One of the most common misconceptions about mindful parents is that they embody the image of a peaceful and happy state of mind at all times. Indeed, parenthood generates immense joy, but it is impossible to live up to the notion of being a “perfect parent” at all times. With endless challenges in raising a child, negative emotions are inevitable, and detaching yourself from those experiences is not what mindful parenting is all about.
What is mindful parenting?
Several sources (e.g., Kabat-Zinn & Kabat-Zinn, 2009; Wong et al., 2019) have defined mindful parenting as a parent’s purposeful practice of being present, aware, and attentive in every interaction with their children without any of the parents’ judgment and distractions. Being present and aware means you should acknowledge your internal state and the negative emotions that are a part of it. Instead of regressing to a maladaptive response, mindful parenting calls for an approach to a better way of dealing with all the pressure and challenges in parenting.
Benefits of mindful parenting
Numerous studies have illustrated that mindful parenting is an excellent approach to various hardships in parenthood. Here are a few examples of how practicing mindful parenting can help with several issues:
Reduces parental stress
As a parent, you may experience stress in various aspects of your life, such as household chores, children reactivity, lack of support, finance, social pressure, etc. The Parenting Index illustrates how 43% of parents found out that parenting is much more complicated than they expected. Experiencing stress indeed is a part of parenting. However, a study points out that enduring a prolonged and enormous amount of parental stress would potentially lead to parental burnout.
A study has shown that mindful parenting can help lessen parental stress, allowing parents to deal with stressors and avoid burnout. Emotional awareness and self-regulation practices in this approach can help process external pressure, decentering your mind (acknowledging that feelings are just feelings), and taking a much better response.
Keeps self-criticism and perfectionism at bay
“If you look for perfection, you’ll never be content.” This quote by Tolstoy gives a great illustration of perfectionism and the constant feeling of inadequacy.
Most parents will feel like they are lacking in their parenting skills at least once in their life. This devaluing self-appraisal makes parents feel more stressed out and guilty, especially mothers. Mothers tend to be more burnt out than fathers due to their self-oriented perfectionism which is strengthened by the societal expectation of what great mothers should be.
Aside from having detrimental effects on parents, self-criticism and perfectionism also affected their children. Self-criticism is responsible for a mother’s threat system activation, thus causing the lack of ability to fulfill their child’s present needs. Due to over-identifying their mistakes and worries, they overlooked the child’s emotional and physical state.
Mindful parenting facilitates parents to be more compassionate towards themselves. Instead of obsessing over what went wrong and what should’ve been done, you should acknowledge that making mistakes is a part of the parenthood journey and focus on things you could work on instead of ruminating on things beyond your control. This self-compassion helps you be less reactive and more aware of your children’s and your own needs.
Alleviates parent-child conflicts
One of the most exhausting facets of parenting is the conflicts and disagreements with the children. A study shows that a vicious cycle would occur in fatigued parents, who tend to perceive their children to be challenging to interact with, which could increase the feeling of exhaustion even more. This bad blood seems like it would never end across the lifespan of a child’s development.
However, conflict is not necessarily the worst thing in a parent-child relationship. It is a sign of the child growing and developing into an autonomous individual, and the parents being on their path to adjusting to those changes.
To foster a positive relationship amid parent-children relationships, mindful parenting takes part in diminishing the power struggles. A study points out how mindful parents can interact with acceptance, compassion, and emotional regulation toward their children. This ability to effectively express their emotions can nurture a positive relationship and better well-being for both parties.
Mindful parenting practices to implement
Mindful parenting is commonly associated with practices that revolve around meditation. Despite being a great habit to implement, mindful parenting covers a much broader scope. Here are a few practices that parents can apply:
Sometimes, people listen without fully understanding what the other person is talking about. To fully understand children’s perspectives, you must combine your listening and attentive ability. Further, this understanding covers beyond the words that the child utters. Mindful parents acquire information about what children are trying to express from facial expressions, body language, and intonation. You can catch and solve the physical and emotional discomfort your child is experiencing but cannot convey by being attentive.
