4 p.m. at our house during a weekday is crazy, like certifiable. Not only do my fiancé and I run our own businesses, but we also contract out with other companies, have the daily chores, responsibilities, oh and we’re trying to raise a good human being the whole time as well. It’s so easy to get lost in the daily routine, to just want to get everything “done” so you can crash on the couch and binge watch another episode of, “A million little things” (God, that show is amazing!). Then the parental guilt kicks in and I wish I had asked more questions about my daughters day, her friends, her life in general. The promise I used to make to myself is, “I’ll make sure I’m a more present mom on the weekend!” Because, you know, being a parent is so much easier when you are navigating arguments and trying to keep them entertained until they go to school on Monday. Sunday night rolls around and here I was again, wishing I had been the parent I could see myself being but wasn’t putting any action to. If you finding that you're having the same challenges stick with me and let’s change the trajectory of our parenting to make sure we not only are becoming the parents we know we can be, but we are being the people our kids deserve! How can mindfulness help us with this?
Jon Kabat-Zinn, an amazing doctor who is also the founding executive director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, has been studying, practicing, and teaching people all over how to use mindfulness in their lives. Jon has said that mindfulness is a practice, a muscle we have to keep using like any other muscle. By making mindfulness a practice we are investing in ourselves, and living in the moment without judgment. How many times have you gotten in the car to drive to work and realized, once you were at work, that your brain was on auto-pilot and you can’t even remember half (or more) of the ride? Usually, we are living in the past and re-enacting those situations, or worrying about the future. Eckhart Tolle once described stress as, “wanting the moment to be something else.” A big show of hands now, how many of us are continuously waiting for one moment to be over, just to get to the next and realize, “Hey, wow, that moment kinda sucked too”? So how does this all tie into teaching our children mindfulness? Well, the best way to teach is to model!
Do you have a mindfulness practice? You may be saying, “Yeah, I do my meditation while I’m cooking dinner, have a kid hanging on my leg pretending to be a dog and yelling for my other kids to stop arguing about Fortnite”. All I’m asking you to do is look at your day and see what pockets of time you carve out to just “be”. Honestly, my time would be from the second I put my daughter in her car seat as she was in a long-winded, 1 sided, conversation about Peppa Pig is the most amazing and fashionable pig ever in the history of all pigs as I would shut the door, walk around the car (as slowly as I could, doing some major deep breathing!) to opening up the driver side door and realizing she had never stopped talking. Back then that was my mindfulness routine...ok if we are being honest it still is most days. What about that short walk you do during a break at work? What about how you secretly drive past the ocean or through the redwoods on a certain street on your way home because of the warm feeling it gives you inside? These are all mindfulness practices! Do you have a journaling routine? Do you have anything you do for even 5 minutes a day to help you regain your sanity? That’s your mindfulness routine!!! By showing your children that you practice self-care you are empowering them to do the same. And, let’s just nip this little lie in the bud, Self-Care is NOT selfish. Period. Why do flight attendants tell you to put on your oxygen masks before you help anyone else? Because if your not safe and healthy your no help to anyone else. Got it? Good, let’s move on.
So, you have your mindfulness practices and are modeling them for your children, now what? Sometimes my daughter will come up to me with a problem, cause 5th grade is a shit-show of drama, and I now make a point sit down and have her decide what problems are truly problems, and what are just drama created by others and will likely fade by the next day. My point is to not let her focus and fester on the actions of others that she cannot control and, in the big picture, do not affect her life. For example, one of her friends was hanging out with a girl that she thought was mean. Instead of letting her worry about her friend being treated poorly, we talked about how she voiced her concerns to her friend but now it’s her friend's decision if she wants to hang out with the other girl or not. But problems that are bigger we confront head-on, at that moment. It used to be difficult for me to get to the root of her feelings, or even have her be able to describe what she was feeling because most of the time we are all a jumbled ball of emotions that we can’t untangle. Some questions I found helpful to ask have been:
Describing a time I was having the emotion she is feeling (or I think she’s feeling) and how it felt.
Teach the difference between feelings and emotions. Emotions are a response occurring in the amygdala that alters the person's physical state. Feelings are the reactions to emotions and influenced by personal experience, beliefs, and memories. Put simply, feelings are a result of what emotions your body is feeling.
Break it down even more! By asking how their head, chest, hands, and legs feel when they are feeling a certain emotion can help a child learn how to identify it in the future. One child told me that when he feels mad (because his friend wouldn’t play with him) his face felt hot and his feet wanted to stomp around. One girl told me when describing a boy she had a crush on, that her face felt hot, she felt giggly, and her tummy felt like she was on a roller coaster!
And don’t just focus on this if or when your child comes to you with a problem! Take advantage of the time you two get to sit alone and are reading or playing a game together and don’t be afraid to take small steps to help your child create their own mindfulness practices. Start small and then build on it, letting their interests and passions navigate the journey. Here are a few conversation starters:
Name a sensation you are having right now (for example; contentment, anxiety, joy to just name a few) and describe what it feels like.
Ask your child how their body is feeling right now. Talk about what you can do to stay in that feeling or what you can do together to change the feeling if it’s aversive.
Ask them what they smell, hear, or see and how that makes their bodies feel.
If you are eating, ask them what it tastes and feels like. Have them slow down and describe the sensations.
These are just a few of the many conversations you and your child can have to help them connect with you and their environment. The beauty of doing this is that we, as parents, start to automatically do this for ourselves as well. By going on this mindfulness journey together you are strengthening your and your child’s self-care as well as your bond. I would love to hear what you and your child’s mindfulness practices, whether you’ve done this for years or are just starting today!