Becoming a better parent: Mindfulness

Our Westview team member, Terry Owens, continues our series, Becoming a Better Parent. In this article, Terry explains the important practice of mindfulness for parents.

One of the most powerful—yet overlooked—parenting tools is mindfulness. Mindfulness is more than “paying attention.” Mindfulness is a powerful way for parents to get to the root of their child’s behavior. Let’s look at the four parts of mindfulness that empower us to find the need behind our children’s behaviors.

The first part of mindfulness is awareness. Be self-aware of your own emotions, your stress level. Think about what you are bringing to the table. Is your life history affecting how you are reacting in this moment? Take a few seconds to be self-aware; it will make a big difference in how you will react, especially if you are stressed, tired, or irritated. Situational awareness requires us to look back at our day and evaluate how our day is affecting our reaction to our child’s behavior. Those days will affect our emotions, our stress level, and—if we Minare not aware of our situation—we can react in ways that are not helpful. Our unconsidered choices may even be harmful to our children.

Be aware of the “other” in this situation. Be conscious of your child’s emotions and stress level. What is our child’s state of mind? What has his/her day been like? Did he/she fail a test or have a falling out with a friend? Is there something about the environment that is making them feel at risk? Remember that—however much their behavior bothers us—behavior is not the real problem but a symptom of a need not met. Try to see the need behind the behavior. Children struggling with properly expressing their needs will often choose the wrong way to act or speak. We as parents must teach our children how to express their needs with language or actions that make their needs clear.

The second part of mindfulness is being a calm presence. When it comes to addressing our children’s behavior, we need to take a few seconds and calm ourselves. We will have a much better interaction with our child if we can remain calm or regain our calm. Human beings are, after all, designed to react to other’s emotions. At the end of the twentieth century, scientists discovered that humans have what they call “mirror neurons.” We instinctively tend to mirror the emotions of those around us. When our child is dysregulated and struggling, our calm presence can activate their mirror neurons and help them regulate their emotions. That’s why we need to be responsive, not reactive.

The third piece of mindfulness is flexible responding. This means parents should not go into a given situation with a determined outcome. Instead, as parents, we should go in with the goal of keeping our child connected with us. We need to effectively teach the coping skills necessary for our child to successfully negotiate life. If we remember back in the days when our child was a baby and we tried to calm them, we didn’t use just one strategy. We tried numerous ways: rocking them, holding them close, and patting their back. That was using a flexible response. Even when our children grow older, we must continue to be flexible in how we respond to them. As our child changes strategies, we can change strategies and remain flexible in our responses to discover our child’s needs.

The last part of mindfulness is creative problem-solving. The goal of creative problem solving is to partner with our child to discover a solution to the problem together. This search will also help develop a relationship built on trust. When we work with our children to solve their problems, it becomes the true win-win solution. The need of the child is met, and we come out on the other side of the problem with a stronger relationship with our child. As TBRI® (Trust-Based Relational Intervention) tells us, our goal as parents is to be that person our child will come to when they have a problem to solve.

We hope that you will practice putting these four pieces together to become a truly mindful parent. You and your children will better cope with hard days when you do.

Our goal at Westview is to be a resource for families in our community and surrounding areas. If you need assistance or have questions feel free to reach out to us at wbhadmissions@gmail.com.