“When I had my son, I knew how I didn’t want to raise him,” a mother we know recently told us. She didn’t want to parent as she had been parented. She didn’t want to repeat the patterns of her own past.
“At the same time, I didn’t know how I did want to raise him,” she added.
Yet through her own mindfulness practice, she explained, she found the new pattern she wanted to create. Trusting her instincts, she approached her son with respect and gentleness, and her practice became a model for him to emulate.
Indeed, nurturing mindful children – children aware of their thoughts, feelings, and emotions, as well as their ability to control them – largely takes place through our being mindful ourselves. Our own practice is where a mindful family begins.
Self-Awareness Is Where It Begins
You may be familiar with the story of the young, sugar-obsessed boy whose mother took him to see his idol Mahatma Gandhi in hopes that her son would listen to him. All of her attempts to stop him from eating sugar had failed.
“Please,” she said to Gandhi, “please tell my son that sugar is bad for his health.” Gandhi thought about it for a while but refused to give any advice. Instead, he told them to come back in two weeks.
When they returned. Gandhi looked at the boy and said, “Boy, you should stop eating sugar. It is bad for your health.” The boy nodded and promised to do his best.
“Why did you need two weeks to tell him that?” his mother asked.
Gandhi smiled at her kindly. “Two weeks ago,” he said, “I had an obsession with sugar. I needed that time to cut back myself.”
When we are tuned into our selves, we’re better able to see what we must do to be able to help the children in our lives grow up healthy, strong, and aware.
How to Bring More Mindfulness into Your Life
One excellent way to start bringing more mindfulness into your life is to ask, “How can I create more internal, reflective time in my life?” Sit with this question for a while, without judging yourself, and you’ll have begun your mindfulness practice!
Of course, there are many centuries-old practices that we all can learn from, whether it be prayer, mantra meditation, hatha yoga, taking a quiet walk in nature, or simply reading an inspirational book. There are many tools and means available to support your practice.
And there are things you can do in addition to being a good model to your children. Here’s a few tips that support the three pillars of mindfulness: nervous system regulation, attention, and emotional awareness.
- Just Say NO
In our stressed-out, always-on, amped-up culture, de-scheduling develops the capacity for mindfulness. Pushing back on excessive homework, late night sports sessions, and excessive media consumption creates space for family dinners, reflective reading, rest, and unstructured time.
- Attend to the Basics
Cutting back on excessive commitments and media also creates the opportunity to better attend to our basic needs for health and well-being, including proper diet, sleep, exercise, connection to nature, and social affiliation. To be present to and appreciative of these often-overlooked blessings of daily life is at the heart of mindfulness.
One of our favorite practices the Mindful Snack activity in our Yoga Calm classes. We use the same elements as often as possible with our own family meals, and just recently, our 6-year old granddaughter surprised us by making a Mindful Snack all on her own. When we came into the room, we found a delicious salad awaiting us on a beautiful tablecloth that held flowers and “nature gifts” from our yard, electric tea lights, and napkins with our names written on them. The three of us did three deep breaths together and each shared something we were grateful for.
I love the story a teacher told us at one of our trainings. One time when her child was having a meltdown, she gave her a Hoberman sphere and explained how to breathe with it. The child gave her a look and threw the sphere back at her. She wasn’t ready to calm. She needed to release first!
We’ve all seen the pictures of people sitting still in meditation, but did you know that almost every contemplative tradition has movement practices, as well? These work on many levels: to release stress, to engage our physical sense and to help us get out of our heads and into our body and the present moment. They also stimulate our vestibular (sense of balance) and proprioceptive (where I am in space) systems which help regulate the nervous system and give us a sense of (physical) control. Moving together with others, as in a yoga class, provides all of these benefits while also creating a strong sense of community and togetherness, of safety.
- Upstairs Brain
Now the foundation is set for cognitive and emotional awareness and related skill-development. Physiologically, when you’re out of the limbic system’s flight-or-fight “stress” mode, rested and (hopefully) well fed, you’re better able to work from the “thinking” part of your brain, the prefrontal cortex. This is where “executive function” resides – the cognitive processes that help us to attend, plan ahead, and solve problems, as well as support emotional regulation and self-control.
Essentially, parenting acts as a child’s prefrontal cortex until theirs is fully developed. By helping them regulate – what we call “co-regulating” – and then helping them understand their emotions, we set the foundation for them to understand others, thereby developing compassion and understanding.
All this starts with ourselves, with modeling mindfulness with our children. As that mom reported, by taking care of her own basic needs, taking time for reflection, and, above all, being the change she wanted in her kids, things at home were already better
Ready to learn even more about mindfulness? Take our online course Mindfulness and the Brain now.