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I didn’t start as an intentional parent. In fact, even today, if you ask me, I’d say it takes me some amount of conscious effort to overcome my instincts to control, order and discipline and lead with kindness instead. That isn’t to say it’s impossible. It just means that mindful parenting is better in the long run, both for you and your kids.
Today, 12 and a half years after I became a parent (pretty much to the day), it comes to my mind that there are things I should have done differently.
As a mom under 30, I came into the whole parenting game a bit flustered, a bit anxious and a bit over-eager to get it all right from the beginning.
Net result? I was way too strict and a bit of a shrieking banshee. My child would then be terrified of my temper and it still gives me chills when I think of all the yelling I’ve subjected her to, at a much younger age.
When I stepped into the yell-free challenge and slowly overcame the tendency to shout at my child, something else shifted within me. I now knew that there was a way (more than one maybe) to ensure I stayed connected to my growing daughter.
Today, I will share 5 habits that have helped me, personally, as a mindful parent. Even trying one of these consistently will make a marked difference in your life as a parent.
Speak in a soft voice
I know. I am starting with the hardest one of all, but I guarantee this is one of the most effective habits of mindful parenting.
The days I speak softly, gently are the days I find that my daughter listens to what I say with rapt attention. The days when I tend to be snappy or irritable, she tunes out and retreats into a shell of defiance. (Hey, it’s the tween years. It happens).
Speaking softly also has other important benefits. It lets you calm your emotions before you speak out loud. It helps you think, not just about the moment at hand, but the larger atmosphere of peace that will prevail later in the day.
Listen with complete attention
Children are such incredibly vibrant creatures. For them, every little thing is something to be celebrated.
Whether that’s something silly that happened in school or a tiny win that resulted in a smile, it’s how they share it with you that brings boundless joy.
Most of us are hurried, flustered and juggling too many things at once. As a result, we half nod our heads in acknowledgement when they say something, while simultaneously ticking off a mental to-do list.
Did she finish her lunch?
Is there homework today?
What exam should she study for next?
This one takes effort too, but I urge you to slow down and keep that hour after the child returns from school for the important thing: listening to them completely and soulfully. Set that to-do list aside. It can wait. 🙂
Acknowledge their emotions
This one can be especially tricky, because children are still coming to grips with strong emotions and how to handle them.
What I have observed is kids, when they are very young, tend to express themselves instinctively. Whether that’s anger, frustration, joy or ecstasy, there is no filter. It all manifests automatically.
Over time, though, children learn to modulate their emotions based on how parents react to them.
If a parent yells every time a child has a meltdown, the result is that one of two things can happen: either the child yells louder the next time (since that’s a way to get the parent’s attention) or the child withdraws into a stunned silence (since the parent’s reaction terrifies them).
Instead, pause and observe the emotion. Most often, the only way you need to address the strong emotion is to be present with them, non-verbally and without judgment.
Respond; Don’t react to anger
When I stopped yelling and started speaking more softly, I also observed that I tend to take my time to respond to Gy’s emotional outbursts.
She’s navigating that sea of adolescence where emotions are strong, unusual and rather confusing. At this stage, what she needs is not discipline, but two things:
*Acknowledgement that she is struggling with an emotion
*Kindness and patience to help her through it
Most often, I wait for her to vent, slam the door or walk away . But, I do nothing. I sit and wait in my room while she processes the emotion.
A while later, she comes back, settles in for a hug and either talks about the emotion or has found a way to handle it herself.
What you need to do here is respond not with a lecture on controlling your emotions, but with compassion and an empathetic, ‘I know what that feels like. It’s okay to let it all out sometimes.’
*Honestly, I need to work better at this myself. But a daily reminder helps me stay mindful and in the moment.
Appreciate their presence in your life
Becoming a parent was something I never really prepared for, in the actual sense of the word. I didn’t even become pregnant easily. Between PCOS, stress and weight issues, I was all but resigned to the fact that I couldn’t bear children.
So when that pregnancy test turned positive one morning in later November, 2005, the feeling that spread through me was an incredible mixture of joy and gratitude.
After a chemical pregnancy in 2010, that feeling only multiplied. I was blessed. Incredibly, utterly, amazingly blessed to call myself a mother to the most wonderful child in the world.
A child, who by her mere presence, could improve my mood on a bad day. A child who, by her bear hugs and her eager request for bedtime stories (even today) warms my heart in so many different ways.
So I take every opportunity possible to express that gratitude for her existence and never take it for granted. To me, she is the sole reason my blog exists today.
If it weren’t for her, I would be doing something else entirely and I am not sure if I would be as happy as I am today.
Cherish your children. Take a moment every day to cup their face in your hands, breathe and utter the words, ‘Thank you for being in my life. Always’.
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