currently working on a book about the topic, to be published in the fall of 2014. Here, she explains exactly what "mindful parenting" is, and why we all can benefit from it.
It’s a fairly common scene at my house with my 3- and 4 1/2-year-olds. “But Mooooommy,” the whining begins, “I wanted the other doll (or dessert or dress).” For any number of reasons, I say "no." We don’t have any cookies in the kitchen, it’s your sister’s turn with that toy, we’ve already discussed this, the answer is no.
The wailing starts, followed quickly by tears. On a good day, we might talk about how my little one is feeling (sad, frustrated, angry, tired, or hungry) and what might help her feel better (a snuggle or a story, usually). I stay calm, she calms down, and we get on with whatever we had been doing. On a bad day, I find myself snapping (or even outright yelling) at my daughter that we don’t get what we want by throwing tantrums, and then I send her to time out on the stairs until she can calm down. I walk out of the room and proceed to silently berate myself for yelling.
I used to think that the difference between a good day and a bad day depended on my daughters’ behavior. Then one morning I found myself yelling at the girls for something relatively benign and age-appropriate (albeit annoying), and it hit me. The problem wasn’t my kids. It was me. They’re still young; it’s not their job to have good judgment and respond appropriately and calmly to all of life’s challenges. It’s my job to teach them how, generally by modeling those behaviors myself. But I wasn’t doing it -- at least not as often or as well as I wanted to.
I dove into the parenting books and research, and devoured every tip and trick I could find for how to more effectively stop yelling, manage tantrums, and set limits. Each idea I came across made sense and seemed so straightforward. Of course I could count to 10 and walk into the other room when I needed to calm down, right?
Wrong. Somehow, in the heat of the moment, I found myself falling back into old patterns, responding poorly to my girls’ challenging behavior. By the time I remembered all of the coping skills I had just learned, it was too late. The deed had been done. I needed something else, something to help me stay calm in the first place. I kept reading and researching. Eventually, I found mindfulness and mindful parenting.
What Is Mindful Parenting?
Mindfulness is about paying attention to the present moment, in a kind and compassionate way. It’s not about what you do; it doesn’t matter if you’re an attachment parent or a tiger mother or if you think a little benign neglect is the key to raising happy kids. Mindful parenting is about doing whatever we do purposefully and thoughtfully, rather than letting our anxiety, frustration, or fatigue dictate our reactions to the challenges that will inevitably arise (which is exactly what I was doing each time I yelled at my kids!).
Mindfulness is about letting go of guilt and shame about the past, and loosening our grip on the future so that we can fully tune in to what is actually happening right now. It’s about accepting whatever is going on, rather than trying to change it or ignore it. The key to mindful parenting is to practice mindfulness when things are going well so that we have the skills we need to manage the challenging situations that might otherwise trigger a parenting tantrum.
I’m not suggesting that you should breathe deeply and do nothing as your toddler runs through the house with a Sharpie in each hand. What I am talking about is being aware of your feelings and your child’s perspective as you chase her down to retrieve the markers. Are you tired or hungry, frustrated or angry? Or has it been a good day, and are you enjoying your time with your little one? Is your sense of humor readily available, or buried under layers of laundry and dirty dishes? Mindful parenting is about tuning in to how we feel, so we can make a thoughtful choice about how to respond to our children, rather than mindlessly reacting to them.
Slowing down and paying attention is not an easy thing to do in an age of multi-tasking and smartphones, chronic sleep deprivation and over-scheduled families. The good news is that there are concrete steps we can take to become more present and empathetic in all aspects of our lives, including our interactions with our children. The late summer and early fall are a great time to try them out, as heading back to school involves new challenges and opportunities for the entire family -- a perfect time to take a different perspective on old patterns.
In this Stress-Less Parenting workshop, we’ll explore the benefits and myths of mindful parenting, as well as a number of ways in which you can integrate mindfulness into your life and parenting and teach it to your children.
Are you ready to join the workshop? Sign up in the purple box on the right-hand side of this page, and you will get a newsletter with Carla's first lesson next week.