Now, more than ever, us parents are looking towards mindfulness to benefit both ourselves and our children. But what’s it all about? We got the expert scoop.
Mindfulness: it’s a word I’ve often heard and come across in my bid to get to grips with parenting and all its crazy challenges. And, right now, as we begin Phase Two (Heightened Alert), I for one am feeling curiouser and curiouser about it. Especially after yesterday, when I flipped into Hulk Mode yet again after my three-year-old got right up in my grizzle. I was in a cesspit of deadlines, work emails and other demands on my already limited time, and I lost it. Eugh. If this whole pandemic sitch has taught me one thing, it’s that learning about mindfulness for parents could help me choose more skilful responses to my children’s behaviour, rather than losing my sh*t on the regular.
One can only hope. Or, one can speak to Deborah Thurley, a qualified mindfulness educator, to get an expert take on things.
So, what exactly is mindfulness?
“Simply put, mindfulness is noticing what’s happening – right now – both externally and internally. And it’s then being able to direct your attention to what is important and what matters to you,” explains Deborah. “It’s a learnable skill that anyone of any age can practise.”
Paying attention to the present in a non-explosive fashion is something many parents could benefit from. It can help us appreciate the small things, lower anxiety and de-stress. I don’t know about you, but three words spring to mind: bring it on.
Why is mindfulness so popular?
Mindfulness isn’t a recent thing; it was having a moment long before all this Covid-19 crap kicked off. For years, it’s been taught to everyone from high-flying executives and military personnel to professional athletes and kids in classrooms. “It’s gaining traction partly because there is a large body of published research on its benefits, and partly because the techniques are simple and easy to use,” says Deborah. “And it’s very accessible too, with heaps of online courses and mindfulness apps to get you started.”
The benefits of mindfulness for parents
Kids push our buttons, fact. And here’s another truth bomb for you: sometimes it all gets a bit too much and we unleash our mum rage on our kidlets. But what about when you see your mini-humans, those sponges that soak up everything they see and hear, model your behaviour in their own tyrannical outbursts? Not so great, right? Experts suggest mindful parents can learn to recognise when their buttons are getting pushed, analyse the situation, regulate their emotions and respond appropriately. It may not have a 100% success rate (hey, we’re only human) and it doesn’t mean you’ll be exempt from ever feeling negative emotions again. But being less prone to outbursts and being able to bring yourself back down into balance will undoubtedly help you. And, in turn, your child will pick up on that and mimic it, too. Which can only be a good thing.
“Our busy lives and that negativity bias constantly nudge us back into our fight, flight or freeze systems and keep us locked there,” says Deborah. “Mindfulness helps us recover and decompress, especially in the current climate of uncertainty and anxiety.”
It’s as good a time as any
Ah, uncertainty and anxiety: code names for the pandemic. Juggling work and homeschooling, being confined to our homes, social distancing, missing loved ones, financial instability… it’s been a rough year. “These factors are all heaping stress on top of stress for so many people,” says Deborah. “The ability to create an inner climate of well-being, boost our immune systems and restore balance for ourselves is sorely needed. When we pause, breathe, slow down, pay attention and create room for kindness, appreciation and love, we positively change the emotional climate in our home.”
Breathe… and repeat
It sounds appealing, I’ll admit. But where to start? Deborah suggests this 30-second exercise. “Close your eyes and become aware of your breathing. Notice the feeling of your breath as you breathe in and out, paying attention to the rise and fall of your chest. If your mind wanders off and starts thinking about other things, don’t worry. Just notice it, then bring your attention back to your breathing. Continue to focus in this way for 10 to 12 breaths, then open your eyes.” And boom, you’ve just completed your first mindfulness exercise – aka anchor breathing!
What did you notice? “Perhaps you became aware of the sensations and feelings of breathing for the first time – usually such an automatic, unobserved process,” highlights Deborah. “Or maybe you noticed your mind kept drifting off to other things and you had to keep bringing it back. At the end, you may be feeling calmer, more relaxed and a little more refreshed – some of the benefits of mindfulness. This simple technique can be used at any time to pause and get some respite during a stressful day.”
It’s also a great one to do with your children. “It’s a wonderful way to help children transition from one activity to another and shift out of stress, anxiety or upset,” adds Deborah. “When I teach mindfulness to young students, it’s extraordinary to see how quickly they respond to a minute of quiet breathing. They really enjoy the moment of respite in their own busy lives.”
I can absolutely vouch for this technique in my household. Helping guide my tantrum-prone youngster through some deep breaths absolutely calms her down and brings her back to a level where I can get through to her verbally. There are also some really nifty apps out there – many of which are free or offer free trials – that take hardly any time out of your already-jam-packed schedule.
Finally, Deborah suggests adding a little mindful gratitude into your daily activities. “Focusing your attention on something good in your life, that you are grateful for, has a profound impact on well-being,” she says. “Research reveals individuals high in gratitude report higher positive mood, optimism, life satisfaction and less depression.” Sounds good to us!
Mindfulness for parents is like any other skill – the more we practise, the better we get. So it’s good to use mindfulness as often as you can in your day. “Drop into a short mindfulness breath technique or gratitude practice each time you wake up, hug your kids, eat lunch or savour a cup of coffee,” advises Deborah. “The challenge is to remember to use them frequently enough to establish habits. In time, you can become less reactive and more responsive, with greater awareness and clarity in your choices, decisions and actions. We could all do with a little less stress and a little more kindness, appreciation and balance every day.”
About Deborah Thurley
Deborah is a qualified mindfulness educator, senior lecturer and faculty member of The School of Positive Psychology (Singapore), where she lectures in Applied Mindfulness Psychology. She delivers mindfulness and positive psychology workshops, lectures and training to organisations and schools to support and optimise well-being. A qualified yoga instructor, Deborah often incorporates simple movement in her work. She lives and works in Singapore.