What Mindful Parenting Looks Like
Caitlin Turpyn and Tara Chaplin of George Mason University tried to investigate this relationship directly in another recent study, by bringing parents and kids into the lab to look at their real-time interactions.
Here, parents who’d reported on their levels of mindful parenting were asked to engage in a conversation with their 12- to 14-year-old children concerning a difficult conflict in their relationship. This conversation was recorded and analyzed to reveal how much parents expressed positive emotion, negative emotion, and shared positive emotion with their child. Then, these results were compared to the adolescent’s reported sexual behavior and drug use.
In their analysis, the researchers found that parents higher in mindful parenting demonstrated less negative emotion and more shared positive emotion with their children in the conversations than those lower in mindful parenting. In turn, sharing more positive emotion was associated with decreased drug use for the children (though not decreased sexual behavior).
“Mindful parenting matters, even when you’re parenting a teen, and it matters for risk behaviors,” says Chaplin.
It’s Not About Positive Thinking
Interestingly, expressions of positive or negative emotion alone didn’t seem to make that much of a difference in adolescent sexual behavior or drug use, even though prior studies have linked a parent’s negativity to adolescent risk taking. Chaplin speculates that perhaps it’s more important for a parent to be emotionally attuned to their child than to be either positive or negative in their interactions.
“Mindful parenting may be more about attunement or emotional congruency in the interaction—not just parents smiling a lot,” she says. Smiling during tense conversations might not actually be very constructive.
Taken together, these studies suggest that encouraging more mindful, responsive parenting—and less harsh punishments or yelling—may indirectly help kids to avoid some of the risks of adolescence, such as depression, anxiety, acting out, and drug use. Chaplin thinks that mindful parenting helps because it keeps parents connected to their parenting goals.
Mindful parenting helps because it keeps parents connected to their parenting goals.
“Often parents want to do the right thing when parenting—they want to be warm, provide structure, and have rules and consequences, and those are all good things,” says Chaplin. “But sometimes they get tripped up in the moment, when their teenager angrily slams the door in their face. That’s where mindful parenting comes in.”
Both Chaplin’s and Parent’s studies are only preliminary and don’t necessarily prove that mindful parenting causes the measured effects. There could be other explanations for their findings. For example, mindful parenting may improve the parent’s relationship with their partner, which another study by Parent suggests, and that may account for positive coping in children. It could also be true that the relationship is reversed, meaning that problematic behavior from children impacts a parent’s ability to parent more mindfully.
Both researchers acknowledge this, and say more studies are needed. Parent wants to further delineate how mindful parenting impacts emotional regulation in children. Chaplin is busy planning a randomized controlled study comparing an eight-week mindful parenting course to a conventional parenting course and measuring how it affects parent-child interactions. They hope that their research will eventually show mindful parenting to be a useful tool for helping parents to help their kids.
“I don’t know that we know enough about it yet. But, if we show that our program increases parent mindfulness and that this decreases their teen’s risk behaviors, we’d be more confident that it’s the parenting driving this,” says Chaplin. “Then it could be something all parents learn to do.”
Here’s what to do now to stay mindful with ourselves, son, husband. Hopefully after reading these you can think about how they apply to you, too.
Leave work at work and unplug from technology.
For example: We make the dinner table a no phone/tablet zone. Spend that time as a family talking and really connecting. Tell funny jokes. Ask what was the best part of the day for each family member.
Teach your kids how to take deep breaths.
Taking breathing breaks together to collect your thoughts and ground yourselves will be fundamental in helping kids learn how to cope and have understanding of their feelings.
Pay attention to how you react to situations.
Because, ultimately, your kids will mimic it in their own lives. Don’t become aggravated or annoyed right away, tempting as it is. So if they spill something on the counter, don’t go into an immediate rage; remember, accidents do happen, and spills are not the end of the world—annoying, yes, but not debilitating. If you do find your blood boiling for any reason, remove yourself from the room for a few minutes to cool down.
Don’t interrupt your kids while they’re talking (even if it’s taking them a long time to get it out).
Ask engaging questions.
Practice active listening.
When your children are talking to you, make eye contact, smile, be welcoming. Sometimes we don’t have to say anything at all for our kids to know we are listening. Children do love to talk and tell stories, and it pulls at your heart strings to watch them speak of things we often can take for granted.
Allow them to express their emotions.
You are where they feel the most safe, and kids just like us will have not so good days and need to know it’s OK and that you’re there for them. If your son or daughter comes home from school grumpy, tell him/her that you’re there to help or talk whenever they are ready.
Keep the radio off and talk about their day on the car ride home.
If you can, walk to pick them up (weather permitting), so you can have a nice stroll together. Go to the park, kick a ball around, ride your bikes, or go inline skating. My son likes to ride his scooter everywhere, so I’ll bring that along.
Communication is key
Tips for Mindful Parenting
1. Practice being present with your children.
Science consistently shows that relationships with family is an important source of happiness. Try reserving just 30 minutes every day in which you give them your undivided attention by taking part of an activity of their choice. Set the intention to be fully present, but be patient with yourself if that is difficult to achieve at first.
2. Unplug from time to time.
It’s important to make clear but realistic rules about TV, video-games and smartphone usage in your home. Enforce these rules consistently and model tech breaks for your children. Try to lead by example as much as possible by taking breaks from technology yourself.
3. Have a dedicated space for meditation.
Find a place that is quiet, beautiful, and uncluttered – even if it’s a small corner of an otherwise busy room. To the extent possible, reserve that space for meditation and nothing else.
4. Take breaks.
Things can get chaotic with a house full of kids and taking a few mindful breaths to re-centre yourself can make a huge difference. This will not only benefit you, but teach your kids how to respond to a conflict vs. reacting impulsively. You don’t need to go the Himalayas to find bliss; even a minute in the bathroom or bedroom could have an impact.
5. Practice gratitude.
Expressing gratitude is one of the quickest and most powerful ways to feel calm and joyful. Modelling that for your children is a gift that they will benefit from for a lifetime. One simple and accessible way to do this is to establish a routine at dinnertime when everyone gives one example of something that went well that day.
6. Teach resilience.
Life can be full of challenges for our little ones. You can teach them to learn from setbacks and bounce back – instead of ruminate on failure. So really pay attention when they are facing adversity and help them make meaning from the experience through open and nonjudgmental dialogue.
with your kids. Meditating together is a great way to connect with your kids and help them experience the benefits of meditation from an early age. If you have really little ones, you can invite them to watch their teddy bear go up and down on their chests while they breathe. As they get older you can have them sit in a circle and listen to a guided meditation for 5 or 10 minutes.
8. Don’t judge.
It is in our nature to make judgments and generalizations about everything in life, including how our children will react to situations. When you catch yourself having a predetermined idea of how your kids will respond try to take a step back appreciate each moment as it comes.
9. See the world through your child’s eyes.
Children naturally have a beginner’s mind, and often find beauty in simple things. If your child runs up to you with a ladybug they found in the backyard, for example, try to match his or her excitement and enjoy the experience through his or her eyes. . Not only will this enhance the connection between you, but you will surely feel energized and invigorated by taking in these simple pleasures.
10. Don’t be afraid to break routines.
We all know routines are good for children and help promote security. But breaking the routine every once and awhile is ok too. Some of the best memories your kids will have come from unplanned adventures with their parents.
11. Self care.
As parents we sometimes get too busy and overwhelmed to take care of ourselves. Most of us feel guilty when try to take some time off to do the things we enjoyed before we were parents. Try to let go of that feeling and recognize that a healthier, happier you will make you a healthier, happier parent.