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Becoming a Mindful Parent Part 2
In the previous post we defined mindfulness and its benefits. We would now like to turn to how you can begin to practice mindfulness in your own life and apply it to your way of parenting.
1. Breathe. Simple? No, not at all. This is probably one of the most challenging. When we are stressed our breath can be quick and choppy. Catching our breath can then be a challenge but an important one. Try for one to three minutes every day to just breathe. Close your eyes and focus on the in breath and out breath. Pay attention to the sensation of the cool air as it enters your nostrils and as the warm breath exits your mouth and body.
2. Start Paying Attention to Details. If there is a behavior that you or your child is struggling with, start tracking this behavior. This forces the mind to pay attention to that given behavior in the present moment. For example, you are wanting to reduce temper tantrums with your teen think about mood tracking. This can take various forms. One way is to keep a journal every day of feelings. Notice when the tantrums occur. What feelings prevail, and what other factors do you notice (i.e what, who, where, when)? As you notice the details that surround a tantrum (i.e at 8 pm Sunday nights) you can start to put plans in place to reduce the likelihood of occurrence (i.e. decompress with a movie night Sunday, organize bag for school the next day etc).
3. Help with Moment-to-Moment Focus on the Positive. Consistent with the tracking idea, perhaps you keep track as a family of three positive things that happened that day for each family member. What this may do is it can help raise awareness of the little things, it will help you (or your child) be more connected to the positive things that happen and more mindful to notice when these things happen. As a parent, it could be particularly helpful for you to point out these positive things every day for your child and mirror this practice for them.
4. Practice Being Present. There are numerous wonderful mindful exercises, many which are accessible on the web. One way to practice being mindful is to focus on your sensory system. Choose one mode of sensory processing; be it touch, smell hearing, sight. Now try to be mindful in the present moment with that one sensory system. So for example lets choose sound:
For 5 minutes practice listening to the sounds that surround you. You can do this with your eyes open or closed, whatever feels more accessible to you. Then when thoughts enter your mind practice noticing them and letting them go. For example, when you sit outside, close your eyes and start to pay attention to sounds that surround you. Then you hear a fire truck and your mind starts to wander “what happened?; I hope no one is hurt…imagine if the fire was in my house…”. So now practice letting go: Imagine these thoughts on a conveyer belt in front of you, or clouds floating by. Don’t entertain or stay stuck to any one thought; return to the breath and to the sounds that surround you. In this moment of bringing your mind back- this is the moment mindfulness happens. The moment you take notice of the present- that your thoughts wondered, and you work on the return. Mindfulness is like a muscle it does not get strong overnight, you need to work it out regularly. As you do, you feel that exercising your strength becomes easier and easier. In other words, as you practice, being present (i.e. bringing yourself back when your mind wanders) will start to become more natural to you.
Note: You can also practice being present as a family exercise – maybe by having a mindful meal. Have the whole family sit at dinner and mindfully pay attention to what you are eating, the different textures and tastes- then everyone can talk about what they are experiencing and be present at dinner!
Most importantly remember: mindfulness is not a goal to be reached, but an ongoing process to be discovered, worked at and experienced at every moment. So, enjoy your today-fulness!