How paying attention can make you a better parent

How paying attention can make you a better parent

I remember the times when as a parent of young children how difficult it was to juggle full-time work with taking care of my children. My stress levels were at an all-time high as my husband and I were alone in a city with no support structures.

Fast forward a few years and things have changed. I came to mindfulness practices about seven years ago. Through my mindfulness training I felt like a light had been switched on, as if I was now ‘online’ and I saw the world for the first time…I had come alive. My conversations with my now teenage children began to change and I also noticed changes in my relationship with my husband and work colleagues. I remember the times when my teenage daughter would come home from school totally overwhelmed with homework, projects and tests. I noticed how I responded differently, from having said ‘It’s not so bad’ to now standing still and noticing how she was feeling, how I was feeling in that moment and then saying ‘It is not easy to have so much to do’ and this made such a difference in how we approached the overwhelm.

So, what is Mindfulness and how can it help you to relate better to yourself and your children?

Mindfulness is described by the Institute of Mindfulness in South Africa as “moment-to-moment awareness, cultivated by purposefully paying attention in the present moment with an attitude of non-judgment, kindness, and curiosity.”

Mindfulness is simply the art of paying attention. It requires that we slow down and learn to bring stillness to our busy minds. It is a shift from a state of doing to one of being.

When we begin to pay attention to what is happening in the here and now, we are being mindful. It helps to direct our focus on an object; and this can either be on one of our senses, our breath or our body.

This capacity to be present to the experience of life is a powerful way to live!

At this time on earth it is particularly difficult to pay attention with all the technological and social media distractions – and our children have the full brunt of this. With mindfulness we gently bring back our awareness to this present moment. It does mean that we meet life with whatever is present now, be it a pleasant, unpleasant or neutral experience. With this awareness we pay attention noticing the distractions for what they are be it a past we can’t change, or a future we can only imagine. And we start to taste our food more, listen with more presence, work more efficiently and notice more about ourselves, each other and the world around us. As we become more engaged, we notice a greater connectedness to our own lives and to the lives of our children.

Sharing Mindfulness practices with our children helps us as parents to cope better with those times when our child is having a tantrum or we as parents are in a what feels like a never-ending school run.

Mindfulness-based interventions and their benefits have nearly 35 years of research and development behind them in the fields of health care, mental health and education.

The current neuroscience among adults, and a growing literature with youth, list the following benefits of mindfulness interventions:

  1. Cognitive outcomes: Better focus and concentration
  2. Social-emotional skills: Improved self-regulation as well as compassionate attitudes and behavior
  3. Well Being: Decreased stress, anxiety, and depression

Scott Rodgers, from the University of Miami School of Law’s Mindfulness in Law Program says this well in this article on A Mindfulness Practice for Pre-schoolers That Connects Kids to Nature “When we teach mindfulness to children, we are sharing with them skillful ways of relating to life’s uncomfortable and challenging moments. The earlier we do so in their young lives, the greater the opportunity to help them cultivate resilience and develop and refine their mindfulness practice as they mature.”

“Mindful parenting matters, even when you’re parenting a teen, and it matters for risk behaviours,” says Tara Chaplin of George Mason University in this article on How Mindful Parenting Differs From Just Being Mindful.

Of course, it goes without saying that we need to practice what we preach too. As we adults become better at identifying, naming, and expressing our big feelings, the better our kids will get at it, too!

Jane Notten and I at MBSR-North are running a unique Mindful Parent and Child programme this September. It is a four-week programme where we meet once a week for 90 minutes with you and your child. We will do some work all together and some separately. This programme is for preschool children from ages 4-6 and their parents.

If you are interested in the programme and have older children please speak to us about alternative dates.

For more details go to our events page. To get started you can also download these four Mindful games to play with your kids.

 

Rediscover your sense of humour with mindfulness

Rediscover your sense of humour with mindfulness

One of the things you will notice when you start to practice mindfulness is that there is plenty to laugh at in life.

When I take the time to look into my mind and see what it is up to – I usually find that it is downright hilarious what I am thinking a lot of the time. This is not because i am a comic genius (alas), but because what is going on in there is so unexpectedly bizarre and entertaining.

The practice of mindfulness invites us to step aside and see what is going on in our mind – rather than buying into its often crazy narratives.

These stories: “I am not good enough”; “This project is late! Again”;  “Don’t forget to buy mom’s birthday present”; or “That car is going to get in front of you in the traffic, watch out!”; and so on, and so on, ad infinitum, take up a lot of our time. And while thoughts have a useful function – there’s no denying that they help us to stay alive and get things done – they can also make our lives miserable. They can add to our stress.

So what is stress? According to a Univeristy of Massachusetts blogpost, stress is a physical and psychological reaction to issues and events emanating from one’s environment. Perceived obstacles to goal achievement, environmental change, life challenges and periods of significant transition are common stress triggers. All of us experience stress on a regular basis. Most of it is actually positive helping to motivate us. However, like most things in excess, too much stress is negative.

Excessive stress develops slowly over time and often goes unnoticed until it’s too late. It’s as if you are blowing up a balloon; if there is no way for the air to get out of the balloon it will eventually explode in an unpredictable and destructive fashion. There is a lot of that around in the world today and it’s often not that funny!

The good news is that we can learn to manage and maintain stress at healthy levels and mindfulness is one of the practical tools to help us achieve this.

The idea is that by practising mindfulness, we get to recognise the build up of stress (when the balloon is near bursting) and choose to respond to it differently (let out the air).

As Ruby Wax, a comedian who has used mindfulness to manage her severe depression and written a fair amount on the topic says: Learning how to “cool your engines and reboot” is key to mindfulness.

“Mindfulness is understanding what mode you’re in, then making choices either to stay in that mode or pull back,” she explains.

It can be difficult at first – when you start to practice. Like going for a run – the first time you try to run up that hill you don’t get very far. But, bit by bit, you can get stronger. In mindfulness terms, that means that you become more aware of what you are thinking and how you are feeling in the moment – and that means that you can start to change the things that are not helping you.

Part of the trick, is learning to accept what you find inside your mind and not judge what you are thinking and feeling – maybe even laugh at yourself a bit. Recognise that this carnival is all part and parcel of being human. With that comes a certain lightness and playfulness. When we become less attached to our thoughts we can see the funny in things.

As Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the mindfulness movement in the west, writes in his book Mind Body Medicine: “Acceptance, of course, does not mean passivity or resignation. On the contrary, mindfully accepting what each moment offers, you open yourself to experiencing life much more completely and make it more likely that you will be able to respond effectively to any situation that presents itself. Acceptance offers a way to navigate life’s ups and downs – what Zorba the Greek called “the full catastrophe” – with grace, a sense of humour, and perhaps some understanding of the big picture, what I like to think of as wisdom.”

If you would like to learn more about mindfulness. We are running two introduction to mindfulness sessions this July. A half-day workshop on Saturday 21st and an evening session on Tuesday 24th. Both events are free. Email jane@mbsr-north.co,za for more information. For more events see our Events Page. 

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