Three reasons why mindfulness benefits parents

by Barbara Ley •

We hear a lot about mindfulness these days. At its core, mindfulness refers to the ability to bring conscious attention and awareness to one’s present experience with non-judgment, acceptance, and compassion. A growing body of research demonstrates its numerous physical, emotional, and mental benefits, and mindfulness practitioners have developed countless programs and resources around the world for adults and children.

I’ve been practicing mindfulness on and off since the early 2000s, and I started teaching it, along with yoga, to children soon after that. When I became a parent in 2010, it felt natural to integrate it into our family life as well. I know that mindfulness has had a positive impact on my kids (whom my husband and I adopted from China), but just as importantly, it has benefited me, particularly my ability to parent in a connected and trauma-informed manner. Here, I discuss three reasons why mindfulness has been a vital practice for me as a parent and why I have recommended it to other adoptive parents and parents of children with special needs.

When I’m in a good mindfulness groove, I show my kids what self-regulation, emotional awareness, and self-compassion look like in action

To Enhance My Parenting

One reason why I practice mindfulness is to improve my connected parenting skills. A calm and compassionate caregiver is at the heart of connected and trauma-informed parenting. As David Cross, co-founder of Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI), says, “Stay calm no matter what. See the need behind the behavior. Find a way to meet the need. Don’t quit—if not you, then who?” Connected parenting experts also encourage caregivers to remain mindful of their triggers and reactive tendencies so they can learn to respond effectively to their children’s needs. Yet this state “mindful awareness,” as TBRI calls it, does not come naturally to most parents, including myself. I find it difficult to respond calmly and compassionately to my children on a consistent basis, and I often react to them from a place of frustration, overwhelm, or anger instead. My daily meditation practice has helped to strengthen my “mindfulness muscle” and deepen the self-awareness and self-regulation that I need to parent my kids in a connected and trauma-informed manner.

For My Self-Care

Connected and trauma-informed parenting is hard work, and it can take a toll on one’s health. Since becoming an adoptive parent, I’ve experienced increased stress and burnout, chronic lower back pain, and bouts of anxiety. I’ve even had a retriggering of my unrelated PTSD from years ago. My experiences, which are fairly common, highlight why connected parenting experts encourage caregivers to practice self-care. For me, mindfulness is self-care. When I practice it on a consistent basis, my well-being improves. I have less physical pain and fatigue, and I feel more resilient in the face of stress and adversity. Mindfulness also helps me become more aware of my self-care needs by helping me better attune and respond to my thoughts, feelings, and bodily signals. Most importantly, mindfulness helps me cultivate self-compassion. My tendency to judge myself for not living up to my impossible standards of parental perfection intensifies the everyday caregiver stress that I experience. Learning to bring compassion to myself lessens this stress and serves as a necessary form of self-care in itself.

To Model Mindfulness for My Children

Another reason why I practice mindfulness is to model it for my kids. When I’m in a good mindfulness groove, I show my kids what self-regulation, emotional awareness, and self-compassion look like in action. These skills can be difficult for any child to learn, but they can be especially challenging to grasp for children with trauma histories or other complex needs. I also make an effort to model activities that help increase mindfulness. For example, my kids have seen me meditate, practice yoga, and take breathing breaks throughout the day. Although I generally prefer to separate my formal mindfulness practice from our family mindfulness activities, I occasionally encourage my kids to sit with me for a few minutes while I meditate. Plus, the more personal experience I have with mindfulness, the better I am at helping them learn to practice it themselves.

Barbara Ley is a professor at the University of Delaware and an adoptive mother. You can contact her at [email protected] or http://facebook.com/treefrogkidsyoga

This essay first appeared in Parenting with Connection: The Blog 
(www.parentingwithconnection.info). Reprinted with the author’s permission.

* * * * * *

More about Mindfulness

Mindfulness is an evidence-based approach anyone can use to decrease stress and build resilience.

In a sense, mindfulness is very simple. All it involves is “paying attention in a particular way:
 on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn, 1994). It is about turning off autopilot and awakening to the here and now.

There are many ways to practice mindfulness. It can be done informally with practices like those shown below. It can also be done through disciplines such as yoga or tai chi, or through formal mindfulness-based intervention programs, such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.

While practicing mindfulness even for a moment can help you reconnect with your mind and body, manage stress, and balance emotions, to reap the most benefit you will want to practice mindfulness every day.

Strong Evidence of Benefits

Mindfulness has been studied extensively and is known to have a wide variety of benefits. For example, it has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression; decrease negative thinking and distraction, and improve mood (Mayo Clinic, 2015). Studies have also linked consistently practicing mindfulness with improved ability to express oneself in various social situations and faster recovery after being negatively provoked (sources cited in APA, 2012).

Mindfulness-based intervention programs have been shown to be effective in treating difficult and chronic clinical problems (e.g., chronic pain, mood disorders, substance misuse), as well as physical problems such as high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, and insomnia (Kachan, et al., 2017; NCCIH, 2016).

Want to Learn More?

Here are just a few of the many mindfulness resources out there:

American Psychological Association
http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner.aspx

Mindfulness for Teens. Accessible, helpful tips for everyone.
http://mindfulnessforteens.com/

* * * * * *

Practices to Increase Awareness

Focusing on the Senses. Sit still and focus on your senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, bodily sensations) without any judgment.

Eating. Give your food your full attention. Look at it, smell it, hold it in your mouth and enjoy its flavors and textures. Slowly chew each bite before swallowing.

Listening. Pay attention when someone is speaking to you. Do not interrupt. If your mind begins to wander, bring your attention back to listening. When the other person stops speaking, take a breath before responding.

Adapted from Benefits and Practices of Mindfulness by Sarah King
(http://bit.ly/2xYCtZb)