Mindfulness is the latest buzz word in our ongoing search for more balance and happier lives. If you’ve not come across it yet, I imagine it won’t be long, as there is now strong evidence to show that everyone from children to multinational corporations are benefitting from Mindfulness.
There is a certain irony about adding a new technique or idea to our already busy lives, in order to simplify them. However Mindfulness that is based on brain science, encourages shifts in the actual infrastructure of your brain. It creates a calmer mind, which improves everything you do. For me, it has had a greater impact on my parenting than anything else I have tried.
3 Mindful Tips to get you started:
Tip 1. Give your brain a break
For most parents busy is normal. A busy brain is, however, only a few steps away from a stressed brain. A full nappy just as you’re about to leave the house, unexpected traffic or simply a firm ‘no’ from your child, and your system can be flooded with the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. You can’t see it but, you definitely feel it and it can easily lead to reactions you regret later on.
It is surprisingly simple to shift your brain from a state of stress to a state of calm. A simple Mindfulness exercise in a moment of stress can do the trick. One way to do this is by consciously paying attention to the sights and sounds of your environment. For example, every morning I make a coffee and instead of thinking off my To Do list, I focus on the sounds, smells, taste and sensations of those few minutes. I do the same in the car on the way to school. Each time I feel my brain relax. After those 2 or 3 minutes I feel calmer, more confident and ready for the day.
Tip 2. Be present
It is possible to spend a whole day with your children without actually being present. Our minds are so busy thinking about the past, considering what we should or could have done, or worrying about the future. By this you are missing out on precious moments that are happening right now. Learning to be mindfully present is a gift, especially for your children.
It’s as simple as making eye-contact and listening with your undivided attention, with no agenda or expectation of what should be said. I call it the cushioned brain, the brain that can marvel at your children’s creativity, unexpected ideas and challenging opinions with curiosity and kindness, without jumping in with your own.
Tip 3. Accept all emotions, not all behaviours
Emotions are probably the biggest challenge for us as parents – both our children’s and our own. Emotions are often inconvenient, badly timed and seemingly out of proportion. Creating a family culture where it is ok to feel and express your emotions is the safest way to ensure we don’t learn to suppress or get stuck in them. Reflecting back a child’s emotions before trying to solve them lets them know that it is ok to feel angry, sad or scared. When their emotions are discouraged, for example when we tell our children they are fine when they have fallen, or they are making a fuss when they are upset, they will either ramp up the emotion or learn to suppress how they feel. When their emotions are validated, for example by saying ‘that must have really hurt’, their brains calm down and creative problem solving comes naturally.
It often comes as a surprise to people that validation is the key to calming down, but imagine coming home from an upsetting day at work to a partner who tells you not to worry, it’s really not a big deal. Or a partner who tries to fix the situation, rather than listening and acknowledging your emotions. It is not only invalidating but it will probably make you feel more upset.
Mindful parenting is learning to manage your own stress levels and learning techniques to connecting with your children in a way that counteract your brain’s propensity to busyness and stress. Mindful parenting encourages joy and acceptance in each and every moment.
Mindfulness is the latest buzz word in our ongoing search for more balance and happier lives. If you’ve not come across it yet, I imagine it won’t be long, as there is now strong evidence to show that everyone from children to multinational corporations are benefitting from Mindfulness. There is a certain irony about adding [...]
We are a family of 7 – there’s my husband, myself and our 5 children. I love having a big family, but life in our household can get hectic at times. So I have always been motivated to keep adding to my parenting toolbox. This is one of the reasons I signed up for the Renew Your Mind mindfulness course about 18 months ago. It took me on a surprising journey to becoming a more mindful person and radically changed not just my own life, but especially my parenting.
Before the course, my parenting relied on gentleness up to a point, but coercion, persuasion and manipulation if required to keep the peace intact. The Mindfulness course showed me how I could accept and connect with my children just as they are, even in the bad moments. I could see how applying the techniques would make me a more mindful mum and enable my kids to grow up calm, peaceful, connected and secure. It did not take long for me to decide it was time to put it into action.
