Mindful Parenting: What Is It, and How Can It Benefit Your Kids (And You)?
In recent years, a meditation practice called mindfulness, or mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), has gained traction and credibility in mainstream psychology. The idea behind it is to allow yourself to exist in the present moment, often by paying close attention to your body, your breathing, and anything in the current moment that appeals to your five senses. If thoughts or feelings should intrude, users are told to gently turn their attention back to the present moment.
It takes some practice, but research backs it up as an effective way to improve sleep and life satisfaction and deal with stress, anxiety, and depression.
The techniques of mindfulness could help you personally, but did you know that you could apply the idea to your parenting? The practice is similar to and often goes hand-in-hand with MBSR, but is also distinct from it. It is called mindful parenting.
While MBSR is largely about focusing on the self and relieving one’s own stress and anxiety, mindful parenting takes the principles of mindfulness and applies them to parent-child interactions. For example, being attentive to what your child is trying to communicate, avoiding making judgments about your child, and taking a step back to acknowledge the present situation and your emotions rather than instantly reacting based on said emotions.
Evidence on the practice is still emerging, but one study of 600 parents of kids ranging in age from three to 17 found that mindful parenting was linked to more positive parenting strategies, which then translated on to the children, resulting in less depression, anxiety, and acting out behaviorally.
In other words, mindful parenting can affect not just you and reduce your own stress, but it can also help your children, as well.
So how exactly does it work?
According to lead author of the aforementioned study, Justin Parent, mindful parenting involves three things:
- Taking stock of how you are feeling
- Taking a second before reacting
- Listening to your child carefully
For example, let’s say you and your child are running late for school, and yet your child is moving slower than molasses, seemingly oblivious to the situation. Before you react, pause and recognize how you are feeling, use mindfulness techniques (for example, notice your breathing and pay attention to what’s really going on with your child), and then respond to the situation appropriately with your newly calm, more detached view of things.
Mindfulness like this takes a great deal of practice and work, but by employing it in your day to day life, you can decrease your stress, become more emotionally in-tune with your children, and increase your positive parenting skills—things that all of us can stand to improve upon.