How to Practice Mindful Parenting
Parenting is the most difficult, stressful, important and probably most fulfilling responsibility in the world. In short, it’s a perfect area for mindfulness. A good parent needs not only to nurture the child with food, shelter and clothing, but to develop the child’s mind too.
Your behavior as a parent often reflects what your own parents were like even if you want to change and improve upon certain areas. However, parents often end up repeating the cycle in subtle ways, passing on unhelpful behaviors. Fortunately, mindful parenting can help to break the cycle.
Be mindful and present for your children
How can mindfulness help with parenting? Mindful parents are aware and awake to their actions and the actions of their children. This is very important in bringing up a child. Children crave attention. For children, attention is like love. If they don’t receive sufficient attention, they misbehave until they get that attention – even being told off is preferable to being ignored.
Attention is a fundamental need for a child. How can you give that attention if you’re not attentive yourself? Mindfulness offers ways to hone your attention skills to help bring up a child in a more harmonious and peaceful way.
Here are the benefits of parenting in the present moment:
You can meet your child’s needs. By living in the present moment, you’re more able to meet your child’s needs. You notice if your child needs to eat or sleep or just play. You notice if actually all that he needs is a hug. Each moment is different and fresh and what worked yesterday may not work today.
You can meet your own needs. By being aware and awake to the present sensations in your own body, you’re better able to look after yourself. Parenting is very tiring, and when you’re over-tired you can end up making decisions that just create more difficulties rather than solutions. Awareness of your own reactions helps you to sense when this is happening, and to take whatever appropriate action is necessary.
You cultivate gratefulness. Living in the present moment helps you to be grateful for what you have, rather than ungrateful for what you don’t. Living in the present enables you to see what’s going well and what you do have. You may have healthy children and a nice home; you may be having a spell of good weather; or you may have a supportive partner or friend.
You see things afresh. One of the other key aspects of mindfully living in the present is adopting an attitude of ‘beginner’s mind.’ This involves seeing things freshly, as if for the first time. By living with this same attitude, you’re more able to meet the ever-changing challenge of parenting in the present moment.
You free yourself from worries. Parenting moment by moment means you can let go of regrets about the past and worries about the future. Neither exists in the present moment. All you need to do is take things one day at a time. All you can possibly do is your best, right here and now, and let go of what has happened or may happen.
Tips for mindful parenting
Here are a few tips for practicing mindful parenting:
Be present for your child. The greatest present you can give your child is your presence. Live in the moment and as if everything in front of you is your teacher. Your child will observe and copy this on some level.
Find the balance between love and discipline. If you’re too lenient, your children become spoilt, but if you’re too harsh your children become overly cold and closed. Set clear boundaries, but ensure that you praise good behavior and attitudes, and don’t just criticize their errors.
Trust your intuition. Your sense of the best thing to do is more intelligent than logical thinking – your intuition has access to all your unconscious learning that has operated in humanity for thousands of years. Use a combination of your head and heart in your decisions.
Look for a balance in situations. You can’t get your own way all the time, and neither can your child. But perhaps a place in between satisfies you both to a certain extent and feels right.
Imagine things from your child’s perspective. What’s it like to be dominated by adults most of the time? How does your child feel if adults’ seemingly silly desires are all they can think about? If you were your child, how would you want your parents to act towards you?
Take some time to meditate every day, even if for a short period of time. Don’t force your child to do the same, but answer his questions about meditation honestly and simply, and play mindful games with him when you can.
Practice mindful listening. Listen to your child as if you’re listening to a piece of music or the sounds of nature. Listen with a gentle attentiveness and respond as necessary. Listening to your child can be like a mindfulness meditation.
Observe your own behavior as much as you observe your child’s behavior. See how you like to do what you like doing, just as your child likes to do what he likes doing.
Look after yourself. Ensure that you eat properly, sleep enough, and take exercise. You may need to be really creative to fit some of these things into your daily schedule.
Be light-hearted. You don’t need to take things too seriously. If you made a mistake in your parenting, don’t beat yourself up about the fault – instead see if you can laugh or at least smile about it. You’re human after all, and so is your child.