BY SaraH – MINDFUL LITTLE MINDS
You’ve probably heard of mindfulness before. It’s kind of everywhere. But just in case you haven’t, let me give you a quick overview. Quite simply, mindfulness is the practice of being fully present in a moment. Of paying attention to our internal and external environments, without judgment. The sights, smells, tastes, sounds and textures around us, as well as the thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations within our bodies.
Mindful parenting is about using mindfulness to remain present with our children so we can respond with intention. So we can remain calm, think before we act, and provide our children with what they need in the moment.
Mindfulness in and of itself is not about feeling calm or relaxed, It is simply about being present. However, many people do tend to feel calmer when they practice mindfulness and mindful parenting. And that is because when we simply observe our emotions rather than allowing them to control our behaviour, we are able to make wiser decisions, for us, and for our kids. And when we repeatedly respond with intention, it becomes our new normal.
So lets look at some ways you can bring mindfulness into your home and foster a sense of calm. Because lets’s face it. We all live busy lives. We all have distractions. Responsibilities. Pressures. And that can lead to stress and chaos for the whole family.
IMAGE BY @EMMAJADEPHOTOGRAPHY
IMAGE OF SARAH CONWAY AND HER FAMILY
1. Do every day tasks mindfully
People often assume that practicing mindfulness requires them to sit and meditate quietly each day. So understandably, a lot of people (especially parents!) tell me that they simply don’t have the time. But mindfulness does not need to be a formal practice. In fact, it is better to do a small amount of mindfulness every day as you go about your regular routine, than to be continually putting off your 30 minute daily mediation because you can’t fit it in!
Just about anything can be done mindfully. Next time you take a shower or wash your hands, notice the feeling of the water as it runs over your skin. As you make dinner, pay attention to the smell of your meal cooking. Eat mindfully, as though you have never seen your food before, paying attention to it’s texture, appearance, smell, and taste.
These simple acts will help you to be more present in the moment, and less caught up in your own thoughts and worries. When we worry, we are focusing on the future, or thinking about the past. But when we focus only on right now, there is less room for stress and worry and more space for calm.
2. Practice the Mindful Pause
One of the main principles of mindful parenting is the concept of responding rather than reacting to our children. A response is an intentional, mindful choice based on what our child is feeling or needing in a situation. A reaction is an immediate, mindless response, often based on how we are feeling as a result of being emotionally triggered ourselves. A response is based on the present, and a reaction is often based on the past.
So if we can use mindfulness to remain in the present, we are better able to respond with intention to our child and remain calm. We can do this by taking a mindful pause. This is the space between an action and your reaction. The acronym STOP is a helpful way to do this.
[S] Stop. Before you react, stop what you are doing and really focus on the situation at hand.
[T] Take a breath. Or a few, deep mindful breaths. Breathe in through your nose and down into your stomach, and then out through your mouth, slowly and steadily.
[O] Observe. Pay attention to your thoughts, feelings and physical sensations. Simply notice what’s going on for you. Do you have tension in your body? Do you notice anger? Frustration? Is there a familiar thought bouncing around in your head that normally causes you to react in a certain way? Just acknowledge their presence. You do not have to do anything in response to these feelings and thoughts, and you do not have to be controlled by them.
[P] Proceed. Now you’ve acknowledged your own experience of the situation, but you’ve not engaged with it. So you can think about what your child needs and respond with intention, instead of reacting based on your own feelings.
3. Set up a mindfulness space in your home
I’m a huge advocate of calm down spaces for kids, and I speak about them often. They help kids regulate their emotions and learn important social and emotional skills. And when used together with a parent, they offer an opportunity to reconnect. But I also love the idea of a mindfulness space in your home that the whole family can use.
Simply find an unused corner of your home, or clear a small space. Then have everyone contribute something special to the space that will help them practice mindfulness. Items that provide a range of sensory experiences are great. Comfy cushions, textured blankets or scarves, relaxing music, photos of loved ones, a favourite teddy to cuddle, a glitter jar, essential oils or nice smelling candles, some posters, and mindfulness or yoga cards all work well.
Make this a sacred, calm and inviting space for practicing mindfulness and encourage your family to use it when they are in need of a little self care or breathing space, and it will become a sanctuary of calm in your home.
4. Teach your child Mindful Breathing
Help your child learn to regulate their feelings by introducing them to mindful breathing. The breath is a fantastic tool for helping children calm down when they are feeling anxious, overwhelmed, frustrated or angry. Taking slow deep breaths, helps to turn off our stress response and move from our ’emotional brain’ to our ‘logical brain’ so we can think clearly again.
Try Starfish Breathing: simply have your child raise one hand as though they are about to give you a high five, with their fingers spread wide (like a star fish!). They then take the index finger of the opposite hand and place it at the base of their thumb. Now they take a deep breath in through their nose as they slowly trace their finger up their thumb, pausing briefly at the tip, and slowly breathe out through their mouth as they go back down. Have them repeat this with each finger, so that they take 5 deep breaths in total. They should be feeling much calmer by the time they get to their pinky, but if they’re not, just start again at the beginning and repeat the exercise as many times as they need to.
5. Discipline your child mindfully
Often we confuse discipline with punishment, and think we need to be harsh with children in order for them to learn. But really, discipline simply means, “to teach.” In order to discipline our children mindfully, we need to first be aware of our own feelings and thoughts about the situation. After we’ve done that, we can validate how our child feels, help them regulate themselves, and then set limits with love and empathy once they are calm and able to hear our lesson.
When we discipline mindfully, we send our child the message that they are loved and accepted unconditionally, that their feelings are always ok, even when their behaviour is not acceptable, and that we are there to guide and teach them, not to control them. When we respond with compassion and understanding, we teach them that they are worthy and deserving of compassion from themselves too, and that it is ok to be imperfect and make mistakes. When we teach our children calmly, from a place of empathy and connection, we also teach them the skills they need to be calm.
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Mindful Little Minds
Sarah Conway is a psychologist with over 13 years of experience in the field of mental health. Prior to creating Mindful Little Minds, she spent more than 10 years working in child and adolescent mental health, where she had a special interest in anxiety disorders. During that time she provided therapy to children, teenagers and families affected by mental illness, helping them reconnect and heal together.
In her spare time she can be found hanging out at the beach with her four children, drinking coffee and telling anyone who’ll listen just how tired she is