As a youth mindfulness educator, parents often ask me, “What can I do if my teen won’t attend mindfulness classes?” My answer might be surprising, but it is always, “Learn and practice mindfulness yourself.”
Our children learn from our behaviors: How we express ourselves when we’re happy, sad, or mad; how we find ways to bring calm into our own lives; how well we can be present for them and really listen and support them when they’re struggling.
Learning to be present with ourselves first can be a beautiful gift we then share with our children.
Begin With Present-Moment Awareness
Remember the old childhood song, “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands”? While I appreciate that we can bring attention to the happy times, I would also like to offer, what if we’re not happy? What if other emotions are present? What can we do then?
I’d like to suggest instead: “If you’re happy, and you know it, pause and breathe! If you’re sad and you know it, pause and breathe! If you’re mad and you know it…pause and breathe!” This change in the lyrics lets us know that we experience a wide range of emotions throughout our day, and each emotion deserves our kind, loving attention. When we’re happy, we can pause and savor it. Where in our body do we experience this emotion? Is there warmth? A lightness? A feeling of well-being? When we’re sad, where in our body do we experience this emotion? What sensations are present? And the same for anger.
Mindful parenting invites us as parents to take the time to pause, breathe, and cultivate being present with and for our children. It requires being present for how our children are in the moment, not how we wish they would be. Mindfulness teaches that we can be with the pleasant and the unpleasant, and we can learn the skills to support ourselves and our children.
Mindful parenting is definitely a journey, not a destination. And we learn by doing the best we can, learning from our mistakes, celebrating our victories, and by practicing presence—not perfection.
Where to Start? Start Small.
With all of the challenges we’re facing today, it’s important that we place our self-care and family self-care at the top of our priority list. Many of us might be thinking, “Not one more thing on my to-do list!” But there are small, daily habits we can develop; one step at a time can help immensely.
Short, five-minute breathing practices done throughout your day are very helpful for calming our minds and bodies. You can set your phone or watch alarm to remind you 3 or 4 times a day to stop and breathe. Try incorporating this practice with something you’re already doing, such as driving the car, making meals, taking out the trash, or washing your hair. Think of the things that you do every day on autopilot, and replace it with mindful breathing.
You can also begin and end your day with practicing gratitude. Many of us already have this practice in place and know the benefits. It takes the focus off of our negativity bias and trains our minds to look for what is good and beautiful in our lives.
There are many other ways we can bring more balance into our lives. Even though times are difficult, we can learn practices that will restore our faith in ourselves and in humanity. If ever there was a time to notice how connected we all are as humans, and how we have more similarities than differences, it is now. And we can model these practices for our children to help them feel more equipped to handle the range of emotions and challenges they face day to day. Maybe what they witness will make them want to learn more about this “mindfulness thing.”
In addition to teaching mindfulness for young people, I teach a 3-week mindful parenting series that starts Tuesday, November 3. If you’re looking for support on your parenting journey, or practical ways to cultivate more presence for yourself and in your family, I hope you’ll join me and other parents embarking on this path.
If each of us can learn to relate to each other more out of compassion,
with a sense of connection to each other and a deep recognition of our common humanity,
and more important, to teach this to our children, I believe that this can go a long way
in reducing many of the conflicts and problems that we see today.
– Dalai Lama