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Becoming a Mindful Parent Part 1
Mindfulness refers to the practice of awareness in the present moment and doing so with compassion or non-judgmentally. In applying mindfulness to parenting practices we are talking about awareness of moment-to-moment interactions between a parent and child and the ongoing acceptance of yourself as a parent and of your child in their own right. Mindfulness in many ways is like a garden; it cannot blossom overnight. Moreover, without effort and attention the flowers may not grow and sometimes harsh weather conditions can disrupt even the best of efforts. Applying this to family dynamics, it could be said that there are constant changes and transitions that each member of the family goes through, and with each growth and change the relationship between a parent and child needs to be negotiated and renegotiated. Mindfulness is then about being present with the ebbs and flows; negotiating the best choice for yourself and your family even in difficult circumstances, and accepting that this takes practice and that some days you may be weathered by the storm. Mindful parenting is not a goal that you need to master.
So what is it then?
Mindful parenting is an approach to parenting and to life in general.
What are the benefits?
- As a parent, mindfulness will help you to be attuned to your child and create secure and fulfilling emotional attachment bonds with your child; decrease emotional stress; improve your child (and your own) capacities to regulate difficult emotions, and build resiliency in the face of stress.
- In general mindfulness helps you to be more efficient and productive at work and in your relationships.
- It decreases stress. Stress is rampant in our fast paced world today and stress impacts our brains, and our childrens’ brains and how our brains function. If our brain is constantly in a state of alarm, the prefrontal cortex- the part of the brain responsible for paying attention, rational thought, logic, planning, positive thinking, and decision making gets overshadowed. Moreover, brain science has shown that if the part of the brain responsible for alarm response is always being stimulated (as occurs in the context of stress) this actually inhibits the development of the prefrontal cortex. By engaging in short mindful parenting practices we can calm this alarm or stress response and help the prefrontal cortex – the decision maker and planner, become stronger.
How can mindfulness be so effective in such an overarching way?
By practicing being focused in the present moment, without being distracted by what happened earlier or by what is to happen next, you allow yourself to be open to what comes.
A key to this is the aspect of bring present with a nonjudgmental attitude. This is pivotal because it refers to being an observer in your own life. That is, watching what is happening to you in a given moment. By OBSERVING not acting, you give yourself SPACE and TIME to act mindfully and you do so without imposing judgments. For example, take this situation which is common to many parents:
Your children are fighting and yelling at one another after you come home from work with a massive headache. You in a moment of frustration yell at them both. Well here is the clincher- mindful parenting is not about blaming yourself for your failings “”I’m Such a bad parent”; “Why can’t I hold it together” nor judging your children, “They are little terrors!” In fact, it is about ridding yourself of these judgments as they are totally ineffective; they pull you out of the moment and then you miss the next moment and those that follow. This moment-to-moment mental absence impedes your ability to make informed decisions and can also make you feel embarrassed, out of it, and misattuned to your kids and your life more generally. In order to be open to experience, and teach our children the same, we need to suspend judgment of ourselves (and of others) especially in the more challenging moments.
Stay tuned for our next psychology blog post on how you incorporate daily mindful practice.