Multitasking is considered a skill that many people pride themselves on, especially when it comes to parenting — one of the hardest, most challenging roles in life. The problem is that when we multitask, rather than learning to do lots of things at once really well, we simply learn to do lots of things at once not nearly as well as we could.
Bouncing back and forth between tasks when caring for children can be distracting and stressful, which is why doing a lot of things at the same time isn't really in the spirit of mindfulness. We can still get things done and be efficient; we’d just approach things differently … and this is where mindful parenting comes in.
Many parents try to engage in mindful parenting — being fully present with their children, free from distractions or judgment, and with a soft and open mind. Easier said than done, we know, but the result in providing such undivided attention is that we are more attentive, aware, kind, and understanding in our interactions with youngsters. When it comes to getting tasks done, we learn to take care of one thing in this moment, and another thing in the next. Moment by moment. Task by task.
Mindful parenting behavior is about setting an ongoing intention to be present at the given moment. This presence can take many forms: for example, it may look like paying attention to your child, noticing your own feelings when you’re in conflict with them, pausing before responding, and listening to your child’s viewpoints, even if they differ from your own.
That's all to say, a mindful parenting approach involves pausing so that you can be attuned to your child’s deeper needs (are they crying because they are hungry, sleepy, scared, or something else?), and respond to them in an appropriate and loving way.
In applying these principles of mindfulness to parenthood, we create an opportunity to be more responsive and more productive, as well as being less in auto-pilot mode and less overwhelmed.
Being a mindful parent might seem like a high bar, given the everyday family stress we likely encounter on a daily basis.
Obviously, the idea of going through a full day thinking that we're going to be permanently mindful is beautiful, yet fanciful. The key to mindful parenting is breaking down our day into manageable chunks, moving forward task by task. In doing so, we gradually train the mind to be more present. In being more present, we experience more calm, clarity, and a renewed sense of perspective, which in turn, makes room for increased compassion and empathy.
The positive impact it could have on our kids is worth the effort. In fact, research shows that it can be a useful tool that assists parents in helping their kids solve conflicts in a calm, kind, and respectful manner.
One study found that parents who reported more mindful parenting engaged in more positive and less negative parenting behavior, which was then linked to more positive behavior in their kids, including less anxiety, depression, and acting out.
Another study showed that parents who engaged in mindful parenting behavior demonstrated less negative emotion and more shared positive emotion in conversations with their children. In turn, sharing more positive emotion was associated with decreased drug use for the children.
Of course, these behaviors may seem easier said than done. But they're helpful tools parents can use to orient themselves toward a more midnful state.
Step 1: Take a deep breath.
Step 2: Focus the mind on drawing that breath in and releasing it slowly.
Step 3: Acknowledge your fear/anxiety/annoyance, but don’t let it overwhelm you. We’re not trying to make the feelings go away. We’re just trying to observe them without acting on them. In doing this — checking in with ourselves in this way — we give ourselves some perspective to keep us in the moment on an ongoing basis. And when we are out and about, commuting, or waiting at the school gates, we can remind ourselves to bring our attention back to the body and back to our physical surroundings, which roots us to the present moment and provides an opportunity for us to breathe.
Another way parents can create a mindful pause is by using the STOP method. Here’s how it works:
Pause. Wait a few moments before reacting to your child.
Take a few deep breaths. Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. Feel your muscles soften and relax.
Observe. Notice and pay attention with curiosity to your thoughts, sensations, and emotions.
Procced. Return to whatever you were doing, responding to your child from a clearer, calmer mental state.
Looking for ways to be a more mindful parent? The Headspace app offers subscribers several courses and single meditations on topics related to parenting so you can be more present with your child, including:
Patience 10-day course. Learn to recognize impatience and let it go.
Kindness 10-day course. Foster feelings of compassion towards yourself and learn to judge others less harshly too.
Losing Your Temper single meditation. Take a deep breath and let go of whatever is causing you to feel angry or frustrated.
Listening to Others single meditation. By truly listening to what’s being said and taking it in, we connect a little bit more closely with whoever is speaking.
Feeling Overwhelmed single meditation. Give yourself a little space when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Relationships 10-day course. Learn to focus less on self-critical chatter to achieve greater harmony with others and within yourself.