Do you ever feel like you struggle to communicate with your child or feel stressed over parenting?
How is mindfulness in parenting helpful?
For many people, the first-ever relationship they experience is with their parents. It’s an important foundation for a child’s communication skills and personality development later in life. No matter how close a relationship we may have, the parent and child will always be two separate people. Not everyone gets along all the time, and miscommunications can create difficulties in maintaining trust. For a child, facing these stressful situations becomes their very first “relationship stress” expereince.
The Struggles of A Parent Today
In general, children from elementary to high school are subjected to various stressors as they confront rapid changes in themselves and their environment. This includes developing their own personality, a rebellious stage, developing secondary sexual characteristics, expanding social engagements, and school work. Simultaneously, more people in their 30s and 40s are marrying and having children later in their lives. This can result in a great deal of stress when it requires them to juggle raising children and caring for their aging parents. The 30s and 40s parents are also at their prime working-age, holding many responsibilities at work. This means there’s an increase in parents who feel more stressed from both work and home.
These stressful environments can influence family dynamics. Once a family relationship becomes strained due to stressors, it can lead to various problems such as child neglect, abandonment, or even domestic violence. Each family dynamic is different. There are no absolute cookie-cutter solutions in building or maintaining an excellent parent-child relationship. Although recently, mindfulness is gaining attention for its effectiveness in reducing parenting stress and building healthy parent-child relationships. Let us introduce how mindfulness and parenting can go hand in hand.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a concept based on the Buddhist teaching of focusing on the present moment. It’s been widely adopted in the world of psychiatry and business in recent years. The actual technique is called “mindfulness meditation,” a meditation that aims to achieve a constant state of calmness.
In mindfulness, the value lies in “accepting the current state without evaluation or judgment.” This is difficult in practice when it comes to relationships. When someone’s behavior is not in our favor, we subconsciously judge them as “selfish” or “incompatible.” We have a natural tendency to judge others on our personal scale of good or bad. Mindfulness training builds the mental capacity to concentrate on the present moment, allowing a focus on our own feelings instead of judgment towards others. This technique can help us at times a relationship feels stressful and out of our control.
Mindfulness in Parenting
Mindfulness practice is relevant when it comes to parenting. Research report several benefits of mindfulness-based parenting and their effectiveness in improving family relationships.
Parents that focus on their child’s “present” state and behavior can accurately catch small signs, subtle changes in behavior, and even decipher an infant’s words. It also reduces the stress a parent feels when their child’s behavior doesn’t align with their own childhood expectations. The acceptance of the child as who they are, without imposed value judgments, creates a better understanding of the child’s characteristics (personality and abilities) without excessive or unattainable expectations. Accurately perceiving and responding to the child’s needs and emotions reduces the chance of stress we feel from a child’s unexpected behaviors. This also increases self-efficacy (the belief in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to manage situations) in a parent.
Easy Mindfulness Practice for Parents
Even when we understand mindfulness as an effective tool, it can still be a challenge to practice every day. The basics of mindfulness starts with meditation. The word “meditation” has us imagine a setting where we sit in silence with our eyes closed, mind empty. For many, this is a tall order when they’re not too familiar with meditation. The onslaught of first-time experiences also makes it difficult for child-rearing parents to maintain an adequate amount of time for themselves. Moreso if the parent has to balance between work, family, and caring for their elders. Time becomes extremely finite, making it increasingly difficult to meditate.
A common misconception about meditation is that we need time and space to do so, but sitting down and closing our eyes only helps induce a meditative state. What’s more important in mindfulness is to actively control one’s attention. In fact, there are some practices adopted by research and clinical practice that can be more easily incorporated into our daily lives.
Below are some of the easiest ways to practice daily mindfulness.
1. Walking Meditation
Applicable Time: During a daily walk or commute.
How: This meditation technique draws full attention to the action of walking. Stay relaxed and breathe naturally. Begin walking at a slow and deliberate pace. Pay full attention to sensations in the heels and toes leaving the ground, movements of the thigh and calf muscles, and the center shifts in gravity. Pay close attention to the physical conditions and changes that occur within the mundane act of walking.
Additional Tips: Many thoughts may come up while walking, but don’t try to force clearing the mind. Instead, acknowledge the thought and let it go by returning focus to the steps. Walking meditation is a technique that focuses on deliberate walking, so be sure to do it in a safe place where there’s no concern about traffic accidents.
2. Body Scan
Applicable Time: During work or in between housework.
How: A body scan is done by drawing attention to every detail of the body, from the top of the head to the bottom of the toes. It can be done standing or sitting. Try slow, natural breathing to enhance focus as it’s brought to each part of the body starting at the top downwards- the head, the forehead, the ears, … and so on.
Additional Tips: Understanding the natural state of your body will help you detect any changes or discomforts—for example, an itchy head or slightly tense shoulders.
3. Mindful Cooking & Eating
Applicable Time: While cooking or eating meals.
How: Cooking and eating is a mindless act we do every day that stimulates various senses. Mindfulness promotes the focus on these five senses, and cooking is a suited process for perceiving the multiple sensations. For example, while cutting a raw carrot with a knife, notice the crunchy texture, the chopping sound as the knife hits the cutting board, or the vivid orange colors cut into various shapes. A recipe can go through changes in smell and texture as the food gets cooked. After the food is prepared, pay careful attention to each bite as you chew the food -the looks, smell, the texture in the mouth. The entire process from preparing to eating can become a meditational practice if we act mindfully through each step.
Additional Tips: Through the entire process, there will be times where we’ll find ourselves distracted. If so, don’t suppress the thoughts. Instead, acknowledge the thoughts and bring the attention back to the present moment. It may seem difficult at first, but daily practice will help achieve a natural control over our state of consciousness no matter what situation we face.
Cherishing the NOW Through Mindful Parenting
A growing child continuously faces new experiences every day. The same goes for a parent too, many things occur throughout a child’s life that is new. Even for an experienced parent of several children, each child is unique. The social environment surrounding the parent and child also changes daily. Not every situation replicates a past experience 100%. New experiences can make us feel anxious and nervous, causing stress to slowly grow.
Under stress, we rely on our past experiences and place high hopes for a brighter future. However, parents should be careful not to evaluate their child using judgments based on past experiences or high expectations for the future. This can lead to frustration and anxiety when things don’t go as planned. As a result, both the parent and child will feel overwhelmed and stressed. Objectively, judgments based on past experiences never guarantee desired results for what’s happening now, just as much as high efforts towards the future doesn’t always ensure success.
We all have different personalities and capabilities, so there’s no point in comparing ourselves to others. The best way to reduce parenting stress is by letting go of the standards we hold from the past, future, or comparisons. Once we implement mindfulness and accept ourselves and our children as who they are “now,” we can start enjoying the process of parenting without stressing over each occurrence of events.
If you’re looking for more tips on how to care for your mental health, check out some of our past blog posts!
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References：Yoshimasu, K., Oga, H., Kagaya, R., Kitabayashi, M., & Kanaya, Y. (2012). Parent-Child Relationships and Mindfulness. Japanese Journal of Hygiene, 67(1), 27-36. doi: 10.1265/jjh.67.27
Kitagawa, K., & Muto, T. (2013). What is How to Respond to Difficulties in Promoting Mindfulness. Doshisha Clinical Psychology: Therapy and Research 3(1), 41-51. doi: 10.14988/pa.2017.0000013384