09/17/2013 02:59 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2013

Mindful Parenting

My husband is a photographer. Before the digital age, I would watch him shoot 36 photos, rewind his film, develop it, make a contact sheet and then select one or two images as being good enough to print. The time and precision he put into his work resulted in his success as an artist and a professional. How many of us put that kind of thought and intention into our parenting?

Keeping up with life can be overwhelming. Just meeting the demands of jobs and family often put us into autopilot and we find ourselves reacting to our children's behaviors spontaneously without thinking about what is generating their actions and what message they're trying to communicate. Our expectations often exceed their ability and the way we view them doesn't always match the way they feel. But if we take the time to understand who they are, what they are capable of and build a trusting relationship with them, we'll find that communication opens up and troublesome behaviors diminish.

Claudia Gold, in her book, Keeping Your Child in Mind, talks about the importance of being understood by the people we love. For children, especially, the connection to parents is the main touchstone to help meet the demands of the world. Developing that relationship with our children will provide them with the self-awareness and confidence that will help them meet the inevitable challenges of childhood, not to mention getting along with family and friends.

According to Dr. Gold, we need to keep in mind that our children are all different with varying temperaments and abilities. Having empathy for what they are feeling will help us connect to them and help them cope with tough times. Helping them contain those feelings will give them the tools to build their self-control. But, most important, being aware of our own feelings and reactions when conflict arises will give us clues as to what their behaviors are triggering in us and help us take ownership of those feelings.

Raising our children is the most important endeavor we take on in our lives. I think most of us are surprised at the effort it takes and the emotion it elicits. But what if we consider our role of parenting as an opportunity to not only raise happy, healthy children, but also to gain knowledge of ourselves and how we interact with the world? Our children can teach us more than we teach them if we just take the time to listen and see the world through their eyes. And what a gift it would be to develop a relationship of understanding as our children grow into adulthood.

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