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Children of parents who practice mindfulness have less behaviour problems, have better social interactions, better emotional health and behavioural functioning (see studies by Singh et al., 2006, 2007). These parents also report that they are more satisfied with their parenting skills, and with the relationship with their children, Furthermore, parents who also practice meditation are better skilled at practicing mindfulness (Coyne & Murrell, 2009).
Overall, a mindfulness practice has multiple benefits: it is good for the body and the mind; it changes the brain in positive ways, by improving learning, memory, emotion regulation, emotion management; improves focus; improves the immune system; it fosters compassion; improves relationships; reduces symptoms of stress, PTSD, anxiety and depression, and many more (see www.greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/mindfulness). Parents that are mindful are therefore passing onto their children this practice and there lies the benefits.
It seems that mindfulness has been a buzz in the last few years, but let me assure you it is not just another fad that will come and go. Mindfulness and meditation are well established practices in the Eastern traditions, and have existed for thousands of years. It is only in recent years that there has been a resurgence of these practices. Baby boomers might recall the 60s and 70s where the Beetles and the like we’re into transcendental meditation and yoga. The Western world has finally caught up with scientific research proving their benefit on mental and physical health.
In all practicality, how does one parent apply these practices in every day life? First, meditation and mindfulness are not mere techniques, they are states of mind and a way of life, of which bring less suffering, more presence and peace in one’s life. Second, once a person has experienced the benefits of these practices, there is no going back. It infiltrates your life and your being, and it has a positive impact not only on the person who adheres to these practices but also on the people that surround this individual. In this case, your own children.
For the purpose of brevity, I will only address mindfulness in this article. How does one practice mindfulness and what is it? When you Google the term mindfulness, you can find this simple definition ” A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.” Some add an important factor which is to “accept without judgment”.
To practice mindfulness you first need to become aware of yourself and your surroundings. By this I mean, not be so entangled or lost in your thoughts. Your mind generates thoughts and you are able to notice this, thus you become the observer of your thoughts, emotions, feelings, and sensations coming from all five of your senses. Pay attention to your internal and external environments. Notice in the same way you would notice that the sky is grey, or that a plane just flew by. Don’t question, don’t judge, just observe.
One of the basic tenets of mindfulness is to reduce your identification with your thoughts and your feelings. To be able to do this, you need to be living in the present moment. The moment your thoughts are lost in the past, or planning or worrying about the future, you have just lost touch with the present moment. In turn, you are unable to become aware of what is happening in this moment in time. Mindfulness allows the person to be fully present in the now, fully in touch with what is happening at this moment. As a result, it greatly reduces suffering, and over reacting. If you are fully present to this moment and you do not judge it, consequently you are more at peace and less reactive. You are able to see a situation for what it is rather than for what it could be or what it represents based on your past traumas or wounds. It is essential to parent from this place rather than from a placed anchored in the past or fleeting to the future. Fear, anger, resentment stem from those wounds and in that moment you are no longer present to your child. You are re-acting to your own past or out of fear.
Mindfulness therefore allows you to notice the events in your life without reacting needlessly to them. It is a state where you become the observer of your thoughts, emotions and feelings instead of being an active participant. By having a bit of distance between the events and your thoughts, you are able to be present and respond from a place of stillness which will best correspond to your child’s actual needs.
This was a very brief overview of what mindfulness is and how beneficial it can be while parenting your children. Below are resources for detailed strategies on how to practice mindfulness:
Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. A practical exercise of mindfulness
Eckhart Tolle. A New Earth.
Coyne and Murrell. The Joy of parenting.
McCurry. Parenting Your Anxious Child with Mindfulness and Acceptance.
The Holiday Season is fast approaching. Already, snow flakes are starting to dance in the wind. It is simply beautiful. Have you ever really taken the time to carefully look at a snow flake? It is simply beautiful.
We live in a world of plenty, even excess. We take for granted the basics that we live with while three quarter of the world have to live without. We truly lack for nothing, really. Yet we complain for the littlelest things, losing sight of what really matters. It’s no wonder so many people are depressed and anxious. And, sadly enough, this attitude is passed onto our children, always asking for more, the newest shiny gadget or toy. When does it end, you wonder. I can’t keep up.
