Mindfulness is beneficial for effective parenting, and it can be particularly helpful during stressful and uncertain times. A simple way to describe mindfulness is that it is the practice of paying attention to the present moment without judging it or trying to change it. By staying focused on and accepting the here and now, people can create distance from and manage overwhelming thoughts and emotions. Here are some specific ways mindfulness can benefit parents:
Being mindful can give you more control over your behavior
It is normal to act impulsively (yell, curse, withdraw, give a punishment that you cannot follow through with) if you are unaware of your strong emotions related to something that happened with your child. However, if you are able to be aware of your emotions and notice them without judgment (ex: I am feeling angry, my hands are shaking, my heart is pounding), you can give yourself time to stop and think about ways you can respond to your emotions in an effective manner.
Being mindful can increase your pleasure/reduce your suffering
When you practice being aware of the present moment, you let go of thoughts about the past such as, “I made a mistake when I argued with my child,” and the future, “I am never going to make it through this busy week,” as well as judgmental thoughts such as, “I am not a good parent.” Noticing and then letting go of those thoughts allows you to manage painful feelings such as guilt or anxiety and increase the likelihood that you will get the most out of life. Without judgments or thoughts about the past or future floating around in your mind, you can fully enjoy a movie night with your children or be completely tuned in to a conversation with your partner. By focusing on the present, you may also notice small pleasures such as all the colors in a sunset or the way a warm cup of coffee feels in your hands. Increasing the pleasure you get out of life is part of self-care, which is crucial to being a parent.
Being mindful can help you be kinder to yourself and your child
By noticing the present moment without judgement, your critical statements become observations of the facts. For example, instead of thinking, “I’m a careless idiot,” a non-judgmental observation would be, “I accidentally overslept when I set my alarm for the wrong time.” Being non-judgmental of yourself can make a difficult situation seem less overwhelming. In addition, being non-judgmental of your child can help them feel loved and teach them to be less harsh or critical of themselves; this in turn, can boost their self-esteem and coping ability.
Being mindful can help you focus your attention
Being aware of the present moment helps you work toward focusing on one thing at a time and limiting distractions. This can lead to being more effective and productive when engaging in all sorts of tasks or activities. For example, staying focused on one thing at a time can help parents be more engaged in playing or having conversations with their children, be more attuned to their children’s emotions and notice something positive about their child that they otherwise may not have noticed.
Being mindful can help reduce pain, tension, and stress
Having a high level of stress can compound the challenges of parenting. Therefore, it is critical that parents find ways to take care of themselves and alleviate their stress. Evidence from research studies indicate many positive effects of mindfulness practice including an improvement in positive emotions and overall life satisfaction, a decrease in emotional reactivity, and an increased capacity to manage difficult emotions. Research studies also found that practicing mindfulness can reduce people’s physical tension and pain.
It is important to keep in mind that mindfulness is a skill that takes practice. If you have interest in learning more about mindfulness or building your mindfulness skills, here are a few applications designed to help people incorporate mindfulness practice into their lives:
Rathus, Jill H., Miller, Alec L. (2015). DBT Skills Manual for Adolescents. The Guilford Press.