Parenting is one of the most rewarding, exhilarating, exciting and satisfying challenges life presents us with. However, it can also be exhausting, challenging, frustrating and a challenge we can feel unprepared for.
While raising our children, we can sometimes feel overwhelmed by the pressures that preoccupy us much of the time, making us run on autopilot and increasing stress. This can lead to a sense of dissatisfaction with our lives and in the relationship we are establishing with our children. At this point, the emotional part of our brain takes control making us more impulsive, depressive, and less sympathetic. If these conditions become part of our lives, it can have an impact on our own well-being as well as the way our children develop and achieve their potential.
Mindfulness-practice is a powerful tool to help us see more clearly and deal more skilfully with our parental pressures and responsibilities, this is what we call mindful parenting.
What is Mindful Parenting?
Mindfulness is an adaptation of Buddhist meditation. Supported by over 40 years of research across a number of sectors and applications; Mindfulness is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment and accepting it without judgement .
Learning how to pay more attention to the present moment, to your own thoughts and feelings and to the world around you, can have a big impact on yourself and on your children. By practicing mindfulness our tendency to relate to our experiences in automatic ways is neutralised. As such, mindful parenting is the chance for you to do things with your child without having your attention drawn away from what is happening right now between the two of you. With regular practice, mindfulness can help you to learn new ways to respond; stepping back from the situation and considering a response that is less impulsive and more appropriate to your child’s needs.
Why Become a Mindful Parent?
Mindfulness-based interventions are increasingly being used to help parents to manage stress, increase parents and children’s well-being, improve the quality of the parent-child relationship, and to prevent the transmission of mental conditions from parents to children. Mindfulness-practice by parents has shown positive effects on reducing parental stress, decreasing excessive preoccupation, improving parental emotional control . These positives impacts have been confirmed by an increasing number of studies for different parental situations and needs. For example:
Mindfulness for parents with mental health conditions: mindfulness-training can be a powerful tool for parents coping with a mental health condition. A study explored how parents with a history of recurrent depression experience their relationships with their children after mindfulness-training. After a year of the intervention, parents reported positive changes in the emotional relationships with their children, an increased ability to manage their emotions, to be emotionally available to their children, and a greater ability to teach their children how to manage their emotions .
Mindfulness for parents of children with special needs: mindfulness-training is effective to understand children with special needs. A study assessed the efficacy of a 5-week mindfulness-program for parents of children with special needs. Participants showed significant reductions in stress and anxiety even after 2 months . Additionally, another study trains mindfulness for 12 weeks to parents of children with autism. After the intervention, parents reported a decrease in their children’s aggression, disobedience, and self-injury; and an increase in the parents’ satisfaction with their parenting skills and interactions with their children . In another study 46 parents of children with developmental delay were trained in mindfulness-practice. After the training, parents reported significantly less stress and depression as well as greater life satisfaction. Parents also reported that their children had fewer behavioural problems, specifically related to the areas of attention and anxiety .
Mindfulness for pregnant parents: mindfulness-practice can be an excellent ally to cope with the mental and physical changes during pregnancy. A study trained 27 women in mindfulness during their third trimester, finding that mindfulness-practice decreased their anxiety and depression. The majority of participants reported benefits of using mindfulness practices during the perinatal period and early parenting . Another study explored the effects of an 8-week mindfulness-based intervention on pregnant women between 12 and 28 weeks gestation. Participants reported a decline in measures of depression, stress and anxiety. These improvements continued into the postnatal period .
How to Become a Mindful Parent
You can learn formal mindfulness practices. Formal practices are typically taught through a variety of meditation exercises that involve sitting quietly while focusing attention on one’s breath. When the mind wanders, which is normal, the learner is instructed to become aware of what is occupying the mind, and then return attention to their breathing. Formal meditation practice can be complemented by informal exercises. This requires that mindfulness becomes part of your daily routine in activities such as eating, walking, and playing with your children .
You can start your mindfulness journey by practicing the Stop, Pause, Play exercise. This is an exercise that helps parents to be in the present moment with their children :
STOP what you are doing for a moment.
PAUSE for a while: Now focus on your breath, breathe in slowly, and then exhale completely. Take 5 more slow breaths. Remember to be aware of each breath in and each breath out.
PLAY – When you are in this calm state, you will be better able to respond in a thoughtful way to your child.
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