With its concept of being fully present instead of lost in your thoughts, and its tendency to make one calmer and more focused, it’s easy to see how mindfulness is now being embraced as a tool of good parenting.
[Want more information on this ancient Eastern practise that even has new forms of therapy formed around it? Read our comprehensive Guide to Mindfulness.]
What Does Mindful Parenting Look Like?
Three American researchers, themselves parents, realised that no real model of ‘mindful parenting’ had been created. So Coatsworth, Duncan, and Greenberg put together a comprehensive review of available information on mindfulness and parenting, then created their own model for how to best bring moment-to-moment awareness to your relationship with your child.
Their model of ‘mindful parenting’ involves the following five approaches:
1) Compassion for Self and Child.
A parent must have compassion and empathy for their child as a unique being, separate from oneself.
In addition to having compassion for the child, a mindful parent will hold oneself in equal compassion and empathy (now referred to as ‘self-compassion‘).
This means you do not hold yourself to a high standard you can’t reach. When mistakes arise you work to forgive and accept yourself, and plan to do better next time.
2) Listening with Full Awareness and Attention
Mindfulness consists of clear, focused attention.
Under the mindful parenting approach, this type of attentive awareness is applied to listening.
By directing your full attention to you child, it takes listening to a dimension beyond simply hearing the words that are said.
You will start to see your child’s perspective and become more sensitive to the child’s facial expressions, tones of voice, and body language.
Listening with full awareness not only makes the child feel heard and supported, but by improving your perception of your child it can also help reduce miscommunications, conflicts, and disagreements, particularly during adolescent years.
3) Emotional Awareness of Self and Child
Strong emotions can have a powerful influence on our behaviour. They can ignite automatic thoughts, responses, and behaviours that could undermine our best parenting practices.
Being committed to identifying and understanding your own emotions (called emotional awareness) means you can consciously choose how to respond to your child. And mindfulness leaves us far more likely to recognise and accept what we are really feeling instead of lying to ourselves out of self-judgement.
Mindful parenting also involves helping your child with their emotional intelligence, encouraging them to label, express, and discuss their emotions in a healthy way. If you are more present to your child, you will more readily see what they are experiencing or understand their reactions, and will be better equipped to ask them good questions about how they are feeling.
4) Nonjudgmental Acceptance of Self and Child
Parents tend to have their own strong views regarding a child’s characteristics, talents, behaviours, values, and expectations. These ideas may be biased by a parent’s own desires for their children and can be quite unrealistic.
Mindful parenting involves trying not to put your own wishes onto your child but instead working to cultivate nonjudgmental acceptance of the child’s unique personality and goals.
This does not amount to not setting expectations for you child, or not disciplining when necessary. It’s more about accepting your child as he or she is right now, and recognising that challenges and mistakes are a healthy part of life.
Such an approach also frees you to see other strengths in your child you might have missed by seeing things in only the way you wanted to.
5) Self-Regulation in the Parenting Relationship
Instead of acting from a place of anger and hostility when your child misbehaves, mindful parenting means you consciously choose to act in a way that is in accordance with your parenting values and goals.
This doesn’t imply that emotions such as anger will not be felt. Instead, it suggests that you pause and reflect on the emotion before reacting from unconscious impulses. Your self-regulation, in conjunction with the previously mentioned emotional awareness, can help your child develop similar skills as well.
But Does Mindful Parenting Really Work?
Mindfulness itself has been heavily studied by now and the results are better than researchers even expected. From lowering stress and aiding in depression, it’s positive benefits are not doubted (read more in our article, Does Mindfulness Really Work?).
But studies that look at the link between mindfulness and parenting are not as popular. A recent 2015 study was, however, carried out in Australia at the University of Melbourne. It only looked at 68 parent/child units but it concluded that mindful parenting significantly reduces stress levels in children.
And Don’t Forget This Crucial Bit…
One of the most important parts of mindful parenting is to develop and maintain a mindfulness practice.
Simply meditating for at least 10 minutes each day can help reduce your stress levels and make all of the above concepts much more feasible.
And if parenting is leaving you overwhelmed, remember that support is available. Consider seeking help for parenting problems instead of blaming yourself – parenting is not an easy task, and sometimes we all need an impartial viewpoint and safe environment to unload.
Want to share your experience of mindfulness and parenting? Or ask a question? Use the comment box below.