As we all work to recover from one of the busiest times of the year, we will devote our first blog of 2017 to the concept of “mindfulness.” Specifically, let’s think about mindfulness from the perspective of parenting and its association with parent-child relationships. We will explore research-based information about the topic, the value of creating and/or raising awareness about mindful parenting in parent-child interactions, and review practical tips for integrating mindfulness into home visiting. We will conclude with a discussion around the various GGK resources and strategies that are effective tools for supporting parents to “be present in the moment” with their child, while paying attention to how they are cultivating emotional awareness and self-regulation.
Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn provides us with a definition of mindfulness; “the awareness that arises through “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgmentally (Kabat-Zinn, 2003). Dr. Kabat-Zinn has helped us understand that even though mindfulness is rooted in Buddhist practice, mindfulness is considered to be a capacity inherent to humans independent of any affiliation with religion. He pioneered research into mindfulness-based stress reduction as an intervention to support hospital patients with managing pain associated with physical problems, such as, hypertension and heart disease, among many other health and psychological problems.
There are presently countless other applications for mindfulness with documented evidence-based benefits. So, how might mindfulness relate to parenting practices? In 2009, Dr. Duncan and a group of colleagues expanded on Dr. Kabat-Zinn’s definition of mindfulness by introducing a model of mindful parenting (Duncan, et. al., 2009). Their model represents a framework whereby parents intentionally bring moment-to-moment awareness to their parent-child interactions. This practice focuses on the parent’s ability to observe and listen with full attention when interacting with their child. This cultivates emotional awareness and self-regulation in parents, as well as bringing compassion and nonjudgmental acceptance to their parenting interactions (Duncan, et. al., 2009). Their research suggests that integrating mindful awareness into parent-child interactions, allows parents to view the “here and now” experience of parenting within the context of the long-term outcomes for their child. By being aware of and accepting their child’s needs, feelings, and emotions, parents can gain satisfaction and enjoyment in the parent-child relationship. It was concluded that mindfulness practices promote open, trusting, higher quality family relationships that lead to healthy social child development.
Mindful parenting involves truly “being present” frequently throughout each day as parent-child interactions unfold. When parenting mindfully, the parent brings awareness to his/her own actions ( e. g. touch, eye contact, movements, breathing), physical state and emotions as he/she is observing and reflecting on the child’s cues, physical appearance, emotional state and every interaction with the parent. When parenting mindfully, the parent is not thinking about: where she is going next; who has just sent a text and what that text says; why he needs to hurry; or how many more points her team needs to score to win the game. Being mindful enables parents to slow down, observe, reflect, think and then decide how best to respond, rather than being driven by emotions that too often result in getting out of sync with a child’s needs.
Now, let’s take a few moments to discuss how we, as home visitors, can support more intentional, mindful parenting in our families by incorporating Growing Great Kids-Families parenting practices and reflections into daily family routines and parenting interactions.
- Practice E-Parenting during Every Visit: This Parenting Daily Do is foundational to mindful parenting because it requires parents to be present for seeing the world through their child’s eyes, as they ask themselves, “What is my child experiencing right now”? An E-Parenter uses all of his/her senses to figure out the answer to this question…She looks, listens, smells and will sometimes touch or taste too. It takes a parent feeling with his/her heart to step into a child’s experience. E-Parenting entails slowing down, being present in the moment and reflecting on what to do right now to share in the child’s experience or to help the child regulate her emotions. This process naturally increases mindful parenting awareness.
- Encourage Parents To Establish Routines: Routines, such as feeding/family meals, bath time, bedtime songs/reading/prayers, and outdoor play are opportunities for mindful parent-child interactions. Be sure to introduce parents to GGK subsections that explain the importance and value of incorporating consistent routines into their family life. As you observe families establishing predictable routines, point out how they are helping their children feel secure and protected. Then ask them for examples of what else they could do during these routines to be more present with their child and to have even more fun together as a family.
- Frequently Touch Back To What I’d Like For My Child and Our Family Values: Reflecting on the characteristics parents have identified as wanting their child to have and the values that will give strength to their family can support parents to be more mindful in their parenting interactions. To encourage more intentional, mindful parenting, accompany these touch backs with the question, “What is one parenting interaction you can really focus on for a few minutes every day this week to bring just one of these characteristics or values to life?”
- Increase Awareness Of How Electronic Devices Can Disrupt Positive Parenting Interactions: As you observe a parent’s use of an electronic device drawing his/her attention away from a meaningful parent-child interaction, point out your observation and ask the parent to reflect on their child’s responsive cues and signals. Then say something such as, I wonder what message (child’s name) will be receiving if this happens again and again, day-after-day and month-after-month…What do you think…What are your concerns? What ideas do you have for keeping these “my device is more important” messages at a minimum? Likewise, be sure to notice when a parent is choosing to be present with his/her child when his/her device is beckoning by offering a Strategic Accentuating The Positives.
So many of the components of the Growing Great Kids and Growing Great Families Curricula are designed to support mindful parenting awareness. They are intentionally crafted to allow parents to reflect on what each topic means to them within the context of their parent-child relationship, family dynamics, culture, traditions, and values. When parents incorporate intentional, mindful parenting practices they are helping their children to feel loved and valued, safe and secure, and capable and curious. We know that by strengthening the parent-child relationship, we’re optimizing the child’s chances for a happy, healthy life…When this happens, everyone wins!
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-based interventions in context: Past Present, and future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10, 144-156. http://doi:10.1093/clipsy/bpg016
Duncan, L. G., Coatsworth, J. D., & Greenberg, M. T. (2009). A model of mindful parenting: Implications for parent-child relationships and prevention research. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 12(3), 255-70. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10567-009-0046-3