Have you ever driven a familiar route and realized, three-quarters of the way through your trip, that you’ve been on autopilot the whole time? There have been multiple instances where I’ve arrived safely at home and realized I hadn’t thought once about what I was doing. I’d memorized all the merges and turns, and my mind had been elsewhere for the entire drive. And now that I’m a mom, I find myself going on “parenting autopilot” for days at a time. Life with young kids can be hectic, and— without intending to—I get sucked into our daily routine without stopping to think about what I’m doing and why. And that’s not always a bad thing. It’s good that we have ingrained habits like sitting down together for meals and brushing our teeth before bed. But, there’s something to be said for staying more present each moment, this is the foundation of mindful parenting.
What is Mindful Parenting?
To understand what mindful parenting means, you’ll first need to know what mindfulness is. It’s the practice of staying present and aware in the current moment, while minimizing judgment about the thoughts and emotions you’re experiencing. Mindfulness meditation is a proven stress reduction technique, effective in helping you relax and lower your stress level. When practiced regularly, mindfulness meditation can help reduce issues like depression and anxiety and improve the quality of your sleep, and it may even provide relief from chronic pain.
Mindful parenting incorporates the idea of staying present in the moment as you communicate with your children, whether you’re playing together, doing schoolwork, or simply having a conversation. It’s taking a breath and reflecting before you respond to your children. It’s being an active listener when they’re telling you something rather than preparing your next reply or worrying about the implications of what they’re saying.
I’ve now been a parent for over a decade, and I can say with confidence that this is among my most important parenting skills. It’s also something I need to do consistently, as it’s all too easy to slip back into “autopilot parenting” (which we all sometimes do). Both parenting modes are useful and necessary, but taking the time to be thoughtful and intentional as you interact can be of great benefit to your children’s mental health. Plus, it’s helpful for your own mental health, which is every bit as important.
How Does Mindful Parenting Benefit the Parent-Child Relationship?
The benefits of mindful parenting are numerous. Slowing down and staying focused on the present can help you to have happier and more productive interactions with your kids, even in sticky situations. Being mindful can reduce feelings of anxiety and stress in both you and your children, and it’s a great way for you to model healthy coping skills. It helps you to develop empathy for one another, which means you’re raising children who will become kind and thoughtful adults one day.
Mindful parenting is an important means of building mutual trust and understanding with your kids. As they grow into young adults, they’ll know they can approach you with difficult topics because you’ve always been a good listener. Having strong and loving parental relationships is especially important during the adolescent years when many kids face drastic physical changes and mental health challenges—as well as intense peer pressure. I know that when I was a teenager, I thought my parents were impossibly dorky and hopelessly out of touch with my reality. But I also knew that if I were ever in trouble or in doubt about how to handle a tough situation, I could talk to them about it. (P.S. Now that I’m a grown-up and a parent, I realize my mom and dad weren’t nearly as clueless as I thought.)
4 Strategies for Mindful Parenting – Mindful
In my experience, mindful parenting also helps you to enjoy your life with your family more. I find more joy in small moments when I’m not distracted by thoughts of what I’m going to make for dinner or when I’m going to tackle the laundry pile. When I’m reading my kids a bedtime story, I try to focus on being present with them rather than thinking about what I’m going to do next. (Although I will admit it: I do a little happy-mom dance when everyone’s asleep and I have a few minutes to chill out.) When my kids are telling me something, I find that really listening to them helps me to give a better, more thoughtful answer. (However, if the topic is video games, all bets are off.)
Positive Parenting: Raising Healthy, Happy Children
Parenting isn’t for the faint of heart. We all want to raise happy, strong, resilient young adults who will go out to make the world a better place, and I know some days that can feel like a tall order. Parenting children of any age comes with its share of mental health challenges, and I confess my anxiety often gets the best of me. I don’t want that to affect my children, and so I take active steps to stay more balanced and relaxed.
When in doubt about being responsible for your small humans in a mindful way, don’t forget to remind yourself that positive parenting skills go a long way. Positive parenting means raising your children with love, warmth, encouragement, support, and firm boundaries. Staying mindful in your day-to-day interactions is one part of positive parenting, and it will prove to be just as rewarding for you as a parent as it is for your children. Before I go, I’m going to give you a positive action step to use as you go about your day with your family. Find a way to remind yourself to be truly present in the moment at least once per hour. You might set an alarm on your phone or smartwatch or write yourself a little note and stick it to the fridge—it’s whatever works best for you. As you focus on the present, take note of how it feels and how it changes the way you’re interacting with your children. Does it affect their behavior—and yours? You could record your observations on a notepad or in your journal to reflect on later.
Parenting is no easy feat. Remember that you love your children, and that’s what counts. You’ve got this!