Mindful Parenting

“Today I shall behave, as if this is the day I will be remembered” Dr Suess

In the ideal world how do you want your child to remember you; what you have been to them in their life and what you have stood for as a person?

Parenting mindfully helps you to slow down and experience being with your child. It involves bringing your purposeful awareness to the present moment with your child with an attitude of openness and curiosity. When being fully present with your child you are more able to appreciate them for the unique person they are, even in their worst moments. Mindful parenting assists you in letting go of unhelpful thoughts about your child or worries about what other people may think and helps you to respond most sensitively and effectively. There is a range of processes involved in mindful parenting using an approach called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

How do I parent mindfully?

1. Identify your parenting values: Think about the kind of parent you want to be. Often we are focused on what we don’t want in our child or ourselves. it is important to think about how you do want to behave and the values that are important to you. You decide which values you wish to parent by but some examples are being loving, nurturing, respectful, available, sensitive, consistent, kind, reliable, and wise.

2. Unhook from unhelpful thoughts: It is very easy and common to get caught up in our thoughts. If we are caught up in unhelpful thoughts, our parenting can become reactive, ineffective and insensitive to our child’s needs. Ultimately, this can lead to distress in the parent-child relationship. Being caught up I our thoughts also stops us from enjoying quality time and just being with our child. There are many ways of dealing with thoughts so that they don’t push us around and precious moments for both yourself and your child can be experienced.

  1. Try noticing your thoughts as thoughts instead of as literal truths that you must react to. This helps you to separate from your thoughts.
  2. Ask yourself, is this a helpful thought? If I let this thought have power over my behaviour, is that how I want to treat my child or myself? Is that effective in the long run for creating a rich, full and meaningful life?
  3. The mind is like radio “doom and gloom”. Let it play on like a radio in the background.
  4. Notice there is part of you that can notice your thoughts and is separate from them.
  5. Let thoughts come and go like passing clouds in the sky.
  6. Say to yourself “I’m having the thought that…” and finish the sentence with your thought. This helps to remind you it is just a thought and you can choose whether to act on it or not.

 

3. Be open to your private experiences (thoughts and feelings): It is important to learn ways of making room for our private experiences that are a normal part of life. Life sometimes involves painful and unwanted thoughts and feelings. If we tend to avoid uncomfortable or distressing emotions or thoughts we may miss out on important parenting moments with our child. For examples, if you have decided to use positive parenting strategies for managing misbehaviour and your child acts up in front of people in public, you may feel anxious about being consistent in your parenting strategy with the worry that your child may increase their demands and have a tantrum. If you want to avoid the feeling of anxiety you may give in to your child and give them what they want – they learn that a tantrum or getting louder in public gets them what they want. Alternatively, if you are able to learn strategies to make room for and allow the anxiety, let go of unhelpful thoughts about what other’s think and really commit to your values and strategies, you are more likely to follow through with an effective parenting strategy.

4. Be present: It is easy for the demands of daily life to get in the way of moments of connection with loved ones, including our children. Parenting children can be very demanding and it’s easy for parents to get caught up in the ‘doing’ of caring for a child instead of having moments for just “being with” their child, gazing with baby, watching children play, and wondering about their experience. Imagine how your child feels having your attention, even for short moments, where nothing else gets in the way of you just being with them and enjoying who they are. Try these suggestions on how to “be” with your child and notice the quality of your relationship:

  1. Every day spend time playing with your child. Let them choose an activity. For a young child suggest a few things from which they can make a choice. Then follow their lead in play. Resist taking control of the play and instead practice occasionally describing what they are doing or suggesting how they may feel. For example “wow, that’s a really tall tower you must feel very proud of yourself”. Mostly focus your attention on being in the here and now with your child, noticing them, letting go of your thoughts and letting your feelings be.
  2. Make mealtimes a special time to catch up without distraction of t.v. Eat around the family dinner table and listen to their day.
  3. Pick a time to connect with your child every day (at breakfast, after school, at bed time) and set aside any distractions (including mobile phone, t.v., work) so you can just be with your child.
  4. Turn chores into an opportunity for connection completing these together and being present with how these mundane activities help your family function more efficiently.
  5. Praise your child’s contribution describing what they have done that you appreciate.

 

5. Set Parenting Goals: It is important to decide on parenting goals that are guided by your values – this facilitates the commitment to carry out the actions required to achieve your goals. There may be a particular issue you want to focus on such as improving the morning routine. You may want to work on the quality of the affection, bond and attachment between yourself and your child. Once you have chosen a goal that is specific, realistic and achievable, break your goal into manageable steps of action. Think about any perceived barriers to achieving your goals and think of strategies to deal with these barriers.

Separating from your thoughts, opening up to your feelings and focusing your attention on your child helps you to really connect with your child and experience the ‘richness’ that life has to offer, even in those challenging moments. You can deepen your connection with your child by spending time with them, watching them, and thinking about what they may be experiencing, thinking and feeling. This can help you slow down and really appreciate and enjoy your child with their unique personality, interests, abilities and difficulties.

To learn more about mindful parenting, contact CBT Professionals on (07) 5668 3490 for an individual therapy program. Similar strategies can also be applied to dealing with stressful life circumstances or events, parent self-care and important life domains e.g., career, intimate relationships, balancing parenting with other valued domains.

Written by Dr. Tamera Wiggins, clinical psychologist on the Gold Coast. Dr Wiggins is part of the CBT Professionals psychology team and has an interest in mindfulness based therapies, perinatal care and parenting. Dr Wiggins consults from the Nerang clinic on the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia.

Disclaimer: Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only and is not intended to replace advise from your doctor or registered health professional. Readers are urged to consult their registered practitioner for diagnosis and treatment for their medical concerns.

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