Three Steps to Becoming Mindful as a Parent
Mindfulness. What does this mean? There is so much talk these days about being mindful. It has become somewhat of a sensation. Books are written about it, and numerous articles are written describing mindfulness on the web. Does being mindful bring thoughts of attempting to meditate (while you are reviewing your grocery list in your head) while attempting the downward dog?
Being mindful as a parent means having INTENTION in your actions. It is something you have to practice every day. With intentions, you purposefully choose your behavior with your child’s well-being in mind. You won’t just be reacting in a “knee-jerk” kind of way in which you may say something or react in a way you regret. You will instead choose thoughtful responses, causing you to connect with your child. How many times have you said something to your child and then afterwards thought to yourself, “uh-oh, why did I say that?!” Or, “my mother said that to me, I swore I would never say that to my child!” Psychiatrist Victor Frankl put it perfectly when he said,” Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” So taking that moment, or “space”, and choosing how to respond to your child is what is described as being mindful. Think before you automatically react!
So you may be asking yourself, how do I do this? Here are three easy steps for you to try:
Try to slow down and really listen to your child. In this day of distractions (cell phones, computers, etc.) it is easy to halfway listen while we are checking our email or Facebook. If your child is talking to you, put down whatever it is that is distracting you and focus totally on your child and what they are saying. If you can’t do this, then tell them you really want to hear what they are saying and you will be with them in a minute. Be present when they are speaking to you! They will notice. You want them to feel their voice is being heard. Believe me, your children will know if they are being heard or not.
Make eye contact. This creates their sense of self as being successful and important. If they don’t feel they can connect with you, their self-esteem is lowered. Parents often complain to me that their children treat them with no respect, when, in fact, the parents are the ones not treating their children with the respect they so often expect from them. Jim Henson said, “The attitude you have as a parent is what your kids will learn from more than what you tell them. They don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.” This is so true.
Try reflective listening. Repeat back what they have said. For example, “What I think I’m hearing you say is you are upset about…” This goes whether you agree with what they are saying or not. In my practice, many children and teenagers will say that their parents don’t really hear what they are saying, or they don’t listen. They tell me that their parents are quick to jump in and tell them what they are doing wrong, or what they would do in that situation. Would you want to confide in someone who jumped in to tell you what they feel is the “right” thing to do every time you attempted to speak to them? Peggy O’Mara said, “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.”
In this age of cell phones, text messages, emails, Facebook and Twitter, it is hard to stay focused on the moment, much less the twenty things our children are trying to tell us at the same time we are driving them to gymnastics and soccer. By slowing down and listening to your child, making eye contact when they are speaking, and reflectively listening to them, your relationship with them can change in a profound way. I have seen it happen with my clients and their children when they put these steps into action. Their relationship blossoms.
Being a parent can be the most incredibly rewarding and important job we will ever have. With a little practice (and patience!) using these steps , you can have a truly rewarding and mindful relationship with them while they are home with you, and that will last a lifetime after they leave the nest. Shawna Crabill, LMFT, of Charleston, SC can help you learn how to become more mindful as a parent.
“Your children will become who you are; so be who you want them to be.” ~Anonymous