You and your child are locked in a battle of wills, emotionally charged over an issue great or small. What’s the best way to handle it?
Counselors agree that mindfulness in parenting is the most effective way to resolve such situations.
“Mindfulness in parenting is being present in the moment with your child in a nonjudgmental way and without bringing your own personal (issues) into it,” says Erin Swinson, mental health therapist at Clarity Clinic in Munster.
“Mindfulness in parenting builds relationships and healthy attachment," adds Jessica Crunkleton, a therapist at Franciscan Health Crown Point’s clinic-based Employee Assistance Program. "That connection is so important for children.”
“Parenting can be stressful and frustrating because kids don’t have the ability to regulate their emotions," says mindfulness expert and author Julie Potiker. "If parents don’t pause, they’re going to just react.”
What does it mean to “pause?” When a child misbehaves, says Julia Kocal, a clinical psychologist at LaPorte Physician Network in Knox, discipline is appropriate, such as taking away the cellphone. “But first give yourself breathing room. You don’t want to be saying, ‘That’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever done.’ No name-calling, which is anger speaking, and no shaming.”
Instead, Kocal continues, “You can say, ‘Right now I want you to go to your room.’ (When you’re calmer), engage with the child: ‘What made you do that? Help me understand.’ That’s being in control, with love and empathy, and has a more relaxed effect on the child,” helping defuse the situation.
Swinson tells parents to look at the child directly and be aware of nonverbal cues and voice to help the parent understand the child’s emotional needs. “The biggest thing kids tell me is that they don’t want to feel dismissed, to be told to stop crying because the parent doesn’t think it’s a big deal. And as children, when our reality and feelings are dismissed, we begin to think we are not allowed to be with our emotions, so as an adult, the emotions are seen as not important or valid. That can lead to other problems,” says Swinson.
According to mindful.org, researchers at the University of Vermont found that mindful parents engaged in more positive behavior, resulting in less anxiety, depression, and acting out in their kids.
“Sometimes we are not present for our child," Swinson says, citing social media, smartphones, and other devices. "Other distractions can be the parent’s own insecurities, disappointments, failures, and experiences.”
Mindfulness takes practice, up to 15 minutes a day of it, says Potiker, author of “Life Falls Apart, but You Don’t Have To: Mindful Methods for Staying Calm in the Midst of Chaos.”
If 15 minutes of solitude a day isn't practical, five minutes will do, Potiker says. “Or try to do a couple of things in your day mindfully. Have those first sips of coffee in the morning and enjoy it without worrying about what the day will bring or some bad conversation you had. Or fold baby clothes and feel them, smell them. Stay in the moment.”
Potiker says waiting in the car at the pickup line at school is a good time to practice being in the moment. “Then the kids get in the car and everything is so chill. Kids pick up on that. It could set up how the whole rest of the day can go.”
Meltdowns do happen. “The mindfulness approach is staying relaxed, keeping your cool, not getting into a power struggle with the child,” Crunkleton says, even when the event happens in public.
Later, says Crunkleton, go back and review: “Let’s talk about what happened and why certain choices were made. That helps parents feel in control, working together with the child to solve issues.”