Mindful Parenting

How to be more present in your and your child’s life.
By Carmel Murugen

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Mindfulness practice is being increasingly touted by science and psychology for its benefits to your health and mental wellbeing. Mindful parenting refers to being in tune with your inner state, watching yourself when something happens that would normally upset you, and being intentional about modifying your words and behaviour when responding to your child. It’s about cultivating the ability to be fully present in the moment.
 
Sarah Foale, a mindfulness-based coach and facilitator in Cape Town, explains that “mindfulness invites a commitment to various practices that over time enable us to experience our lives in a more engaged, conscious, connected and compassionate manner”. She adds that through mindfulness practice, “we develop the capacity to be more present in our lives, and to show up more fully, firstly for ourselves, and then to all those around us, especially those we love and care about, such as our children”.
 
Central to the practice is the STOP technique, which requires that when faced with a challenge you:
 
  • Stop right where you are
  • Take a deep breath, which will help you to steady yourself
  • Observe what is happening here and now – with your body sensations, emotions and thoughts – and allow your emotions to settle
  • Proceed from a place of presence, compassion, groundedness and wisdom.
 
Give mindful parenting a try
  1. Tune in to the present: Live your life in moments, taking time to create “breathing spaces” amid all the busyness and challenges. Be aware of when your attention is wandering from what you’re experiencing at that moment, and bring it back to the here and now. Give your child your full attention, actively listen to what they’re saying and be aware of their emotions. To really connect with your child, you need to disconnect from your electronic devices and not be preoccupied with thoughts of other responsibilities.
  2. Make peace with your imperfections: Most of us strive to be the “perfect parent.” Newsflash! That’s not a thing. You are going to make mistakes as a parent. If your child doesn’t see you fail, how will they learn to cope with failure? Your response to your negative situation creates a teachable opportunity to demonstrate to your child how they should cope with loss, failure and rejection.
  3. Keep calm: You arrive home after a long day at work, your nerves are frazzled and all you want is to relax in the solace of your home. Instead, you’re met at the door by your nine year old frantically waving a list of items needed for a school project the next day. Enough to make you want to snap like a twig? Our brains are naturally programmed to respond to the emotional reactivity of the moment, which is not the most helpful approach, especially if we resort to raised voices and expressions of frustration and anger. When feelings are intense, there is less space for thought. When you respond calmly, your child feels they can trust you to be in control and this makes them feel secure.
  4. Cultivate self–compassion: Parenting is one of the toughest jobs you’ll ever have. It requires a substantial investment of your time, energy and emotions. It can leave you feeling overwhelmed, perhaps even resentful. Mindful parenting encourages being kind to yourself, letting go of unrealistic expectations and loving and accepting yourself for who you truly are. You can’t give your child unconditional love if you aren’t able to show it to yourself. As you cultivate self-compassion and self-acceptance it will flow naturally to your child.
 
More often than not, your focus is out of sync with what you are experiencing at the moment. It may be on what’s already taken place or on what you anxiously anticipate is going to happen. Research indicates that this “mind-wandering” is detrimental to your health.
 
By developing mindfulness practices you are enhancing your quality of life and giving your children your full self. More importantly, they will emulate your way of doing things, as children do. Teaching your child to live mindfully is one of the best gifts you can give as a parent.

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