A recent study reviewed and summarized the literature on mindful parenting and how it can be applied to military families. Mindfulness has been successfully used to address parenting difficulties and stress and has also been used with service members specifically, so it is a great potential tool for military families. Check out this video titled Why Mindfulness is a Superpower: An Animation from Happify on YouTube to help illustrate how mindfulness can be a great skill to have in your everyday life!
1. What is mindfulness?
- Mindfulness is focusing your attention on your current experiences, moment by moment, in a calm way (Kabat-Zinn, 2006).
- Mindfulness is a learnable skill that can be refined with
practice. You can do this in multiple ways.
- Mindfulness-based practice emphasizes using meditation to facilitate mindfulness. Check out this video titled Meditation 101: Beginner’s Guide from Happify on YouTube to learn more about meditation as exercise for your brain!
- Mindfulness-informed practice uses informally learned mindfulness concepts (e.g., self-awareness, acceptance) to facilitate mindfulness. We give some examples below.
2. Why would I use mindfulness as a parent?
- When you are under a lot of stress, you probably aren’t parenting at your best. Mindful parenting can help you feel less overwhelmed by your own emotions and calm enough to use effective parenting techniques.
- It’s hard to be tuned in to your child’s communication and needs when your mind is not focused on the current moment. Mindful parenting can improve overall communication and help you be accepting of your child’s current difficulties so you can respond to them in a helpful way.
- Research has shown that mindfulness interventions can improve parenting practices and some research suggests that mindfulness interventions may be more effective at reducing parenting stress than interventions that only emphasize parenting skills.
3. How do I parent mindfully?
There are five main skills you can practice as you become a more mindful parent.
- Listen with full attention – It’s easy to be distracted by the to-do list in the back of your mind, the thing you want to say next to win an argument, or the notification that just went off on your phone. Put those things on pause and let the other person (your child) know you are focused on them by making eye contact and showing appropriate facial expressions. To learn addition tips for actively listening to a child, check out Active Listening from the CDC.
- Nonjudgmental acceptance –All people have strengths and weaknesses, and no one is perfect! During rough times, judging yourself or your child will only bring more negativity into the moment and make it harder to feel even-tempered. Instead, simply acknowledge the difficulties and embrace them as normal. Then bring all the positives of your family to the forefront of your mind in order the view the situation in a more balanced way.
- Emotional awareness – Understand that emotions are simply messages. Learn to recognize emotions as they rise in you and your child without being swept away by them. Notice when you are reaching a point where you no longer feel calm enough to handle the situation.
- Self-regulation – We all have things that stress us or bring out emotions, and many of those things come up while parenting a child, especially one who is having a hard time. Emotions are very normal - but can feel overwhelming. Have some quick go-to calming exercises you can use to find calm amidst chaos: take some deep breaths, splash water on your face, or spend a few seconds talking (kindly) to yourself in the mirror. Coping Skills for Kids has some great ideas on how to take deep, calming breaths that you and your child can do together!
- Compassion - Everyone is allowed to have bad days, you and your child included! This is especially true given all the sacrifices your family has made as part of the military. Meet your child where they are, and consistently send the message that they are deserving of love. Meet yourself where you are, and consistently send the message that you are deserving of love. That last one might be hard, but it is just as important!
You can also consider accessing online resources (e.g., Psychology Today, The Gottman Institute) or downloading an app headspace or personal Zen to help you learn more about mindful parenting and practice it over time!