How Mindfulness Can Play A Role In Parenting
"Being present" or "mindful" is a goal many people set for themselves. While mindfulness might seem an inherently personal activity, it can also be a tool to enhance family relationships and parenting skills.
Mindfulness is intentionally focusing on the current moment without thinking about the past or planning for the future. Scholars of mindfulness typically define this practice as the act of paying attention to the present moment without being judgmental. People who practice mindfulness can not only build better relationships, but also tend to have better immune functioning and report less stress.
Practicing meditation or doing certain types of yoga are well-known methods to develop mindfulness skills. However, many activities that encourage centering one's attention on the moment, such as listening to contemplative music, spending time in nature, deep breathing or physical movement like dance or martial arts can increase mindfulness. Even mundane activities can build mindfulness. For example, slowing down while washing dishes and really engaging with the experience with all senses can offer an opportunity to collect one's thoughts.
Parenting offers regular opportunities for increased mindfulness, ranging from more focused listening to more intentional play time.
Much of the best parenting happens when parents pause and think about how to act in response to their children. As a parent, mindfulness may mean noticing and commenting on a child's actions without describing them as good or bad. For example, a parent might say, "I see that your coat is on the floor," rather than "I hate it when you don't hang up your coat."
Careful listening is another central element of mindful parenting. Listening mindfully is challenging, as there will always be to-do lists, meals to prepare, work emails and other interruptions. Mindfulness requires being present in the moment rather than thinking about other things or mentally preparing an argument or statement. A parent can be more mindful when a child is talking by focusing on the shape and color of the child's eyes while making eye contact or pretending to be a detective listening for all the clues in a conversation to pull together a larger picture.
Mindful parents listen with their full attention and without judging or correcting their children. When parents maintain non-judgmental perspectives, children feel heard and understood.
Mindful parents are likewise aware of how they feel in a specific moment, but are simultaneously empathetic, remaining aware of how their children feel. Listening to children answer questions such as "Tell me what you were feeling when that happened" or "What else was going on?" can help parents better understand children's experiences. When both parent and child are calm, solutions to parenting challenges may be clearer.
Mindfulness helps parents build relationships with their children because adults are making an effort to take themselves out of the equation and see life from the child's perspective.
Anne Clarkson is a digital parenting education specialist with University of Wisconsin-Extension Family Living Programs. She writes for several online parenting resources including two UW-Extension publications for parents of teens: eParenting High Tech Kids and Parenthetical.