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mindful parenting

All children present us with challenges from time to time, and kids with sensory processing difficulties are no exception. Dealing with these challenges in a 'mindful' way can make all the difference to the outcome.

I am pleased to bring you the first in a series of articles on mindful parenting from skillforkids.com - a website that provides parents, carers, coaches and teachers with the practical skills and knowledge to nurture children's physical, social and emotional skill development, from early play to competitive sports and beyond.

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Author Elizabeth Stone compared parenting a child to forever having your heart go walking around outside your body. From the uncertainty of parenting newborns, to the frustrations of dealing with the ‘terrible 2’s’ and those teenage years when your child’s brain may seem to go offline for a while. To successfully navigate all the fears, frustrations, and, of course, fun that parenting entails, what is required is to ‘mindfully’ respond to challenges as they are encountered. If you are not familiar with the term ‘mindfulness’, and you haven’t yet read An Introduction to Mindfulness it is a good idea to read that article to get an idea of what is meant by that term. In this article we will take a closer look at what we mean by ‘mindful parenting.’

What is mindful parenting?

Mindful parenting can be seen as the ability to consistently monitor internal experiences (such as thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and urges) when relevant, so you can respond to interactions with your child in a way that promotes her well-being.

By the time you are a parent, millions of experiences have shaped the way you see yourself, others, and the world. These memories influence strongly how you experience parenting situations. A mindful parent is skilled in recognising and accepting when parenting situations evoke difficult internal experiences. Also, a mindful parent can understand and accept the internal experiences of their child.

A dual awareness

Practically, this forms a ‘dual awareness’ where you are aware of both your own internal experiences and those of your child and you can tolerate both without having to reduce these experiences. This means being able to reflect on what is going on for both yourself and your child in the situation. It means you can approach situations open to what is, rather than trapped by how you would prefer them to be. When you are in this state you can then focus on what is in your child’s best interests.
Of course no parent remains mindful throughout all parenting challenges, so a mindful parent can recognise when she has acted in ways that may have ruptured the relationship with her child and can tolerate the difficulties involved with repairing the relationship.

An example

Perhaps the best way to get the idea is by using an example. Research shows that how you can help your child develop impulse control at a young age has a profound effect on his development. But imagine this situation…
You are in the supermarket check out line and your young child grabs a chocolate from the shelf. You don’t think it is appropriate for her to eat the chocolate at this moment but when you tell her to put the chocolate back she starts to cry loudly.
This situation would likely evoke difficult internal experiences in you, such as distress, in response to your child’s distress, and possibly embarrassment at your child’s crying loudly in front of others. A non-mindful response would see you act based on these difficult internal experiences without awareness. You then might allow her to have the chocolate to get rid of your own distress, or you might act angrily towards her.
A mindful response, however, would see you recognise and accept your experience as well as your daughter’s before responding. Then you might explain calmly that it is not an appropriate time for her to have a chocolate but if she waits until you are home she can have some ice-cream. This mindful response would hopefully communicate your understanding of your child’s experiences while also helping her develop impulse control.

More about mindful parenting

There are plenty of articles on skillforkids.com that are designed to help you navigate parenting challenges mindfully, particularly to do with your child’s healthy psychological development. We hope these articles help you understand some of the challenges and barriers to mindful parenting, as well as providing you with some skills and practical advice to help you parent more mindfully, more often. You might like to start by learning a little about how your brain responds to challenging parenting situations from the second article in this Mindful Parenting series: Important Brain Regions for Mindful Parenting