Being a parent is tricky. There are so many competing demands on our energy and time, juggling the needs of children, partner, paid work and housework. And all the while trying to look after our own health and sleep levels.
Being more mindful can help you cope better with all these demands. It’s about being more present with everything in our immediate experience and not dwelling too much in thoughts of the past or future. And importantly it’s about developing an awareness of our emotions so that we have the freedom to choose our responses more wisely instead of reacting to the tiredness or frustration we may feel.
This awareness is what can really help us be a happier and better parent.
So how can you be a more mindful parent? Here are some tips to get you started.
1. Start with yourself – practice short, daily meditations
The key here is to do some practices every single day. The more you practice (even in short bursts) the better you get at being more present and the calmer you’ll be under pressure.
There are many ways to practice mindfulness meditation. If you’re new to it start very simply with daily 5 minute practices of breath meditation. Take time out when the kids are asleep or otherwise occupied. Sit comfortably. Set a timer for 5 minutes if you need to. Then close your eyes and feel your breath. Feel every inhalation and every exhalation. Notice the thoughts coming in and out of your mind. Just let them pass and keep coming back to the feeling of breathing. If you need something more to focus on, count your breaths from one to ten.
2. Really be with your child
Make sure you take some decent time every day to sit with your child and give your attention entirely to them. Play with them, chat and listen to them. And while you do that see what else you can notice – turn your attention to their responses or emotions. Really notice what they look like right now (after all, children change so quickly)! Leave the busy thoughts in your head for later.
3. When parenting gets difficult, watch your emotions and pause
When our kids crack it and won’t do what we ask, it gets really frustrating and anger can build up inside us. We might react by yelling or forcing them to do something, which tends to make them resist more and cry louder. So we know this doesn’t work that well. Next time this happens, tune into your feelings as the frustration rises and then pause before acting. Take three full breaths and then decide what would be the wisest thing to do next. Maybe it doesn’t matter if your child complies – can you let go of it? If it really has to be done see if there’s another way to work with your child to get things done.
4. Help your children tune into what they are feeling
When your child is really upset about something they’re usually too overwhelmed by their emotions to think about anything else. So we need to help them to get a bit of this awareness I mentioned. You can do this by asking them how they’re feeling and get them to see what’s going on. For example, “Charlie do you feel angry that Josh took your truck? Do you feel very sad because you don’t have the truck now? Will hitting him make him feel bad too? So what can we do instead?” and go from there. Just by asking them to see their feelings and the situation they are likely to calm down and you can then find some creative ways to distract them or turn the situation around.
The main thing is to start with developing your own mindfulness and the improvement in your own wellbeing will inevitably benefit your children.
Suzie Brown teaches mindfulness meditation courses and workshops for the general public and in workplaces throughout Melbourne and Victoria. She writes a mindfulness blog and offers online courses through her site www.avistamindfulness.com.au