There’s a reason that the popularity of apps that help people practice mindfulness has skyrocketed in recent years. According to the American Psychology Association, the 2,600-year-old practices of mindfulness and meditation can reduce stress, increase working memory, and decrease emotional reactivity, and in a stressful world, mindfulness offers a welcome respite. Being a mindful parent, which involves being fully present and avoiding judgment while parenting, provides a way to get the most out of your time with your child.
However, it can be difficult to envision what mindful parenting looks like in practice. Imagine this scenario. Your child is showing you a project or creation they made. You have several other obligations competing for your time. You need to figure out what’s for dinner, clean up the remains of lunch, set a reminder to pay the utility bill, respond to unanswered texts from friends and family, and help your other child with their math homework. In this situation, it may be difficult to give your child your full attention as all of these other tasks simultaneously vie for your attention.
The key to mindful parenting is to stay grounded in the present, which is much easier said than done. Despite this challenge, the concept of mindful parenting, which was first proposed by Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1997, has gained many adherents since it can be beneficial for children and parents alike.
What does mindful parenting look like?
The easiest and most important step to take as a mindful parent is to focus on your breathing. Take a few deep breaths and try to focus only on your breathing, including the sensations you feel and the length of your inhalation and exhalation. Doing so will help you tune out the other thoughts floating around in your mind. In addition to calming racing thoughts, controlled breathing can decrease stress in the long term by invoking what Harvard Medical School cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson calls the relaxation response.
Even if you can’t dedicate several minutes to deep breathing exercises, just taking a moment to breathe can be helpful. This is especially true in situations that have a high likelihood of emotional reactivity. For example, if you discover that your teenager skipped class or didn’t turn in an important school assignment, your first instinct may be to discipline your child. While this may ultimately be the course of action that you choose, if you take a breath first before meting out punishments, it is likely to veer you away from impulsive decision-making. This is because mindfulness helps you to recognize your fight or flight impulses when your adrenaline spikes. Mindfulness allows for a space between what you experience and how you react to that experience, which can lead to benefits for both you and your child.
If you observe someone practicing mindful parenting, they will not be multitasking. Multitasking is often a staple in the parenting toolbox, but studies show that trying to tackle multiple tasks at the same time actually decreases a person’s ability to efficiently complete any of them. Additionally, multitasking can impair your thinking and your capacity to remain attentive. While it may be tempting to get on your phone while your child dangles from the monkey bars at the park, doing so means that your attention is divided. If you can be actively engaged with your child while they’re playing, that’s great, but even if that is not an option, if you are giving your child your full attention while they play, they will take notice. In a child’s eyes, attention equates to compassion, and giving them that attention has the added benefit of letting you watch them grow up without missing a moment.
How can mindfulness be used as a parent?
Based on the research conducted by the psychologist Diana Baumrind, parenting styles can generally be categorized as primarily one of the following: authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and uninvolved, with authoritative parenting often leading to the best outcomes for children’s development. This type lies somewhere between authoritarian and permissive parenting where rules are set and expectations are high, but children are treated with compassion and respect.
Mindful parenting can coexist alongside authoritative parenting because both styles require a measured approach. Mindful parenting has been proven to offer many benefits, which stem from the fact that parents are best equipped to take care of their children after they’ve taken care of themselves first. Because anxiety can be contagious, the more parents incorporate mindfulness into their daily routines, the more likely it is that their entire household will be a calmer place. In the ecosystem of a family, each part affects the other part, so one person’s stress can be felt by those around them even if they’re not intending to cause that kind of ripple effect.
One lesser known benefit of mindful parenting is that it increases children’s social decision-making skills. One study suggested that mindful parenting plays a pivotal role in children’s development of prosocial decision-making skills (which refers to social behavior that benefits other people or society as a whole). In an article published in the Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, the authors explained how a mindful approach to parenting can nourish parent-child relationships: “We believe that parents who adopt a mindfulness orientation for their parenting and regularly engage in mindful parenting practices will undergo a fundamental shift in their ability and willingness to truly be present with the constantly growing and changing nature of their child and their relationship with their child.”
What kind of parent are you? Share what your parenting style is in the comments section and whether incorporating mindful practices has beneffited your family.