Imagine you’re out shopping with your child. They tired, bored and they want to go home; they start pulling items off the shelves and throwing them on the floor.
How do you react?
If your instinct is to fly off the handle, don’t feel guilty – you’re not the only one. But by understanding how our brains and bodies work in such situations, you can develop a more mindful approach to parenting, in turn leading to a calmer family life.
When we’re in a stressful situation, if our brain thinks there’s a threat it triggers the body’s alarm system – the amygdala. This is what prompts the flight, fight or freeze response designed to keep us safe.
The problem is, this happens a lot in everyday parenting and our systems can’t tell we’re not in any real danger. The result is that we often over-react, even though we’ve just trodden on a piece of Lego for the millionth time rather than been attacked by a wild animal.
It’s also important to remember everyone’s stress levels are different, so just because your reaction to a situation is more sudden or extreme, that doesn’t make it ‘wrong’.
However, it can be scary for children to see us lose control in this way – not to mention that it sets an example they will follow, and leads to a difficult atmosphere in the family home.
Instead, by choosing mindful parenting, by pausing and thinking, we can teach our kids that it’s better to respond than react.
1What is mindful parenting?
It’s not about being a perfect parent. It’s about managing our own feelings and behaviour in a way that teaches our children how to manage theirs. It means consciously observing your emotions instead of reacting without thought.
Mindful parenting means accepting what is happening, rather than focusing on trying to change or ignore it. It’s not easy, and there will be times when you forget – that’s natural.
2Focus on the benefits
Mindful parenting makes a big difference to family life. As you become aware of your own thoughts and feelings, you’ll also be more responsive to those of your child. Over time you’ll get better at managing your emotions; you’ll be able to step back and view a situation dispassionately before deciding how to act.
3How do I practice mindful parenting?
The first step is to recognise your own triggers. What makes you become angry or upset with your child and leads you to react automatically? What are your stress points?
For example, say your child does less well in a school test than you’d hoped and you find yourself feeling angry with them. What triggered this? Perhaps your own parents had unreasonably high expectations of you as a child and you always felt you let them down – and you’re worried they’ll think the same of your child.
According to Kristin Race, PHD and the author of Mindful Parenting: Simple and Powerful Solutions For Raising Creative, Engaged, Happy Kids in Today’s Hectic World, there are three key points to remember when it comes to mindful parenting in your family:
4Notice your own feelings during conflict with your child.
Be aware of your emotions – do you feel angry, ashamed, something else? You don’t need to examine, block or deal with it, just be aware. Then try and see the situation through your child’s eyes. Remember a time when you felt connected with them, and keep that image in mind to help you respond kindly.
It’s a good idea to note when you start to feel anxious or annoyed in the rest of your daily life, too – it will help you work out your particular triggers.
5Pause before responding
Take a moment to focus on your breathing. This causes physiological changes in our bodies that help us calm down; you’ll be able to experience your emotions without reacting to the trigger. Bring your thoughts into the present moment and then choose how to respond, rather than react automatically.
6Listen to your child’s viewpoint, even if you disagree
The thing about children is – well, they act like children. Accept that, sometimes, they’ll wind you up. They can’t always manage their emotions and behaviour – they learn to do that as they grow. That’s why it’s so important to set a good example.
Show them what it means to be adult. Listen to them carefully and respond calmly. This will teach them the same behaviour patterns.
Remember that none of us is perfect, and it’s important to listen to your own needs as well as those of your child. Sometimes, you might feel you need to step away from a situation while you get your emotions under control; whether it’s hiding in the bathroom or sitting quietly with your eyes closed for a minute of deep breathing, that’s absolutely fine.
And on those occasions when you react before you think, don’t berate yourself. We’re all human, and it’s still an opportunity to set a good example to your family – by apologising, accepting responsibility for your own actions, and showing them there’s nothing wrong with admitting your mistakes.
What is mindful parenting; how can I set a good example to my kids; why do I get angry with my children so quickly
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