Mindfulness and parenting

I’ve recently developed a strong interest in researching and applying mindfulness strategies in both my personal life and in my teaching profession.

There’s strong evidence that mindfulness practices can help children and adults build emotional resilience. Mindfulness can also be an empowering method of developing daily self-regulation and stress-management strategies.

Practicing mindfulness is also a way to spend meaningful, undistracted time connecting with the ones you love.

As a mother of four young children who’s also a kindergarten teacher, I feel like I’ve jumped into the deep end of the pool — in terms of my commitments and responsibility. And I’m not getting out for a very long time.

Most of the time, this deep end is a wonderful place to be, as I have so many blessings in my life.

But there are waves. Waves, that we, as parents, all experience — not-so-pleasant moments involving our children, our careers, our family and home lives — can be overwhelmingly stressful.

Kids and stress

Children can feel this way, too.

Many children deal with stressors that are beyond their control. Not all my students walk through my classroom doors ready to learn. They aren’t all equipped with the tools they need to effectively control their behaviors and emotions. My children, too, have their own needs, perceptions and realities when it comes to dealing with the expectations and pressures in their daily lives.

What can we all do?

As Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the mindfulness-based stress-reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, said: “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”

What’s mindfulness?

If you’re acting mindfully, you’re simply paying attention, conscious and aware of the present moment without judgment.

Modern-day living is fast-paced and technology driven. As parents, we have a lot on our plate and it’s natural to multitask. I know my mind wanders constantly — whether I’m mentally making lists, processing a previous conversation, worrying about things that aren’t necessarily in my control or distracted by the ever-present pull to check my phone for messages.

When our minds wander away from the present moment, we’re pulled away from the task that’s at hand, or the person who’s in front of us.

When we practice mindfulness, we make an effort to focus our attention on the people we’re with or what we’re doing in the present moment. Being mindful means turning off our screens, slowing down, looking our loved ones in the eyes, actively listening, practicing gratitude and working to react to situations with calmness and clarity.

Our minds will wander and sometimes our emotions will get the best of us.

But when we make an effort to recognize this and redirect our thoughts, we’re putting mindfulness into practice.

Finding awareness, calm

One excellent resource I recently came across is Mindful Parenting: Simple and Powerful Solutions for Raising Creative, Engaged, Happy Kids in Today’s Hectic World by Kristen Race. In her book, Race offers practical advice, insight and knowledge for families. She explains how to recognize the harmful effects of stress on the body, how to minimize hidden stressors and how to practice mindfulness as a family.

In her work, Race emphasizes simple yet powerful activities, including mindful breathing, mindful listening and practicing gratitude. Her strategies are geared toward strengthening healthy brain functions and developing a strong sense of wellbeing. 

Getting grounded

I’m finding that incorporating mindfulness practices into my daily life is helping me be present and grounded as a mother, wife, teacher and friend.

Parenting and teaching with a mindful approach is an effective way to help children develop essential self-regulation skills, including quieting their own minds.

As I work to keep my head afloat, riding these waves as they come and go, I have claimed my own mindfulness surfboard, working to make mindfulness a habit in my daily life.