Do you wish you could be fully present with your child more often instead of feeling distracted all the time?
Maybe you want to stop being a reactive parent running on autopilot, and be more aware of how you're parenting and interacting with your kids.
Both of these goals are great and mindful parenting will help you achieve them!
When you're a mindful parent, everyone in your family wins and reaps the benefits. For you, it's the difference between constantly being triggered and stressed out by your child's behavior and being calm and level-headed instead. And for everyone else, it's about strengthened relationships, experiencing less stress and anxiety, being more confident and secure, exhibiting more positive behaviors, and learning how to regulate their own emotions.
It may sound complex to understand and difficult to implement at first, so let's break down what mindful parenting is and then talk about some simple ways you can practice mindfulness as a parent, starting today.
What is Mindful Parenting?
Mindful parenting is the practice of being more aware and present as a parent. It's an intentional decision to understand your child's needs and behaviors, as well as your own so that you can manage your emotions and thoughtfully respond instead of reacting out of habit.
Parenting mindfully looks like being present in the moment, giving your child your focused attention instead of being distracted and passively paying attention to them.
It also looks like being aware of what’s going on within your child during a tantrum or meltdown, seeing the situation from their point of view, and responding appropriately with empathy—instead of automatically yelling or threatening punishments.
Are they tired or hungry and having trouble managing their emotions because of that?
Do they need help communicating their frustrations or are they feeling overwhelmed by something, causing them to zone out and ignore you?
Slowing down in moments like these can help you figure out what's really going on, why you feel the way you do about the situation, and then what you can do about it.
Being a mindful parent doesn't mean that you are always understanding, patient, and present. You're still human and will always be learning how to put mindful parenting into practice and in new ways, but it's worth the effort and dedication.
6 Ways to Practice Mindful Parenting
Mindful parenting is a practice and making it second nature requires consistency. The rewards are worth it, of course, so keep at it even when it feels hopeless or too hard. Your entire parenting experience and your family relationships will be better for it.
1. Start By Being More Self-aware
The thing about parenting is that you bring all of your own baggage, experiences, stories, and triggers from your own childhood along with you. If you're like most people, you aren't even aware of your triggers or stress responses, which is partly why you react out of habit instead of responding mindfully.
When you pay close attention to your own patterns and where they stem from—without judgment or bias—you're able to understand how to meet your own needs so that you're more equipped to handle the stress of parenting and be more mindful with your child.
Figure out when you are more likely to lose your cool and why, and then get ahead of it.
For example, if you figure out that you get grumpy and short fused when you skip breakfast, make it a point to eat breakfast first thing every day. Likewise, if you know a certain behavior from your child really challenges your own beliefs or brings back memories for you, work on healing those triggers daily.
Being self-aware is the key to mindful parenting because when we’re able to recognize and anticipate our own triggers, we can get ahead of them and not let them overtake our emotions.
2. Practice the Pause
Next time you're on the verge of yelling or reacting in an undesired way, just pause and focus inward as long as it is safe to do so. Observe your thoughts and acknowledge your feelings without acting on them, judging them, or trying to change them. Also pay attention to all the areas you can feel stress rising in your body and how it changes your breathing patterns.
Then focus on your breaths to calm your nerves and remind yourself that you are safe and there's no rush to respond to the situation. Allow your body to relax and focus on each long inhale and exhale.
Doing this puts you in control of your emotions and puts space between you and the situation.
By focusing on your breathing and what your body is telling you, you are essentially telling your body there's no reason to fight or flight. Then you can come back to the present moment with a clear head and respond in a healthy way instead of out of anger or frustration.
You'll also probably find that doing this helps de-escalate your child, too, because they'll feel your calmness and realize there's no immediate threat (just like you're trying to remind yourself).
3. Observe And Accept Your Child's Behavior And Unmet Needs
Slowing down enough to really observe your child from a place of curiosity—and then accepting your child's behavior and needs without trying to rush through or change them—really changes the parenting game.
Behaviors are communication of some type of unmet need, but without observation it's impossible to figure out what that need is in the first place.
Just like you have your own set of thoughts, feelings, and triggers, so does your child. They're also still learning how the world works and how to regulate their own set of very confusing emotions, just like you are.
Being mindful about this helps you accept your child as they are while also showing them how they can manage their own emotions in a healthy way.
Try looking beneath the surface next time they're acting out or pushing your buttons. Ask them why they don't want to do the thing or how they're feeling at that moment. Taking time to be present and really connect with your child makes all the difference and you'll likely be pleasantly surprised at what you learn from them.
4. Find Points of Connection
Parenting mindfully doesn't just apply to times of conflict between you and your child. You can be mindful and present with your child at any time, and it starts with a point of connection.
If you have trouble connecting with your child, this may feel forced and will require you to think outside the box. But the important thing is that you try to establish a connection with your child when the both of you are in a good mood and clear mental state.
Simple things like coloring together or watching TV at the same time can go a long way in being present and restoring connection.
If you're still not sure how to find something for the both of you to do together, ask them for their own ideas! There's also an incredible amount of ideas on the internet for any age group.
It doesn't have to go smoothly at first, just as long as you're giving your child your focused attention.
Finding points of connection can also work during and after times of conflict but only after you gain composure of yourself. If you're feeling disconnected and up against your child, find a way to connect better in the moment.
Can you hug, simply apologize, or reassure them that you still love them despite this challenge? Try offering an activity or change of pace to let the both of you breathe and connect again. Go for a walk, talk about a fun memory, listen to music—something that eases the tension and brings positive thoughts to the both of you.
5. Practice Mindfulness in Other Ways Outside of Parenting
You can become a more mindful parent by doing mindful activities like journaling, reading, mindful walking, meditation, yoga, and so forth. All of these things are great for strengthening your mindfulness and giving yourself some much needed self-care, too.
6. Remember that Being a Mindful Parent is More than Using Mindful Parenting Techniques
The truth is that despite the benefits of mindful parenting techniques, if you focus on the style of parenting more than just being the parent your child needs, you'll eventually put too much pressure on yourself and burnout or break.
You likely don't want to parent better for the sake of just being a better parent, right? Instead, you probably want to raise empowered, healthy, and resilient children who are mindful themselves. And because kids emulate us parents, it's pretty obvious why we need to lead the way.
Remember: there's no deadline or specific mark of success here. You're not practicing mindful parenting as a means to an end. It's about creating a more joyful, fulfilling, and healthy parenting experience and relationship with your child.
Mindful parenting is about being connected to that overarching vision of being the parent your child needs and modeling lifelong skills like emotional regulation, boundaries, and so forth.
Being a more mindful parent isn't as hard as it may seem right now, but it does take practice and consistency.
You're already aware that you want to be more mindful as a parent, which is the first step in mindful parenting. Now it's just time to implement the other tips and continue to learn and adjust along the way.