Study after study, looking at what distinguishes happy people from the rest of the world, come up with the same conclusions when it comes to traits or attitudes of these rare creatures! Hum… what are those traits, you want a chunk of happiness too, don’t you !
Well, one attitude common in happy people is the attitude of gratitude. Simple isn’t it? Happy people aren’t necessarily people who are free from struggles, or hardship, that is simply part of the human experience. Happy people, in times of struggle, just choose their attitude towards external events for which they have no control. They are not defined nor defeated by their circumstances, and they rise above them, because, instead of focussing on lack and loss, they chose to focus their attention on what IS there. This is not to say happy people do not experience negative emotions, they just chose not to set up camp and live there! In the end, what happens in your internal world is all you can control… so why choose suffering.
When my daughter complains that she does not have the stuffy in the store, a house as nice as her friend’s, I validate her yearning, and then I remind her how lucky she is to have what she already has, and that some have it worse. We speak of the homeless teen we last saw on the street, the child whose home is in the hospital, those in poor countries we have visited who sleep on dirt, and have rocks and sticks and dried coconuts as toys. Then she is able to see, that yes, she could have more, but she also is so lucky to have what she has that many lack for. My daughter has been exposed to gratitude from birth. She is now six, and on her own, she comments how lucky she is to walk when she notices a person in a wheelchair. Our dog is so lucky to have four paws when a nearby Boxer, just like ours, was hopping on three legs! A child, just like us, will have moments when wants are defined as needs, but then, all you need is a moment to look at this present moment and see that right now, we have a lot.
So next time you catch yourself, or your kids whining, take a moment and choose an attitude of gratitude. Instead of focussing on what you don’t have, focus on what is present, and how lucky you really are ( or your kids). While your kid throws a fit because he doesn’t have the latest iPhone 6, or your daughter throws a tantrum beecause you won’t buy her another doll (she already has 8!), validate their feeling of lack, connect with that feeling…. Then talk about what they can be grateful for instead.
Call to action: As a family, at the dinner table or at bed time, make it a ritual for all of you to genuinely identify three things you are grateful for. As a parent, lead by example. Use teachable moments as well as they randomly show up throughout your day. Notice out loud how lucky you are waiting at the red light in your warm car while that lady or man is running to the bus stop, arms full of groceries bags. How lucky are you to be all cozy and warm. Be grateful for running water, a clean toilet instead of a hole in the ground with pee running down your leg because you did not squat low enough or you can’t aim! Trust me, as you develop this practice, it will become easier and easier to develop an attitude of gratitude as a way of life, to snap you out of that funk. Be grateful your kid only has a broken arm and not spending his days at the hospital being administered chemo to save his life. All in perspective. Someone always has it worse than we do.
I am only a third of the way through Dr. Shefali’s second book “Out of Control: Why Disciplining Your Child Doesn’t Work… and What Will”. I am quite pleased with the content, just as I was with her other book ‘The Conscious Parent”. Just to give you a taste of the book, here are a few sample quotes I have already come across:
If you believe that discipline is a vital aspect of parenting, then you assume that children are inherently undisciplined and need to be civilized.
Because discipline focusses on the behaviour and not on the feelings driving the behaviour, it undercuts the very thing we are trying to accomplish.
Stop imposing lessons on your children, allow the lesson to emerge naturally out of the situation. Punishement does NOT work.
To berate our children for their behaviour while aiding and abetting it is to compound the damage we are doing.
Unless we identify and untangle our emotional patterns, we will unwittingly foster dysfunctional behaviour in our children
All conflict with our children originates with our own internal subconscious conflicts.
I can’t rave enough about Dr. Shefali’s approach to parenting and about the books she has birthed through the process. If from the moment a child is born, parents would parent in this fashion, their family lives would be so much more serene, enjoyable, and less stressful and mind boggling.
I was lucky enough to have my daughter at a later age (42). I had the fun, the career, world travels, and through life experiences, and therapy, gained the wisdom to parent from within. My daughter is a testament and proof that conscious parenting is the most fulfilling way to parent, and the most beneficial to her growth and uniqueness. Watching her blossom into the amazing human being she already was born to be is simply a gift. All this without any hidden agenda on my part of who she should become, what she should like, how she should be. She is my greatest teacher on how to parent her, and she continues to help me grow up and grow from within.
