By Dhara Thakar Meghani
Sunday, lunchtime. As promised, kids’ choice today – you’re at their favorite eatery. Once everyone is happily munching away, what else are you likely to be doing? Check all that apply, or add your own to the list!
A. Checking e-mail on your phone
B. Posting photos on a social media site of the kids making their silliest faces
C. Thinking about the upcoming work week
D. Monitoring what and how much the kids are eating
E. Sneaking a few glances at the sports match on the restaurant TV
F. Worrying about your parking meter expiring
…the possibilities are endless! If we are being honest with ourselves, we are prone to losing focus quite easily. Material and mental distractions pull our attention away even when we have the best intentions of spending ‘quality time’ with our friends and loved ones. What are the implicit messages your children receive when you are lured away from time together by work deadlines, household chores, or simply, your internal experience?
How can you be more attentive and effective in these and more complex situations, such as when an argument needs to be broken up or when a child needs to be disciplined?
The buzz phrase for this effort is ‘mindful parenting,’ or an approach that, as expert Jon Kabat-Zinn states¹, “has the potential to penetrate past surface appearances and behaviors and allow us to see our children as they truly are, so we can act with some degree of wisdom and compassion.”
In an age where the present moment is constantly interrupted by competing demands on our time, researchers are increasingly curious to understand the potential impact of training parents to be more mindful when interacting with their children².
Mindful parenting is rooted in the ancient foundations of Buddhist mindfulness practice, which cultivates awareness, intention, and openness or non-judgment in our daily lives. If this description conjures images of solitary, sustained closed-eye meditation, think again. Mindful parenting interventions include some independent meditative exercises, but favor ‘in vivo’ work, or hands-on incorporation of mindfulness principles, while with one’s children.
One model³ includes five elements for successful mindful parenting: “listening with full attention; nonjudgmental acceptance of self and child; emotional awareness of self and child; self-regulation in the parenting relationship; and compassion for self and child.”
Some of these components may feel at odds with traditional South Asian parenting practices, in which children are expected to defer to authority, are often exposed to physical and verbal punishment, and where fears of having unsuccessful, disobedient children may drive parents to be particularly restrictive or unforgiving4.
However, mindful parenting is thought to help parents bring to light preconceived worries and unconscious beliefs, and break negative interaction patterns that can actually serve to damage or detract from the parent-child relationship.
Research on mindful parenting suggests there may be benefits for parents, for children, and for the overall relationship, particularly during the notoriously challenging stage of adolescence5. These studies have shown reductions in parenting stress, improvements in children’s behavior, and a decrease in negative and hurtful emotions in the relationship when parents were more attentive, compassionate, and non-judgmental.
Parenting is no walk in the park, and proponents of mindful parenting understand there are moments when one’s attention is spread thin, or when chaos negates the possibility of being that cool, calm parent you aspire to be. When this occurs, humility, acknowledgment, and an attempt to repair missteps or harsh words spoken can go a long way.
Remember, you do not need to be part of a mindful parenting intervention in order to try it out yourself: take a deep breath, open your eyes, ears, and heart, and plunge right in!
For more information and specific strategies, Dhara recommends the book Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn.
²Cohen, J. A. S., & Semple, R. J. (2010). Mindful parenting: A call for research. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19(2), 145-151.
³Duncan, L. G., Coatsworth, J. D., & Greenberg, M. T. (2009). A model of mindful parenting: Implications for parent–child relationships and prevention research. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 12(3), 255-270.
4It is important to note that these are stereotypical behaviors and are certainly not employed by all South Asian parents.
5Bögels, S. M., Lehtonen, A., & Restifo, K. (2010). Mindful parenting in mental health care. Mindfulness, 1(2), 107-120.