You’re cooking dinner for the family. You had a hectic and stressful day at work. You see an alligator shoot across the room. Wait…what?? Yes. Your 4 year old threw a plastic toy alligator at your 1 year old. You run in the living room to investigate, all intentions are to remain positive but that quickly goes out the window. After all you’ve had an overly frustrating day.
Or you’re leaving the store with your kids and you start loading everyone back in the car, only to find out that your 4 year old stole a candy bar from the check out counter. That makes this the third time this week she has committed a crime of theft. So you unload everyone and have her return the candy bar only for the cashier to smile and say “Oh it’s fine. She can keep it.” Ugh…
Parenting is hard. No shit. Even the perfect Instagram mom has lost her cool. I can’t imagine a parent that hasn’t lost their shit with their kids. When I found out I was going to be a mom for the first time I thought, “My kids will listen to me. They will eat all their veggies, sleep in their bed, and teach their siblings Latin.” But I also thought, “HOW THE HELL AM I SUPPOSED TO RAISE CHILDREN IN THIS WORLD???” I was a bit anxious about having to raise a human (now 2 humans).
I have always been an anxious person. I’ve always worried about things that could happen, have happened, and most likely will never ever ever happen. When I became a parent my anxiety became unreal. I not only had to worry about myself in this crazy world, but now I had to worry about all the things that could possibly happen to my daughters.
Every parent wants their children to be decent humans who do well for themselves. What I want for my daughters is simple. I want my daughters to be compassionate, open-minded, kind, genuine, fearless, gentle, creative, and happy.
Once we established our priorities that we wanted to teach our children, we then were met with the biggest dilemma…How do we raise our children to be those things?
Enter mindful parenting.
Mindfulness is the practice of being mindful, present, and in the moment. I’ve been practicing mindfulness for the past 3 years and I’ll admit, it has not been a consistent practice. Things happen that make me so anxious that I forget to practice what I’ve been learning about. There’s a bit by comedian Jim Gaffigan where he explains what parenting is like. He says, “Imagine you’re drowning in the ocean and someone hands you a baby.” Basically. But I can tell you that when I practice it diligently I notice a difference in my overall self. My mind is more clear. My anxiety is snuggles way down deep. I’m happier. And I reflect on my day rather than react in the moment.
I love my daughters. I didn’t know I could love as much as I love my daughters. And when my oldest daughter’s life was hanging in the balance last year as she battled cancer, it all came at me at once. I started over-analyzing every parenting moment I have ever had. I had an overwhelming amount of guilt for every time I yelled at her, every time I simply lost my shit. Because I’m a parent. We can’t be expected to keep it together all the time. But it shouldn’t take a a life-threatening illness to make me realize that.
Mindful parenting has allowed me to improve the way I parent. Every moment with my kids is precious. If I’m going to teach my children to be all those things I want them to be, then I need to also be all of those things. THIS HAS BEEN A REVOLUTIONARY MIND SHIFT FOR ME. Kids learn by watching adults. They watch our actions and words towards others, but more importantly, they watch our actions and words towards ourselves. Woah.
When one or both of my kids are acting out I look at it as they are assisting me in my parental ascendance. They are guiding me towards my most mindful self as a parent. (Power of positive thinking!)
So how do I do it? Well, when a situation arises that needs my attention, I try to:
Pause. Take a breath. Or a few. Trust me. It will change how you approach your child. Your reaction is what your child will remember.
Connect. I start by letting me daughter know that I understand how she feels in that moment. Your child needs to know that her feelings are important, no matter how crazy they may seem. I want my children to know they can always come to me with any problem. If I yell at them when they are in trouble it will make them want to hide things from me more.
Listen. Let your child talk to you. Let her know you will listen to her. It doesn’t matter if your child is crying because she wanted 10 chocolate chips in her pancakes and you put in 9 chocolate chips. You simply listen to her feelings.
Does this practice work 100% of the time? Absolutely not. There are times when I do these things and no matter how calm I approach the situation, my child just will simply not have it. In that moment I give her the space she needs by not speaking. I will hold her (if she’ll let me), or I will lay with her (if she’ll let me), or if she needs a minute alone she will lay on the couch and come to me when she has calmed down. Even at 4 years old she is able to communicate to me her feelings and thoughts about why she was upset or why she acted in a particular way.
If we approach our kids in a moment where emotions are high, you can expect not to get through to her. She isn’t able to grasp what she did wrong, or why she is upset. It’s important to give your child time to calm down. I know for me, when I’m in an anxious state I do not like it when people tell me “Chill out. Get over it. You’re fine.” That right there will set me off even more. I will chill out; eventually. I will get over it; eventually. And I will be fine; eventually.
Everyone deals with their emotions differently. So why is it a crime when our children can’t handle their emotions? We can’t expect them to. Our minds aren’t fully developed until we are in our 20’s. Yet some parents think that their children are not allowed to act out, especially in public, ever. Some parents believe that just because their child dealt with a situation perfectly before, that they should always deal with those situations perfectly. If we don’t expect that of ourselves as adults, how can we expect that of our children?
So if you’ve been struggling trying to understand your child and feel like you are at your wits end, give this a shot. You have nothing to lose. I’m not promising you it will work every time. I am promising you that you will develop a genuine relationship with your child that will have long-lasting benefits.