Mindfulness has been a buzzy wellness concept for years now, with evidence touting its potential impact on reducing stress and improving focus.
Then there’s mindful parenting, which is kind of its own beast. By being present with your kids, the thinking goes, and slowing things down for just a bit, parents and kids are able to connect in more meaningful ways — and maybe eliminate stress for everyone.
“I think it’s really just a dedication to parenting with intention,” Kristen Race, a child psychologist and author of “Mindful Parenting,” told HuffPost. “Given our busy, hectic lives — and how incredibly busy our kids’ lives are — it’s easy to feel like you’re on a treadmill.
“We’re missing out on all of these meaningful moments with our kids,” Race added, “because we’re literally just trying to survive.”
Wondering how to make mindfulness a bigger part of your everyday? Here are five super simple ways to get started:
1. Make the most of morning drop-offs.
Any parent knows that mornings are straight-up chaos from the moment your feet hit the floor. Lunches need to be made, teeth brushed, butts wiped, clothes put on, emails answered. Alas, mindfulness won’t make that all go away. But it can alleviate the stress, even for just a minute or two.
Race recommends this simple exercise for your walk or drive to school, especially for younger kids: For one full minute, simply be quiet together and hear all of the sounds you hear. After, share what you noticed. This works even if your commute doesn’t take place in idyllic surroundings, and even if the sounds you hear are honks and sirens. “You could ask, ‘What is the farthest sound you can hear? What’s close by?’” Race said. “We don’t pay attention to that stuff.”
Another option: Ask your child to point out something (or things) they’ve never noticed before. The goal is to bring you both into the present moment together. Plus, it piques their curiosity, so by the time they charge into the classroom, they’re primed and ready to learn.
2. Practice three-breath hugs.
In this simple, lovely exercise popularized by Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh, parents and kids come together, give each other a big ol’ hug, and breathe in and out together for three deep, coordinated breaths.
Though you can certainly do it at any time, Race said it can be particularly effective when your little one is having a meltdown, because it helps both of you get through a tough moment. Together.
“When we do this it calms our nervous system and it teaches our kids that we can use our breath to respond to difficult situations,” she said. “It teaches children how to calm themselves down, but it also teaches you how to calm yourself down.”
3. Put. Your. Phone. Down.
Yes, we’ve all heard this advice so often it’s like white noise. But you simply cannot be a mindful parent if you’re glued to your device all the time. You must set some boundaries.
In her own life, Race likes to stay off her devices from the moment her kids wake up until they’re dropped off at school — and then again for a full hour around dinner time. (Her kids are teenagers, so she asks the same of them, and noted that sometimes it can be a real struggle.)
“I ask people, ‘Can you start with 30 minutes?’” Race said. “We’re not talking about abandoning technology by any means. It’s just about being more intentional.”
4. List your three good things.
At the end of every day, maybe when your family is together at the dinner table or you’re helping your kids get ready for bed, try taking turns naming three good experiences from your day.
They don’t have to be big. The dog wagging its tail when it saw you. A moment in the sun. A quick, silly exchange with a friend at school. In fact, the smaller and simpler, the better in some ways.
When you make it a habit, you “start to become much more aware of positive experiences as they occur,” Race explained. “We’re kind of priming the brain to notice these good experiences.”
5. Remember: PBR.
No, not the beer or the Professional Bull Riders organization. PBR is Race’s go-to acronym for parents trying to stay calm and grounded in the face of a tantrum or other unpleasantness from their kids. The “P” stands for “pause,” the “B” stands for “breathe,” and the “R” stands for “respond with intention.”
“It forces you to take one or two deep breaths, because when you’re stressed you only breathe in the top quarter of your lungs,” Race said. “And then you chose a response that can lead to the most positive outcome.”
Note: Responding with intention does not mean you’re simply letting your kid off the hook if they’re behaving inappropriately. Your response still might be authoritative. It might be stern. But the goal is that it will be thoughtful, rather than totally rash.
“You’re creating that little bit of space,” Race said.
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