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.