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.
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.