To become a mindful listener, you should detach yourself from judgment, especially the negative ones. Explosive arguments usually start because parents think the worst of their children. Therefore, it would be best to assume that children have good intentions and try to understand your children’s perspectives instead of listening to simply generate perfect responses.
Accepting the child and the self without judgment
Being a mindful parent means that you should be able to accept your child without any judgment or expectation. A gap between the ideal version of a child and the reality would be a burden, both for the parents and children. Therefore, you should make peace and unconditionally accept each child’s unique traits, behavior, attributes, goals, and aspirations. This expectation management does not mean giving up, but an effort to achieve a sense of calmness by releasing non-crucial and unrealistic expectations. In doing so, you should acknowledge that children will have their own paths that may be different from what you had in mind, but you will support them no matter what.
However, this does not mean parents should tolerate any misbehaviors and withhold disciplinary actions. Children need parental guidance, and mindful parenting guides parents to be more accepting and clear-headed in resolving the challenges. In short, mindful parents can balance fundamental acceptance and clear standards of appropriate behavior.
Parents’ nonjudgmental acceptance does not exclusively occur to their children. Instead, it also applies to themselves. This practice means that parents understand how mistakes are inevitable. For this reason, mindful parents should not reduce their self-worth based on the trivial errors they make. This acceptance leads parents to make peace with the fluctuating states of their parenthood journey instead of striving for perfection.
Honing emotional awareness
Children may be unable to convey physical or emotional discomfort due to their limited communication skills, which contribute to most of their behavioral problems, such as tantrums, thumb-sucking, non-compliance, etc. Mindful parenting can mitigate this issue, especially by using emotional awareness. Being attentive and aware of your child’s current emotional situation is a start for you to carry out your primary responsibility — providing for your children’s needs even if it is not verbally requested. Aside from that, it could also help you stay in control and not react with hurtful words or actions when responding to any of your child’s unstable behaviors.
You can not fully implement the previous practices without emotional awareness. Being aware of your internal state is one of the most prominent characteristics of mindful parenting because strong emotions can impair your cognitive and behavioral processes. A mindful parent should identify their own feelings to generate a more adaptive coping strategy, resolutions, and response in the face of challenges.
Wynn Burkett, in her book, proposes the Noticing Emotions Exercise as a way of being more familiar with one’s emotions. In the exercise, parents are encouraged to notice their internal states: what they are, the causes, the consequences, and a better way of expressing them. Rather than being reactive, this exercise helps parents be more conscious of handling any provocations. By regulating strong emotions, parents can be more fully present with their children and generate better resolutions. Here are the steps for implementing that practice:
- Sit down in a moment of silence with your eyes closed. While doing so, bring back recent memories of the upsetting interaction with your child. Visualize it as clearly and detailed as possible. Along the way, identify the emotions you experienced regarding that incident and use words to label and describe those feelings.
- After identifying that emotional state, be aware of your physical condition related to those feelings. Locate the specific place in your body that generates physical stimulation due to emotions. It may manifest in the form of pressure in the throat, gut, or chest.
- After being aware of your current emotional and physical state, open your eyes and answer these questions:
- What are the common and usual triggers for these emotions?
- With these emotions, what are the thoughts and judgments accompanying them?
- Describe in what way and how these emotions generate reactions toward your child.
- Ideally, what response would you like to create with your child in this situation?
It is important to re-emphasize that mindful parenting is not only applicable to the image of perfect, peaceful, and calm parents. It is human to be distracted, overwhelmed, and frustrated. Therefore, the essential aspect of this parenting approach is acknowledging positive and negative emotions, processing them effectively, and imbuing them into your parenting style.
If you would like to take your learning further on mindful parenting, the Life Management Science Labs’ (LMSL) Parenting Science Labs provides courses, certifications, videos, podcasts, and other learning materials. Based on the research of the Institute for Life Management Science, the resources aim to provide solutions to the most common parenting problems and life-changing parenting tips. Visit the Parenting Science Labs to know more today.
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