When we first enrolled my daughter in preschool, I had very little in terms of expectations. The main objective, at least in my mind, wasn’t about learning her ABCs and 123s. Instead, it was much more about learning structure, routine and basic social skills. Little did I recognize how much I would learn as a parent to a preschooler, including this notion of mindful parenting.
Every couple of months, the preschool holds a general meeting for the parents. We get brought up to speed about what’s going on in the classroom, what the children are learning and experiencing, and so forth. The most recent meeting was a little different in that a special guest speaker was invited to present on the topic of mindful parenting. The concept isn’t new, but it did serve as an important reminder.
Try as I might, I don’t want to be the bad cop all the time and this type of approach can help. And these best practices extend far beyond the preschool years. After the Terrible Twos come the Threenagers, the What-The-Fours, the Atrocious Eights, the Ferocious Fourteens, and beyond. It doesn’t really get “easier” so much as the challenges become different. So, how can mindful parenting help?
Respond, Don’t React
How much of what we do is run on autopilot? I know that I catch myself doing this when driving, particularly if it’s a very familiar route. I’ll arrive at my destination with no real recollection of making the turns or stopping at red lights. Parenting can be much the same. Fight, flight, or freeze kicks in without making a true conscious decision for why we’re doing what we’re doing.
We need to stop that. Remember when Daniel Tiger told us to take a deep breath and count to four? Same idea. Before you lash out in frustration because the kiddo isn’t getting dressed or eating her supper, take a moment to think about your gut reaction before responding with intent… which is coincidentally one of my guiding words this year.
Choose to respond rather than allowing yourself to react without restraint.
Learn to Be Content With Just Being
Speaking of autopilot, I think it’s pretty clear that so many of us (myself included) are addicted to our phones. Many of us reach over for our phones and start scrolling through email even before getting out of bed. While waiting at the dentist’s office for more than a few seconds, we’ll instinctively reach for our phones for another quick session of Animal Crossing or Candy Crush. All without actually making a conscious decision to do so.
When was the last time you actually sat down to drink a cup of coffee and did nothing else? No book, no phone, no tablet, nothing. It can be a rather uncomfortable experience. We feel compelled to fill that “empty” space, perhaps because we are terrified of being alone with our own thoughts. Or we just seek constant instant gratification (thanks a lot, on demand streaming and access to everything).
To become mindful parents, we must develop a sense of comfort with “just being.” Your children will see this and will hopefully model themselves after this behavior too. Studies have shown that too much “screen time” can lead to overstimulated children who are moody, cranky and fidgety. Every once in a while, challenge yourself to unplug and do nothing.
Recognize Without Judgement
Mindful parenting doesn’t mean that you’re going to be the perfect parent. You won’t be. I guarantee it. What it does mean, though, is being much more conscious of your decisions and aware of what you’re doing.
Think about a time when you got really frustrated at your child. Maybe he refused to get up to go to school and you’re already running late. How did you body react? Perhaps your heartbeat increased, your palms got sweaty, your muscles tensed, and your face felt warm. You may have felt like you were going to blow your lid, like Anger from the movie Inside Out.
We’ve all been there. Emotions are natural. Going back to the first point, take a moment to recognize what your body is doing, but don’t necessarily pass judgement. This way, you’ll be able to recognize these physiological changes the next time it happens too.
Be Fully Present
This lends itself to the ultimately counter-productive approach of multitasking. If my daughter is occupying herself for a few minutes, I might reach for my phone to update social media or check email. If I’m driving somewhere, I might play an audiobook or podcast. My mind is always somewhere else, some time else.
To be mindful, however, is to be present in the moment. Fully. And this takes a conscious effort. When we went to Deer Lake Park (above) last week, I told myself that work can wait. While I snapped a few photos (I couldn’t help myself), I avoided checking email or doing other “work” things on my phone. I wanted to “be there” for her. Fully.
Accept That Good Enough Is Good Enough
In a professional context, sometimes we have to accept that done is better than perfect. In the context of raising a kid, we also have to recognize and accept that we can’t be perfect. It’s an unrealistic and ultimately unattainable standard, because we’re all going to fail or come up short now and then.
Regardless of our best intentions, we’ll lose our cool. We’ll turn to fast food or a frozen meal, because we just don’t have the energy or mental capacity to prepare a nutritious dinner from scratch. Yes, I can feel like I’m a bad dad. Truthfully, I’m probably more like the world’s most okayest dad. And that’s okay too.
We’re all perfectly imperfect and our kids need to see that. They need to see how we navigate and manage our imperfections and shortcomings, because they too can learn how to do the same.
This is all easier said than done. Believe me, I know. But if we all put in the effort to practice mindful parenting, our kids will be better off for it now and in the long run.