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by Brittney Schrick - April 7, 2017
"Hurry up! Get your shoes on!"
"We don't have time to play right now."
"Why didn't you go to the bathroom before we left?!"
"What do you mean you forgot you had homework??"
"Do NOT hit your sister!"
"This is why we put lids on our cups!"
Do any of those lines sound familiar to you? Raising children can test patience and
emotional control. Many parents feel overwhelmed and out of control when dealing with
the small humans we are charged to care for. Often, we wish we could feel differently
but aren't sure how to change our thoughts or actions.
One way to address these feelings is to take a moment to practice mindfulness. You may have heard of mindfulness recently and wondered what it is or why it seems
so popular right now. The main idea behind mindfulness is to take a few moments to
reengage with your conscious awareness by focusing on the present moment without judgment or
expectation. This is often encouraged through breathing exercises, meditation, or
other forms of focused relaxation.
Research into the effects of mindfulness have shown wonderfully positive outcomes
for those who practice:
Parents who practice mindfulness report greater satisfaction with their parenting
skills, improved relationships with their children, and their children have better
social skills. Children who are taught to practice mindfulness show less aggression,
improved attention, greater ability to calm down when stressed or upset, and improve
overall emotion regulation.
This short video from the Mind Body Project explains the ideas behind mindfulness:
The benefits of practicing mindfulness are clear, so how and when should we use it?
There are many ways to practice mindfulness, but the simplest one involves focusing
on your breathing. This practice involves purposeful focus on your breathing. By focusing
on your breathing, you can regain control of negative emotions, increase focused awareness
on the present, and lower your heart rate. This activity can be practiced at any time
you feel the need to refocus your awareness or improve your mental state.
Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Relax your body. Close your eyes. Focus
on your breathing. Feel the breath going in and out. Over and over. One way to maintain
focus is to count your breaths. When you first begin, try counting 10 breaths. As
you become more practiced, increase the time you spend in a mindful state. Setting
a short timer for 2 to 5 minutes may be a good starting place.
This video offers an introduction into mindful breathing:
Mindfulness meditation may also be useful in moments of high stress. If you feel a
negative emotion such as anger or anxiety, a way to bring that emotion into check
is to take a quick moment to breath deeply and exhale completely. Try this a few times
and then reengage in the situation calmly if need be. For example, using this technique
in an intense moment with a child may keep you from yelling or engaging in an argument
that doesn't need to happen. It may help you stay calm in a traffic jam or with a
It is never too early or too late to begin using these techniques. Introducing them to young children may cut down on negative emotions and increase overall emotion regulation. Children
who show a strong ability to regulate their emotions have significantly more positive
outcomes in life such as more and stronger friendships. Teaching a child to focus
on her/his breathing can also help in reducing tantrum behavior, calm down when they
are very upset, and relax when they are stressed. This practice may also be useful
when winding down for sleep. There are many ways to introduce mindfulness to children
such as focused breathing, introducing a "breathing buddy," prompting your child to
focus on a specific sensory experience such as what they hear at that moment, or making
them a glitter bottle or using a snow globe to offer a place to focus.
In general, practicing mindfulness has no downside. Focusing awareness on the present
moment to insure that you are actively engaging in your life and your surroundings offers
myriad benefits for little investment. One thing to remember: Give yourself time.
Don't assume this will come easily to you. It does take practice and it is not something
from which everyone finds immediate benefit. Don't allow it to add stress to your
life. Try your best, and it will become easier over time. Even if you only ever use
mindfulness in times of high stress, you will feel calmer and in better control in
those situations, and so will your children. Over time, you may even find yourself
stopping to look at your surroundings during a time you usually run on auto-pilot.
Stop and take a moment to enjoy your life. It goes far too quickly.