If you’re carrying a working parent life load, it might feel like you’re constantly tackling one task from an endless list – while mentally, you’re already on to the next. All that multitasking can make it tough to be calm and present when your kids need you most.
Mindfulness and parenting: a judgment-free zone
Here’s where mindfulness can come into parenting. As opposed to a single habit, we’re generally talking about the practice of being fully present and paying attention – without judgment – to how you’re feeling. Taking this approach in parenting can go a long way toward supporting a healthy family.
“Mindful parenting allows us to be more attuned, more accepting, and less judgmental as we model the behavior we’d like to see in our children,” says Yaffa Maritz, clinical psychologist and co-founder/director of the Community of Mindful Parenting. She defines mindful parenting as an “ongoing intention to paying attention, taking pauses, noticing when one does not pay attention, and re-orienting towards being present at the given moment without beating oneself up.”
Here’s 3 simple strategies you can try in your own parenting:
- The STOP method
- Modeling mindfulness
- Accepting their emotions
Strategy 1: The STOP method
The gist: “A parent has first to set an intention to be present, and once this becomes a treasured value of our parenting, we practice [the] STOP [method],” Maritz says.
The how: Stop and pause. Take a few slow deep breaths to calm your autonomic nervous system. Observe, notice, and pay attention with acceptance to your sensations, thoughts, and emotions. Proceed to respond from a clear mental state.
Strategy 2: Modeling mindfulness
The gist: By being more attuned, more accepting, and less judgmental, we’re modeling the behavior we’d like to see in our kids. Maritz believes that children who grow up in calmer environments experience being heard, valued, and accepted for who they are.
The how: Actively demonstrate mindfulness techniques like the STOP method and narrate or explain what you’re doing. If frustration or stress gets the better of you in a difficult situation, acknowledge it once you’re able, and tell your kids how you wish you’d handled the moment differently. “There are countless ways mindful parenting can positively impact our family’s health, happiness, and well-being,” she says. “But probably the most beautiful gift it can offer is the simple act of slowing down and paying more attention to our kids.”
Strategy 3: Accepting their emotions
The gist: Instead of reacting immediately to a tantrum or other challenging emotions, take a moment to calm your own stress response. Then diffuse the situation by meeting their feelings with empathy, acceptance and a calm front. And yep, this is hard.
The how: Maritz says that using a mindfulness technique like the STOP method will increase your chances of regulating your own emotions, which ultimately helps you respond well and with empathy in difficult parenting moments. “This allows parents to take a broader perspective and helps them realize their child is using the tantrum to express frustration or some other unmet need,” says Maritz. Then you’re better able to set boundaries on a child’s unacceptable behavior, while still showing love and connection.
Responding rather than reacting is mindfulness
It’s important to remember that dramatic moments aren’t teachable ones for kids, who can’t learn when their brains are overcome with emotion. Support them by calmly identifying their feelings for them – “You’re angry and it’s OK to be angry” – and briefly explaining the boundary – “It’s not OK to hit.”
When we mindfully respond to a parenting challenge rather than react to it, we can teach our kids that clear, calm thinking can solve conflicts in a kind, respectful manner. So next time things get fraught, try the STOP method, and turn the difficult moment into a chance for connection.