[This blog post was written by Jennifer Tsappis, LICSW, a therapist on Amwell.]
Mindfulness is a state of being that involves a mind-body awareness of the present moment through all five senses. An active pursuit and practice of mindfulness allows us to live a more full and productive life. This can happen through a lifelong process of re-focusing on only what matters in the moment and clearing your mind of judgment and clutter.
As a parent, do you ever catch yourself talking to your children without actually making eye contact? Or perhaps you find yourself checking your e-mails or watching TV while having dinner with your family? Maybe you catch yourself being less mindful at family events, where you end up capturing and uploading photos to social media rather than giving your full attention to the moment.
In this age of constant digital connection, it can feel more difficult to live mindfully. While there is evidence that mindfulness reduces stress and improves productivity and general well-being, the practice of mindfulness is a difficult hurdle to get over. It is particularly challenging for those who are busy. Parents, for example, may feel that the more complicated life becomes, the more you might have to remind yourself to return to the present moment. It's important for adults with children to recognize and practice mindful parenting. Allowing yourself to be present with your child by letting go of external pressures and distractions will reduce your stress and deepen your connection with your child.
The following tips may help you practice mindful parenting.
- Take a breath. Take five minutes every day to sit still and try to relax your body. Take deep, even breaths and simply focus your attention on your inhales and exhales. When your mind wanders, return your focus to your breath. You can also practice mindful breathing while walking. Match the pace of your steps to your heart beat and recite with each breath an affirmation or calming word of your choice.
- Pause before reacting. When faced with a parenting challenge try not to react right away. Ask yourself: What is truly important here? See if you can approach your child from a place of compassion, rather than frustration. If you practice mindful breathing when you pause before reacting, you might be able to better control your behavior and act from a place of compassion rather than anger.
- Make mindful parenting fun! I like to suggest parents play simple mindfulness games with their children like “freeze and feel." Use a type of signal, for example a bell, clapping, or flickering of lights, to determine when you and your child will "freeze" right in place. Take a couple of deep breaths and a moment to notice how your body feels. Are your hands clenched, shoulders tight? Invite your child to be a detective and to search his/her whole body. Give the signal again and bring your attention back to the room. Finally, share with each other about what you noticed.
- Detach from the device. Take a break from technology and focus on the moment. It's easy to become tethered to your phones, computers, and other devices. To help avoid this attachment, try to keep technology in a different room during family activities. Screen-free time with your child will help you to be more mindful and form a deeper connection.