Mindfulness involves paying attention and being aware in the moment, without judging and analysing our thoughts and so not bringing our ‘baggage’ to situations. It is about accepting things as they are; not getting continuously caught up in how things ‘should’ be, worries about what might happen and concerns over past issues. Central to being able to do this is knowing that our thoughts are not facts. Thoughts come and go; feelings and moods are usually transitory. The skill in mindfulness is to notice and be aware of uncomfortable thoughts but to let them pass without stressing about them.
Parenting mindfully is practising the acceptance of tricky situations without allowing our anxiety, irritability and worry dictate the management of our kids. An emotional response to behaviour issues, for example, usually exacerbates things. Having said this, it is only human nature to have thoughts bubbling up when behaviour is challenging, such as: ‘Why is he doing this again?……What have I done to deserve this? ..I must be really rubbish’ etc. Our brains tend to tell us negative stories; we then feel we need to act upon this unpleasant and uncomfortable record being played in our minds. We reason that if we are thinking something, it must be true, and we better do something about it. Because our thoughts often drive our behaviour we can then over-react when we are in an irrational and negative mind-set. Then we regret it when rational thought returns and the realisation dawns that maybe there were factors we didn’t take into consideration when we went ‘OTT’. The truth becomes clear again: getting cross or upset makes the behaviour worse; this may not be apparent immediately but will be in hours, days or weeks to come, when our kids play up to get a response—any response! Negative parent responses breed negative behaviour.
So with parenting it is about reducing our automatic negative responses and being mindful when our stresses, anger and anxiety are driving our behaviour towards our kids. It is staying aware of where our brain is and leaving a gap before responding. It is parenting with the rational part of our brain rather than our over-emotional ‘primitive’ brain which is a left-over from times when we needed to respond quickly based on fears and anger (or we would be in real danger in a wild, pre-civilised world).
The aim is not to ignore our emotions but to notice the thinking which is fuelling these emotions and to gently accept that is what we think and feel at the moment, with the awareness that in an hour or so we will probably be thinking something completely different. If we are angry that something is going wrong in our families and maybe feel helpless and unnerved, then that definitely needs addressing, but issues like this are best addressed when things have calmed down and there is space to be rational and clear-headed .
So parents may wish to consider the need to:
– Pre-plan how they will react to the children- think through the consequences you will use (with consequences/sanctions for poor behaviour, it’s about certainty and calm consistency, not OTT severity)
– Take a break before responding to challenging behaviour-walk away if emotions are running high
– Consider where the emotion is coming from. You’ve had a bad day and now it’s all ‘kicking off’ with the kids, making you want to scream…are your feelings really about your children or about something that happened earlier at work or another issue?
– Don’t allow your children to take the brunt, take time-out
– Be in the moment—enjoy your children, noticing their strengths and good qualities (childhood is over all to soon)
One idea is to have a nice, attractive journal and record 4 things you enjoyed about your children every evening for 4 weeks- even if those positive things were small e.g.:
– I liked the way Fred hugged me before he went to school
– Chloe’s smile is lovely
– Fred learnt to read our road sign
– Chloe ate a mouthful of carrot
Share these things with them if you feel you want to, and get them to do the same. This is an evidence based intervention for those practising Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and is proven to increase positive thoughts and enhance relationships (crucial for adults wishing to improve children’s behaviour)
Good luck with being a more mindful Mum or Dad.