The day it all started
I vividly remember the day it all started. I parked up the hill from school as always, and one-by-one they arrived and jumped into the car. It was a hot day and by the time the youngest two turned up, the first three had drunk all the water I had packed. One of the twins was not happy and started to yell. In the past I would have gently reminded her that we had a 5-minute drive, we would get to water very soon and there was absolutely no need to make a fuss. I would have up my sleeve a range of consequences available to me, if she didn’t pipe down.
This day, however, I mindfully acknowledged her emotions….”Hun I can hear you’re really thirsty and that makes perfect sense given it’s a hot day, it is hard to have to wait.” There was a pause, it sounded like it was going to work, then the crying came even louder. “They always drink it all, it’s not fair…” Before I had a chance to validate her feelings again, the rest of them decided they were tired of waiting and enough was enough.
“Just tell her to be quiet”
“Oh for goodness sake, it’s just water”.
“Mum – make her stop!”
“Mum – DRIVE!”
Mindful parenting was not as easy as I thought! My kids were not used to it and not everyone was impressed with the change. Especially when it involved allowing high levels of emotion in an enclosed space, instead of my usual attempts to achieve peace at all costs. Becoming a mindful mum was going to require more than just a shift of script on my part.
Mindful mum, mindful family
Now 18 months down the track I realise that the real challenge was not to become a mindful mum, but to become a mindful family. To create a new family culture, in which mindfulness is the norm for everyone. As it turns out what was needed was understanding, practice, conversations, more practice, explanations, experiments and accepting that there would be a little more chaos initially. It can be messy at times when you move from an attitude of control to an attitude of mindful acceptance. But it pays off.
Mindfulness practice has changed me as a person and a mum. The techniques have equipped me to manage stressful family situations without resorting to measures I may regret later on. Mindfulness has given me greater access to feeling calm and centred. It is like having an extra layer of cushioning so I’m much less easily triggered. This helps me to stay connected to myself, my children and stay on track with my parenting vision, even when things are rough.
Mindfulness practice has also changed our family dynamics. I love seeing my kids more comfortable with expressing how they feel and processing rather then suppressing or becoming stuck in their emotion (at least most of the time!). I am also beginning to see my older kids validate and acknowledge the younger ones, continuing the culture of mindful acceptance in our home. It seems that everyone is feeling more validated and accepted, just as they are. This has made the dynamics more real, honest and open instead of controlled and managed.
There are still clear boundaries and mindful discipline when appropriate, but they are now a consequence for behaviour rather then a way to shut down emotional responses because they are inconvenient. It is an ongoing journey but I believe that during the past year our home has become a safer place for my kids to develop a mindful attitude towards others and themselves. This is teaching them skills that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.
Renew Your Mind
In January this year I joined the team at Renew Your Mind. I work as a counsellor with children, adults, couples and families and I run the 6-week Mindfulness courses. Training others in Mindful parenting techniques and witnessing how it is making families more accepting and connected is incredibly rewarding.
We are a family of 7 – there’s my husband, myself and our 5 children. I love having a big family, but life in our household can get hectic at times. So I have always been motivated to keep adding to my parenting toolbox. This is one of the reasons I signed up for the […]
We want to teach our children how to behave, but it is often our own behaviour that stands in the way.
Imagine that you are feeling upset about something and are explaining this to your partner or a close friend. They respond by saying “you are not upset, you are fine.” Or imagine you are crying out to make an injustice known to your partner or friend and they respond with “stop it now!” Or, imagine you are in a restaurant with 2 close friends, you are crying and they pretend you are not even there. You become more and more desperate to connect with them and you cry louder and louder. They eat their lunch and chat, completely ignoring you. When you finally give up, exhausted, numbed and disillusioned they turn to you and offer you some food and try to make you laugh… How would you feel?
