Mindfulness and Parenting

As featured in From Belly to Baby...Check out this local free on line (bellytobaby.ca) and print publication put together by Dr Colleen McQuarrie, a naturopathic doctor from the Ottawa Integrated Health Centre, and Dr Kelly Norman, a chiropractor from Back in Balance.   

We Asked an Expert:

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Question: What is mindfulness, and how can we use it in parenting?

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Answer: If we take being mindful to mean “being aware in the present moment,” there is much to draw on when trying to raise mindful children. Not only can mindfulness enrich our daily lives, but it can help foster a connected relationship with our kids.

Q: How is unstructured play a mindful experience?

A: Unstructured “go outside and play” time is invaluable to kids. As humans, we are not only drawn to nature, but our children learn and grow through playing and interacting with their environment.

Research has shown that a connection to nature is associated with feelings of awe, vitality, purpose in life, positive emotions and a high level of moment-to-moment awareness. So get outside and play!

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Q: Can mindfulness be practiced around the dinner table?

A: Absolutely! Everyone is busy, but slowing down at meals gives us daily opportunities to connect to our bodies and to one another.

Try to prioritize eating together as a family – without electronic distractions – even if only for one meal each day.

Of course, it’s also important to be mindful of what you feed your family. We all have different values, habits, and budgets that affect our meal planning. But observing how our kids feel and behave after meals can really give us (and them) valuable insights into how we can best support their needs.

Q: Families are so busy these days. How does mindfulness help us stay connected?

A: Culturally, we tend to spend large amounts of time away from our kids. I used to assume that working or taking “me” time gave me the break I needed to be more patient when we were together next. And yes, this break can be refreshing!

However, I’ve found I need to be mindful to reconnect with my kids after we’ve been away from each other, as doing so helps me know how they’re feeling and what their needs are in the moment.

Q: How can we teach our children to practice mindfulness in stressful situations?

A: Helping children tune in to their emotions and how a situation feels to them can help to dissipate any drama. Even if their favourite spoon is dirty and you know that the cereal tastes the same with any other spoon, taking a few moments to acknowledge their angry, frustrated or sad feelings can go a long way in showing them you care.

Even before children acquire the skills necessary to deal with stressful situations, laying this groundwork of communication and verbalizing the situation can help to build a foundation for self awareness. “I can see you are really angry that you can’t use your super hero spoon.”

And when stuff happens to you and you turn the drama on, use it as a teachable moment. Explaining your feelings and apologizing is a powerful example in role modelling integrity and accountability.

Q: How can families use mindfulness to solve conflict?

A: Oftentimes, things don’t go according to plan, and this can be annoying and frustrating for everyone. When my kids and I aren’t on the same page about something, it might feel easier to try bending them towards what I want or value.

When I’m in conflict with my kids, I try to check in with myself and ask, “Is this a problem for me or for them?” Sometimes the answer is “both.” But I find the question helps me determine what is needed in this moment.

And remember: Since kids naturally live in the moment, we can learn a lot from them. In this way, they become our guides in being mindful.