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Mindful Parenting: The Gift of Time
“The wonderful gift of mindfulness is that we can stop ourselves and ask: What am I feeling? What is it like from my child’s point of view? When you can do that, you often see things that you didn’t let yourself see before because you were so caught up in the reactive mode, which is very limiting.” ~Myla Kabat-Zinn
Mindfulness is an easy concept in itself: it is being present and aware, with a non-judgemental attitude. Yet, it is an incredibly difficult concept to put to practice. In practicing mindfulness with parents throughout the years, the most frequent challenge parents note about mindful parenting is that there simply is “not enough time.” I do not disagree. Our technologically advanced society has rapidly become busier by the minute! Having a smart phone means we are never really “unplugged,” and social media pulls us in without the realization that time simply escapes us. Yet, mindful parenting is simply investing and using the time we already have in a different way.
Case example: I have been practicing mindfulness with my family since our first child, Sammy, was born (he is now 6 years old). I realized quite quickly, through my experience with Sammy and my clinical work with other children, that children are naturally mindful; the world is a curious place for them. For example, slowing down and watching the ants crawl on by is a very exciting thing to do for young children. Yet, as adults, we may not always have the time or patience to watch ants crawling with our children. Nevertheless, when I consciously slowed down and stayed with Sammy watching the ants, I fostered not only patience and curiousity, but my actions told our son that his interests were important enough. As Sammy got older, I began to bring in mindfulness to our daily lives in different ways. Initially, it took time, energy, and a lot of patience to slow our very active and rambunctious son down and engage him in simple mindful activities, such as following his breath or participating in daily family gratitude (“What are we thankful for today?”). But with consistent and daily efforts, Sammy came to become genuinely interested and mindful! At first, it was as simple as reminding his parents to do the daily thankfulness at dinner, but this has evolved. Not only is Sammy now consistently using the breath to bring himself calmness and breed patience, he also reminds his parents to do so when they begin to lose their patience. That in itself is often enough to calm his parents. The other day Sammy was excited for his Halloween activity and dressing up as his favourite superhero (Flash) simply made his day. Upon the conclusion of this very exciting activity, Sammy turned to me and said: “Mom, I can’t wait to do thankfulness with dad tonight! I have so much I want to share!” I came to the realization that mindfulness has become a part of Sammy’s life, and no longer an effort or a nuisance. While Sammy continues to be his active lovely self, he is now more aware of and in control of his emotions and has become increasingly attuned to his environment.
Mindful parenting, simply put, means being attuned and sensitive to our children. Taking the time to engage and play with your child(ren) goes a long way in establishing parent-child connection. When we spend this time with our child(ren), it is important to aim to be present, which means putting away our devices and really listening to what they have to say. This interaction shows child(ren) that they are important and fosters healthy confidence and parent-child attachment.
Just like physical exercise develops our body, mindfulness develops our mind. It challenges us to stay in the moment and focus and it does some amazing things for when we practice it with our children, as a family. Research shows that mindfulness not only fosters children’s feelings of safety, value, and worth, but it also builds self-confidence and capacity for empathy and compassion. And if that wasn’t enough, there is also scientific data to show that simply practicing mindful parenting actually increases the child’s adaptive behaviours and reduces behavioural difficulties. Last, but certainly not least, research on mindfulness also shows that parents report reductions in parenting stress with consistent mindfulness practice. Sounds nice to me!
So “how” does one practice “mindful parenting?” It is a life long practice, but you can start by incorporating a few of the following ideas into your daily life:
- Pick a few times over the week (perhaps at the end of the day) to re-connect and notice the breath for a few minutes, this cultivates stillness and being present together. You can make this playful with younger children by pretending you’re breathing in something delicious (e.g., cookies) and breathing out (blowing) birthday candles.
- Pick a time as a family to bring awareness to the body. With younger children, this can be done playfully, such as pointing a flashlight to body parts and looking “inside” to see how each body part feels.
- Pick a time as a family to share gratitude/ thankfulness at the end of the day together (e.g., at dinner time).
- Pick a time as a family to share favourite things about the day.
- Pick a time as a family to share something kind that each person did that day.
- Pick a time as a family to share three good things that happened that day.
- Eat a mindful meal/ snack together; using all your senses, eat food slowly and describe it in all detail.
- Go for a mindful walk together. You can use your senses and play a game while walking. For instance, a “listening walk” may involve picking out as many sounds as you can hear around you. Or an “I spy with my little eye” visual game.
- With the kids, you can ask them to switch on their super ‘Spidey-senses’ to find out what they can taste, smell, hear, see and feel in the moment.
- There are many free mindfulness apps that may be useful to listen to together. (e.g., Head Space and the Smiling Minds apps have some guided meditations for children and adults. They’re free and easy to use).
- Finally, informally bringing attention throughout the day to your own and your child(ren)’s emotional state will help you and your child(ren) become more aware of what you feel when you are feeling it. Sit together and notice any emotions that come to you. Don’t try to change or understand them, just notice and be with them.
If we bring mindfulness into moments when we sense ourselves losing control, such as using our breath to ground us in the body, and if we try to stay in the moment and simply observe and note what is really happening with our child, we may find that there is much more going on than what we are reacting to on the surface. For instance, if a child is acting out, it may be because he/she felt frustrated with his/her homework and, rather than expressing this frustration, the child chose to act out to feel empowered. Children often act out when something feels difficult. Yet, as parents, we are often reacting to what is on the surface (i.e., their behaviours). So when parents learn to “respond” rather than react, parents may also begin to see that wild, loud, or angry behaviour as not simply “negative,” but a cry for help, or a listening ear.
Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn (2009). Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting.
Pilar Placone (2011). Mindful Parent Happy Child: A Guide to Raising Joyful & Resilient Children.
*If you would like to learn more about mindful parenting, Dr. Heifetz will be leading a series of mindful parenting workshops at Boomerang Health in March 2018. Stay tuned for more information/details. We welcome you to join us!