Being Mindful about Mindfulness
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”
As a new mom, I’ve been thinking a lot about mindfulness and how it affects both me as a mother as well as my baby. We all experience adversity from the moment we are born. Infants become hungry and tired. Toddlers struggle with big feelings. Teenagers grapple with relationships and school. And of course, adults juggle the demands of families, the workplace, finances and countless other stressors. Life will always present us with challenges, and we all need tools to cope.
Practicing mindfulness helps our children develop compassion, focus and decreases symptoms of anxiety and depression. It also promotes happiness, increases effective communication and relieves stress for parents. Living mindfully in the present moment with intention and without judgment seems like a simple task, but in fact it requires practice and patience. Below are some ways to practice mindfulness in your everyday, busy life.
Parents to Infants
- Put away your cell phone and other screens and try to be present with your infant, no matter what is happening.
- When you baby is calm, gaze into your baby’s eyes or mimic their facial expressions.
- Try to stay calm when your baby inevitably cries. Even if you’re in a moment you don’t like, try to stay in the moment with your thoughts. Take deep breaths, observe how the crying makes you feel, acknowledge your feelings, and then move on.
Parents to Toddlers and School Age Children
- Again, put away your phone and minimize use of screens.
- Focus on your own mindfulness. Kids mirror adults, so the best way to teach mindfulness is to model it. If your child is throwing a tantrum, what she needs most at that moment is a calm, nonreactive parent.
- Label emotions that you and your child experience. This helps to accept different emotions and eventually move past them. Say things like, “I am feeling frustrated” or “It looks like you are feeling sad.”
Parents to Teenagers
- Place limits on your teen’s screen time and remember to put away your own phone (Oh, if only this were easy!).
- Encourage deep breathing. A few deep breaths prior to an important event have been shown to improve performance on school tests and athletic performances.
- Practice gratitude. Take a few moments to reflect upon the things you are thankful for. This simple act cultivates happiness, more positive emotions, and even better sleep. Gratitude doesn’t have to be reserved for momentous occasions. On the contrary, you can be grateful for an ice cream cone or a cool breeze on a warm summer day.
Parents and Adults
- Practice mindfulness with your children. The entire family will benefit if you establish a daily mindfulness routine. This doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming. It can be as simple as taking a few moments to close your eyes, notice your breath and thoughts, and feel your body sensations with acceptance and curiosity.
- Try to be present during your interactions with others. Listen carefully and speak with honesty and kindness. Turn off the television during mealtimes and just be in the company of others while you share this time together.
- Forgive yourself. We all lose our tempers. We all do (or don’t do) things we later regret. After the moment has passed and the situation is calm, reflect on what happened. Talk about your behavior with your children. Take responsibility for your words and actions, and then move on.
Kristi Kiyonaga, MD, is a pediatrician with The Everett Clinic at Shoreline. Dr. Kiyonaga feels that her job is to present different options and to come up with a plan that works for an individual and their family. She is currently accepting new patients to her practice.
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