Mindfulness for Parents
By Ilana D. Rosenberg, Ph.D.
Mindfulness is a buzz word lately in popular culture, but what does it mean and how can it possibly be applied to parents who are super-busy juggling children, working, scheduling play dates and afterschool activities and the demands of every day living like food shopping, commuting, exercising or even just brushing your teeth? Well actually finding just a little bit of time to practice mindfulness can make a big difference in how you feel and how you go about your day.
• Watching your thoughts.
• Being in the present moment and accepting whatever arises without judgment.
• Knowing that the only time you ever have is NOW (and this was true 5 minutes ago and will continue to be true 5 minutes from now).
• Focusing on what you are doing (e.g. just brushing your teeth or snuggling with your child) and not the 60,000 thoughts per day (that’s an actual scientific number) running through your head.
• Noticing your thoughts and not getting stuck in your head or letting them happen automatically.
• Accepting that there is suffering eases suffering and wishing things that you can’t change were different increases suffering. That doesn’t mean not to take action; you should, but if there is nothing you can do about something then accept it as if you chose it because to do otherwise makes you suffer even more.
Right now take one moment to try an experiment: Watch the next thought that your brain will generate. Watch it like a cat watching a mouse hole. That is mindfulness.
• Presence is the way of being with someone. For example, in psychotherapy, the practitioner is empathic of the other’s experience. So too, being truly present to your children is important. It is quite difficult because usually as parents we are sheparding them from activity to another: do your homework, eat dinner, and brush your teeth. But taking time to be with, talk to, and hang out with your child is invaluable to both of you.
Mindfulness tends to involve slowing down breathing because that activates the vagus nerve, which activates the relaxation response. One cannot have a calm mind with a tense body and vice versa. You can change the mind by changing the body. Try the following tips to increase calm, especially when your child is upset.
• Attune your breathing to your child’s breathing rhythm.
• Tone of voice, facial expressions, body language & caring helps activates the parasympathetic nervous system (which activates calm), so when your child looks to you for reassurance when scared and gets it, they physiologically feel calmer.
• Music can activate the relaxation response. Try it the next time your child is upset.
• Ask your child (this is for younger kids only) to blow out birthday candles on your fingers corresponding to how old they will be on their next birthday.
• Teach your child that when faced with a problem, the first step is always to get calm and think about how they are feeling.
Mindfulness tips for you: (you can do these anytime: on the train, when you take a bathroom break at work, at your desk or when your child is screaming in your face for a lollipop or to watch Dora for the 15th time that day):
• Focus on your breath and slow your breath by counting to 4. Inhale to the count of 4 and exhale to the count of 4.
• Notice one breathe filling your chest and stomach with air, notice when you can’t take in any more air and the sensation of your breath leaving your body.
• Relax your face, hands, and forehead.
• Exhale longer then you inhale.
• Inhale through your mouth as if you are breathing through a straw. Focus on the cool air entering your body. Hold your breath for several seconds and exhale slowly through the nose.
• Feel your feet touching the floor. Notice the pressure, temperature and sensations. Notice the places of contact between your body and the chair, your back, and the back of your legs.
For mothers with babies:
• Notice the feeling of your baby in your arms
• Notice your baby’s facial expression. How does he/she feel?
Some Suggestions for further information
• Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) videos on YouTube by Jon Kabbat Zinn
• Calm.com – a great website that you can plug into for a 2, 5 10 or 20 minute session of guided mindfulness
• Any book by Daniel Siegel
• The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
• Calming the Emotional Storm by Sheri Van Dzik
Dr. Ilana Rosenberg is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Scarsdale, NY. She works with children, teens and adults. She first studied mindfulness at the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center in Boston for 2 years. She continues to bring mindfulness skills into her clinical work. Her goal as a therapist is to help people feel less alone and to feel safe with their feelings.