“Being present” or “mindful” is a goal many people set for the new year. These terms might call to mind yoga or meditation, but did you know that mindfulness can also enhance parenting?
Anne Clarkson, University of Wisconsin-Extension digital parenting education specialist, says mindfulness and parenting go hand-in-hand. “Mindfulness is very simply learning to pause and be thoughtful before acting. Much of the best parenting happens when parents pause and think about how to act in response to their children,” she says.
Parents can develop mindfulness through practicing meditation, listening to contemplative music, doing yoga, spending time in nature, or engaging in a physical activity like dance or martial arts.
Clarkson describes how even mundane activities can build mindfulness. “Slowing down while washing dishes and really engaging with the experience through all your senses can offer an opportunity for mindfulness,” she says.
Scholars of mindfulness typically define the practice as the act of paying attention to the present moment without being judgmental. As a parent, this may mean noticing and commenting on your child’s actions without describing them as good or bad. For example, a parent might say, “I see that your coat is on the floor,” rather than “I hate that you never hang up your coat.”
When parents maintain a non-judgmental perspective, children feel heard and understood. Mindful parents are aware of how they feel in a specific moment, but they also remain aware of how their children feel. When both parent and child are calm, solutions to parenting challenges may be clearer.
Careful listening is another central element of mindful parenting. Mindfulness requires being present in the moment rather than mentally preparing an argument or statement. Mindful parents listen with their full attention and without judging or correcting their child.
“Mindfulness builds your relationship with your child,” explains Clarkson, “because you are making the effort to take yourself out of the equation and see life from your child’s perspective.”
The benefits of mindfulness extend beyond better parent-child relationships. People who practice mindfulness also tend to have a lower blood pressure and report less stress.