In my last post, I wrote about positive discipline and cultivating self-awareness as a parent. Developing self-awareness can be challenging, but it can lead to an incredibly rewarding parenting experience. This self-awareness, or mindfulness, opens up the gateway to real connection and deep intimacy with our children. As we come to have greater knowledge and acceptance of ourselves, we are able to offer this to our children. What a gift!
What is mindfulness and how does it apply to our relationship with our children, especially when it comes to discipline? Mindfulness is "paying attention to something in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally" (Jon Kabat-Zinn). As parents, the "something" to which we can pay attention is our present moment thinking and feeling about our children, what they are doing/not doing, and what responses this brings up in ourselves. We take notice of these responses and the actions (often reactions) that we take.
With the practice of mindfulness, we become curious about our present moment. We will likely discover that the present moment is a wide and roomy space where many feelings may be swirling around in a sea of many thoughts. We may notice fears and expectations for ourselves and our children. We may notice beliefs about ourselves and our children that may or may not be serving us well. We may notice these things driving our own actions and behavior in ways we'd rather they did not. We may find that we want to calm ourselves, or change our belief or expectation, and we may choose a different action.
For example, as a parent, we can take a moment and do a "system-check" of our bodies, our hearts, and our minds. We may notice that we are tense in our shoulders, that we feel rushed. We may notice that we feel very pressed because of a task we feel we must get to. We may then notice that we feel frustrated and impatient because our child (who does not share our sense of urgency) is being uncooperative and preventing us from getting to that task. We notice our sense of irritation, our stern tone of voice, and perhaps our blaming or accusatory language toward our child.
We may realize that we have a memory from our own childhood, of a rushed, impatient parent, or a critical parent. We may realize we have some unresolved feelings from our own past. We may feel that another adult's opinion about our lateness is more fearsome than our child's need for patience. We may notice a rigidity about our schedule or to-do list that we might decide to soften. We may find that we have many feelings in this small space that we thought was merely about getting out of the door.
In recognizing these thoughts and feelings in ourselves, we have the opportunity to own our feelings and our experience. We can then make a choice about how to proceed in the moment. We may think about a time when the tables have been turned and our child has had a sense of urgency about something, a sense we did not share. How do we want our child to handle this situation? How can we model for our child how to handle this situation? Can we settle ourselves and choose a different tone and different language to win our child's cooperation? We can compare our present thoughts, feelings, and actions with our held values and ambitions as parents. Do we want to change something about our response in the present moment to better live our parental values?
We may choose to slow down, speak softly to our child, apologize for being rushed, and acknowledge their point of view. By making this shift, we may win their cooperation and enjoy a happier transition to the next task.
Next time you feel harried or frustrated, angry or even enraged:
Karen J. Helfrich, LCSW-C
As a therapist, mother, daughter, partner, and seeker, I am always on the journey toward a more peaceful, authentic life. I hope to share knowledge, insights, and the ongoing unknowns I find along the path...