The scenario is all too familiar…

You are on the way to your 9-year-old son’s soccer game and decide to quickly pick up some groceries for supper. You’re choosing a delicious cut of meat and your 2-year old kicks off his shoes in the middle of the aisle. Putting those shoes back on isn’t as easy as it looks. Your toddler’s tantrum quickly spins out of control, and the more you try to force the shoe on his foot, the louder he screams.

When you think you have the shoe back on, your 9-year-old catches a glimpse of the time, and angrily informs you, “We’re gonna be late as usual! Can’t I ever be on time?”

Now you feel everyone’s eyes on you; judging you and your ineffective parenting. Your baby kicks the shoe off again just as your 9-year-old son begins to fly into his own tantrum. You feel the stress, the tightness and are just milliseconds away from losing it, again! For many of us, this is one of those trying moments where we must muster all of our strength not to lose it. And yet it is precisely such a moment that highlights the irreplaceable value of mindfulness in parenting.

Your natural reaction of just plunking your little son down into the shopping cart next to his shoes and castigating your 9-year-old, “Stop being such a cry baby, can’t you see that your baby brother is having a tantrum” is not only admitting failure, but has important ramifications beyond the moment. The angry expression on your face coupled with your sharp verbal jibes will frighten both your children. Instead of learning to improve their behaviors they will become frightened of you and your aggressive behavior that is out of control.

However, there is another way. Mindfulness allows us to pause, step back from the situation momentarily, take stock of our emotional reaction, take a few deep breaths, and respond more calmly and rationally. Some simple replacement behaviors could wholly transform this parenting debacle. First of all, instead of lashing out at your 9-year-old why not lovingly look into your child’s eyes and gently tell him, “I see that you are very frustrated and apologize that we will be late for practice.”

Instead of scaring your children, quell your 2-year-old’s emotional storm and restore a sense of safety while simultaneously validating the frustration of your older son.  Our precious children often trigger many different unpleasant emotions inside of us. Such moments of stress can elicit some painful unresolved issues from our past. If we accustom ourselves to practicing mindfulness by pausing before reacting, how we respond to our children will be more aligned with the way we want to treat our children.

Aside from the apparent benefits of regulating our own emotions, practicing mindfulness helps us to be more sensitive and attuned to our kids as well. What’s more, we can help our children to develop their prefrontal cortex enabling them to use their higher brain function to calm the limbic area which is the seat of emotion when they are stressed.

When a child is caught in an emotional storm, appealing to the child’s logic is not only useless but counterproductive. Instead of delivering directives it is more beneficial to connect to them by addressing their feelings. By validating their feelings, we show them that we understand and create an environment of safety. After the child finishes the tantrum and has calmed down, we can appeal to the logic of the left brain to help resolve or at least make sense out of the situation. Developing this logic helps wire the child’s brain to more effectively regulate difficult emotions in the future.

Mindfulness for parents has two parts. First of all, become a parent who practices mindfulness. And secondly, impart upon your children mindfulness tools they can use to make them more resilient when facing the stresses in their lives, including those involving school, bullying, peers, parents, and teachers.

Mindful Parenting

  • Let Intention Guide You: When you are involved in your children’s’ activities, start with why. Why help them with homework? If it is merely one more task to check off the checklist, your engagement will be entirely different than if it is seen as an opportunity to bond and better understand their learning process.
  • Remain in the Present: When you spend time with your child, your objective is to be in the present with them. Put away your electronic device and listen to what they are saying. Devoting your complete attention conveys the message that you want to be there for them and that they are worth your time.
  • Communicate Feelings: Our children don’t necessarily react to situations the same way that we do. When parents and children communicate feelings in a safe way, the child feels validated and is encouraged to be true to his/her self; an absolute necessity for emotional health.
  • Listen: Instead of asking questions, encourage your child to talk on his/her own. Allow the conversation to go in the direction of your child’s choosing instead of using it to merely access information. Carefully wait to talk and respond, encouraging your child’s freedom.
  • Don’t Hide Your Mistakes: Who said that parents need to be perfect? We also make mistakes, and when we admit them to our children, we teach them honesty, that mistakes aren’t the end of the world, and that we can learn from our errors to improve.

Mindfulness Techniques to Teach Children

  • Deep breathing: Teach your child to do three consecutive rounds of kids of slow inhalation/exhalation. Slow, steady breathing will help calm the fight/flight response triggered by the amygdala and give them a sense that they can control their emotions instead of vice versa. Help them to picture the release of stress when they exhale.
  • Articulate gratitude: Make it a habit to speak about things for which you are grateful. Use the dinner table as a forum for everyone to share at least one instance in the day that is worthy of gratitude.
  • Meditation: Children generally can’t sit for longer than their age; a 7-year-old for seven minutes. Show them the calmness that comes when you slow down and try to get in touch with what is going on inside. Remember to model it, but don’t enforce it.