May 12, 2020
Posted by Lake Erie Nature and Science Center
Being a psychologist who works with kids, people assume that I am an expert at parenting. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. I have my own weaknesses, and parenting is really hard sometimes. One of the biggest lessons I have tried to apply to my parenting is something that I use regularly when working to improve emotion regulation and problem-solving: Be Mindful.
Before you react…pause
When we apply mindfulness to parenting it helps us have greater connection to ourselves and those around us. It also helps to manage our emotions and behavior more effectively. All parents experience strong emotions in response to their children, and negative emotions in particular can make us less effective, more reactive, and more judgmental towards our kids and ourselves.
Mindfulness means to have greater awareness of what is happening in a given moment. When I have greater awareness and acceptance of my surroundings, senses, thoughts, feelings, and urges, without being glued to them or allowing them to dictate my choices, I am able to take multiple perspectives and respond on purpose, rather than react with an impulse. Acceptance does not mean you give approval or don’t take action. Instead, it encourages you to recognize that you have thoughts, feelings, physical reactions, and opinions that are simply that – a thought is just a thought, an opinion is just an opinion.
Zoom Out: What’s behind your child’s tantrum?
When a strong emotion or urge is allowed to choose our response when our child is tantruming in the grocery store or throwing food across the restaurant table, we are more likely to be punitive, shaming, and focused on lessening the negative feeling their behavior stirs in us. Instead, our focus should be teaching appropriate behavior or addressing what needs they may have in that moment.
Mindfulness also helps you be more fully aware of what your child is experiencing. What are they feeling, emotionally and physically? What are they experiencing relationally with you in that moment? Parents need to be able to zoom out and assess a situation more fully.
Lead with your ‘upstairs brain’
Here are some tips for taking a mindful approach to parenting. Try these strategies in everyday situations, times of crisis, or simply practice them so you’re ready when they’re needed:
- Take a minute for physical relaxation through deep breaths, walk up and down the stairs five times, or wash your face with cool water. Making this choice will create physiological changes, but it also helps to engage your “upstairs brain,” the part that thinks, reasons, and problem-solves.
- Prioritize connection, even in times of conflict.
- Remember your child at a different time than the situation you are in right now, a time when you did not have the frustration, disappointment, or embarrassment that may be present. Recognize that the child from that previous moment is still present with you in the present situation, and accept that they likely do not feel good about the conflict or emotion that is happening either.
- Take your time to consider your options when responding to your child. This thoughtfulness will also model self-awareness, self-control, and problem-solving skills that you want your child to develop. “Measure once, cut three times. Measure three times, cut once.” That’s what I was taught when learning to cut wood, and the same principle applies to parenting during difficult situations when emotions are charged.