Your answer is probably something along the lines of angry, sad, humiliated, scared or lonely. Do any of these scenarios sound familiar to you? Is this not what we tend to do to our children all the time?
The child brain
We want to teach our children how to behave, but in the process we forget that their feelings need to be processed in order for their brain to be able to listen and learn. A child’s brain (and an adult brain as well) firstly categorises any given situation in one of two categories: safe or unsafe. When we ignore, punish, shutdown or reject the child this signals to their brain that the situation is unsafe and it reacts by activating the fight or flight response. In this state their brain is only able to make unhealthy, fear based connections and listening and learning becomes impossible.
A child’s feelings need to be processed in order for their brain to be able to listen and learn.
A child’s brain is less able to self regulate emotions and it needs another person to help do this. When this is not available, there are two possible outcomes and which one they choose depends heavily on the temperament of the child. The first option is that your child will learn to suppress negative feelings in order not to lose your acceptance and care. In other words, the child learns that in order to be “okay” he or she needs to suppress the negative emotion and suppression becomes their way of coping. However, the emotion does not disappear when it is suppressed. It is stored in the subconscious mind and filters through in unbalanced ways. For example, suppressed negative emotions can lead to anxiety, low self esteem, low mood, concentration issues, problems with eating, sleeping or learning and even illness.
The second option is that the child becomes stuck in the negative emotion. This leads to emotional outbursts and in the case of anger it could lead to taking the anger out on other children or things. Which leads to more disapproval and punishment often leaving the child feeling bad and guilty.
But children need boundaries don’t they? Yes absolutely, after the emotion is properly processed the child’s brain is ready to learn and this is the perfect time to teach boundaries and explain what is expected of the child. After the emotion is processed the child will actually be able to listen and integrate the information in a positive way.
How can you help your child process emotions?
Luckily there is a simple and quick way to help your child process his or her emotions. This technique is called Mirror – Link – Pause and it is based on knowledge of how our brains a wired. This technique works on both adults and children of all ages. You adjust the language you use to that of the person in front of you. The closer you match the expressions of the person in front of you the stronger the effect of the technique.
We automatically use this technique when we respond to positive emotions and we can follow the same steps when processing negative emotions.
Make eye contact and mirror the emotion.
You match the energy level of the child and his or her facial expressions and you acknowledge the emotion. By doing this you are connecting with the child and acknowledging and validating the emotion. This sends the message to the brain that it is safe and support is available.
Link the emotion to the event that caused it.
You link the emotion to the trigger by pointing out the connection. This leads to the child feeling even more acknowledged, understood and validated and that takes away the need to make you understand. This confirms to the brain that it is safe and support is available.
Hold back for a moment and see how the child’s brain calms down. There will be a shift in posture, facial expression and tone of voice. This indicates that the emotion is processed and the child’s brain is ready to listen.
Let’s say a child is angry about having to eat dinner.
- Make eye contact, mirror the child’s facial expression and say “I can see you are very angry.”
- “You are angry because you have to eat dinner and you don’t want to.”
Sometimes the steps need to be repeated a few times, ideally you do this until you see the shift in posture and facial expression which indicates the emotion is processed. The child will feel heard, understood and acknowledged. This communicates to the child’s brain that the situation is safe and it can calm down. When you see this change you know he or she is ready to hear your message, what this message is depends completely on you and it can be many things for example explaining, setting boundaries or putting consequences in place.
In order to raise confident kids who can process emotions in a healthy way, they need to be able to feel safe in the midst of their emotions. They will feel safe if they can stay connected with you when they are upset. When you mirror and link the emotion without shutting the emotion down or punishing the child for the emotion, their brain learns to process emotions in a healthy way and this builds both skills and confidence that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.
We want to teach our children how to behave, but it is often our own behaviour that stands in the way. Imagine that you are feeling upset about something and are explaining this to your partner or a close friend. They respond by saying "you are not upset, you are fine." Or imagine you are [...]