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Mindfulness Tips for Parents

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Mindfulness is one of those buzzwords that seems to be sticking. Social media platforms portray mindfulness as sitting on a meditation cushion and if you are like me, you may have seen that and thought that sitting uninterrupted for any length of time seems like a faraway dream. What does mindfulness even mean? What is it for?

Mindfulness is defined in the dictionary as “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something” or “a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.” In thinking about our social media story of the meditation cushion, meditation uses mindfulness, but meditation is not the only way to be mindful!

Let’s take the first definition of mindfulness. I’ll paraphrase this to mean, “the state of being aware.” Mindfulness is a practice of being aware or contacting the present moment. What’s the present moment you ask? Whatever is happening right now! Have you ever been around your kids at the end of the day and as they are trying to tell you about their day, you are still thinking about a work project? (Or is that just me sometimes?)

This example is thinking about the past. Whenever we are in a mindset of the past or future, we need a way to bring us to the present. Mindfulness is one way to do just that. One strategy that I employ for myself, that I also use with any aged client, is starting small. Noticing, or being aware, of where we are (physically and mentally!), is sometimes just enough to help you plug back into the present now that you’ve oriented back to it.

Another mindfulness technique that can be useful for connecting into the present moment, is employing the senses. This is also a great strategy for getting out of your head! This is such an easy strategy to use with your kids as well. Adding this on a walk outside can produce an “Awe Walk” effect.

1) Begin with identifying 5 things that you can see
2) Next, identify 4 things that you can feel
3) Then, notice 3 things you can hear
4) Next, identify 2 things you can smell
5) Finally, notice 1 thing that you can taste

You can modify this strategy based on where you are and the age of the child. You may also find benefit identifying one thing for each sense.

The second definition of mindfulness adds to the present moment experience. In the first definition, we are simply becoming aware, bringing attention where it wasn’t before. The second adds acknowledgement and acceptance. These “A” words sound great, but what do they look like in practice? Acknowledgement points to the noticing and not actively resisting a thought or feeling. A saying I’ve heard and really taken to the bank is, “What we resist, persists.” That being said, when we can acknowledge that thought or feeling, then, it can sometimes lessen the intensity or frequency of the thought.

Thoughts and feelings, just like people, want to be acknowledged. Once we acknowledge it, we can then observe our response to the thought, such as, if it is causing us stress or if it brings us a level of relief. Another way to get to the observation piece, if we’re really struggling with a thought, is to use this phrase before a thought: “I’m having a thought that _______.”

For example, right now, “I’m having the thought that I’m hungry.” This gives me a chance to bring the thought to the center of attention and decide my next course of action. Will I ignore it, in which case my stomach might decide to make its presence known by growling, or, maybe I choose to grab a snack and then continue writing this material. Spoiler alert, I chose to eat a snack! This phrase, “I’m having the thought that _____”, creates some distance between you and the thought, leading to a less charged response. It also helps bring some objectivity to your thoughts and especially on challenging days, that objectivity can help your responses be more clear-headed.

The second piece to the second definition of mindfulness is acceptance. Acceptance is a non-judgmental way to approach our thoughts and feelings. We can practice this by labeling our thoughts or feelings. This strategy is similar to how when you are driving down the road, you may see signs for different towns. Just because you see the sign (or for our metaphor, the thought), it doesn’t mean you have to stop in the town. You can keep a neutral view as you get to your other destination (or the end of your day!). This acceptance can help us know if we need to stop and get gas (like the snack example earlier) or help you know what you need to help you get to the next moment. When we assign value judgments such as “good” or “bad” to a thought or feeling, we can get hooked to it. Acceptance, despite how we usually think of that word, means that we’re actually able to be unhooked!

You may be thinking, “All of that sounds great, but what does practicing mindfulness in this way do for me?” I’m so glad you asked. Several parenting studies, show how mindfulness has impacted their parenting and co-regulation. In a noted study, after receiving even brief mindfulness training and implementing strategies, caregivers reported decreased negativity and self-reported increased caregiver self-regulation.

Caregivers also reported that as they implemented these strategies, they noticed within their children improved interactions, decreased negative affect, increased social skills and academic readiness (Lenguam Ruberry, McEntire, et al., 2021). Mindfulness can be such an excellent practice and can build habits that the whole family can do together, while also feeling the benefits together! 

Access free mindfulness resources by signing up for a FREE Hopscotch Family account.  Learn more below!

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References:

Lengua, L.J., Ruberry, E.J., McEntire, C. et al. Preliminary Evaluation of an Innovative, Brief Parenting Program Designed to Promote Self-Regulation in Parents and Children. Mindfulness 12, 438–449 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-018-1016-y

Robinson, B. (2020, November 20). What are "Awe Walks"? Psychology Today Blog. Retrieved January 7, 2022, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-right-mindset/202011/what-are-awe-walks.

Simpson, J. A., Weiner, E. S. C., & Oxford University Press. (1989). The Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

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