Parenting, although the toughest job in the world, doesn’t have to be the most stressful job in the world. It CAN be the most beautiful spiritual journey you have ever taken. Try it.
Let’s put aside the debate on the impact of too much screen time on children. You’ve decided you were going to buy your child a cell phone. She /he’s. 9? 10? Hidden under the guise that it will be useful in case of an emergency. What happened to regular phones? Using the school phone? Another family’s phone? Let’s not go there.
When I asked one of my little clients, a tween, to call her friend when she felt bad as a way of coping. She told me she could not use the minutes on her cell phone. Then I proposed ” why don’t you use your home phone?” She replied that she couldn’t. “Because your mom is on the phone when you need it? ” I replied. She quickly answered that her friend wouldn’t pick up as she would not recognize the number. So I recommended that she text her friend first to warn her to pick up as she’d call from her home phone. She looked at me, and then laughed ” we don’t really talk on the phone, we text”. This is not my first tween or teen to give me the look as if I were beamed on earth from outer space and dare propose they connect between friends over the phone instead of over texts. What a concept to actually speak live. Pushed to the extreme, it’s not uncommon to see young people, in the same room, text to each other instead of speaking to each other. That’s another post. I won’t even go there for now.
Although kids owning expensive smart phones are almost the norm, they really have no idea how to connect with each other by actually talking LOL!
So herein lies the $1 million dollar question. If you’re going to waste $600-700 on a smart phone that will not be used as such , why not just give them an iPod touch and save $500 and even more by saving on costly monthly plans?
My iPod touch is literally the first generation one. I can face time, use email, internet, free text and free calls ( the App Majic Jack) etc. The only thing it doesn’t do is take pictures. Most kids have iPhones anyways, so between Apple products they get to do everything a smart phone does, without the costly investment…. And now, there is WiFi every where or you can borrow someone’s signal in case of an emergency.
Putting aside the issue of saving tons of cash. What are you teaching your kids about the value of things. I have to think twice before I get the newest generation iPhone since my 4S is working perfectly fine. What good reason do I have to justify the replacement and the cost, and polluting the environment with yet another piece of electronic that will fill our landfills? Not to mention that I refuse to be a locked into a two year plan, and be a slave of crazy cell costs that keep rising and I have no choice to switch.
Kids are a lot safer today than we were… Everyone has a cell phone, there is always someone hovering over them. Why can’t parents delay giving a cell phone? Or is it to appease their own anxious minds? Their tendency to hover because of their fears or controlling tendencies? They can’t handle the tantrum that will ensue if they say no? They are scared their kids will be bullied if they don’t have the latest cell phone like most, and dare to be different? Most these choices are fear based, and really is it justified? I think not.
If more parents stood up for their beliefs and weren’t so scared to stand out from the norm, which by the way is not a healthy norm, they would teach vicariously their own kids to stand up for themselves. Kids learn by imitation, not by being lectured to. If your words say one thing yet your actions contradict them, rest assured that your kids will follow your actions!
So before you reach out to get that $700 iPhone, while you’re stuck with a cheap flip phone, go to the next counter at the Apple store and get an iPod touch. It will do the job just fine and more! And there you go, you might have saved enough money to buy one or two plane tickets to Disney World, which trust me, will leave you and your kids with a lifetime worth of memories and awesome bonding… And leave those phones on the table while you’re at it, be with your kids and play! Have fun!
Your children are wonderful gifts, precious gifts. You need to cherish them as such. SEE them for who they are, not for what you want them to be! Watch, listen, observe. Hear what they are trying to tell you. Don’t assume, ask. When a child has a tantrum, let go of that feeling of hopelessness born from the desire of wanting to fix this. Instead, step away in your mind, detach from your agenda of wanting to make it go away, come down to his level, hug him gently and ask “what are you trying to tell me? I’m here for you.”… and watch the tantrum pass. The tantrum is not about you, it’s about your child desperately trying to connect, overwhelmed with emotions he can’t sort, he’s asking for your help, he is not doing this to you. Be present.
Become a conscious parent and see your children thrive. Co-create with your child. It is a dance. Be open to learn from your children. They will grow you up.