How Mindful Parenting Leads To Happier Teens
When kids struggle with anxiety or depression, parents tend to blame themselves. What did I do wrong? What could I have done better? The self-doubt continues to spiral. However, a new study finds that children of mindful, self-compassionate parents tend to have lower rates of anxiety and depression. So how can parents have a more self-compassionate attitude and cultivate mindfulness? Let’s find out.
What is mindful parenting?
Mindful parenting involves bringing the principles of mindfulness into parenting. These principles include listening to the child with full attention, being emotionally aware and non-judgmental. Mindful parenting also consists of accepting the child’s feelings as well as not over reacting to stressful situations. Many of these actions do not come second nature to us. So it’s important for parents to practice mindfulness for their own well-being, which will in turn only benefit their children. This can come in the form of meditation, breathing techniques, yoga, or even a two minute pause to name a few. In order for mindfulness to flourish, it’s essential to be patient and open-minded. This journey doesn’t happen overnight. And it will never be perfect. Knowing and accepting that is the first step. For some mindfulness exercise ideas, check out our mindfulness recordings.
Why would a parent’s self-compassion influence the child?
Kids learn everything from their parents, especially in the early years. They think everything their parents do is right, so of course they’re going to want to mimic their behavior. So when parents model a non-judgmental attitude towards themselves, their child(ren) will likely do the same. When parents put themselves down, the child will see that attitude and potentially display those behaviors. Of course we don’t want our kids to feel stressed, down or anxious. And know that we’ll never be able to completely eliminate those feelings, but we can do our best to try.
Similarly to how a parent’s behavior affects the child, it also works vice versa. It’s likely that if the child is less anxious and more self-compassionate, the parents will be happier. Parents want to see their kids happy, so if they are, you feel like you’ve done a good job as a parent. Therefore you’d be less likely to be hard on yourself and more likely to show yourself some love.
When there’s an understanding between parent and child of openness without judgment, this really opens up an honest line of communication that is often lost in parent / child relationships. Teenagers especially are not really telling their parents what’s going on in their school, work and / or personal life. This due partially to the fact that they’re at the stage in life where they’d prefer to hang out with their friends over their parents. But also because they fear telling their parents anything that would cause judgment or even get the teen in trouble. Self-compassion and mindfulness from both the child and parent will lead to a more honest and open relationship into the teen years and beyond.
How can you incorporate mindfulness into parenting?
1. Pay attention to how you react to situations. Like we mentioned earlier, kids mimic their parents' behaviors. So if they know we’re stressed out, they’re going to feel the same way. Before you immediately get aggravated or annoyed, think about putting your child’s well-being first. Parents have a lot on their plate and it’s easy to flip out about something small, like a spill, even if that’s not what made you mad in the first place. It could be a combination of frustrations at work and / or relationship problems, and the spilled juice is what put you over the edge. We realize these things are frustrating but it’s not the end of the world. You can handle more than you know. So during these stressful times, try to remove yourself from the situation and take some slow deep breaths. Even if you have to go in another room to do so. It’s important to keep your cool as much as possible. The DBT STOP skill can help you pause in these moments. STOP stands for Stop, Take a Step Back, Observe, and Proceed Mindfully. You don't want to hide your emotions but you don't want them to negatively impact your child. There's a balance you'll have to find that works with your family.
2. Don’t interrupt your kids while they’re talking. With our super busy lives, we might not be able to listen to what our kids have to say right away. We say, “give me two minutes” so we can finish what we are doing and then listen if we have time. But when you can give them your full attention when they ask for it, they’ll learn to do the same for you. When they are talking to you, be present and engaged. Make eye contact and be welcoming. Although they might be talking, it doesn’t mean we’re listening (and they can pick up on that). Make sure to let them know you are in fact listening.
3. Allow your kids to express their emotions. When you have that open line of communication without judgment, it allows the child to feel comfortable expressing their emotions. If you can tell they had a rough day at school, tell them you’re here to listen whenever they’re ready. Sometimes it just takes them a while to open up. Try asking questions about what went differently in their day. Was it a pop quiz? Was it basketball tryouts? Was it a conversation with a friend? There’s a healthy balance of asking questions without prying. You don’t want to force it out of them but if they feel comfortable expressing their emotions with you, they’ll be more likely to share their feelings.
4. Slow things down. Because we’re often in a rush ourselves, we tend to rush our kids too. We tell them to hurry up and get dressed (for example) and this sense of urgency makes mornings more stressful. Kids sometimes need a little push but it’s easy to push them too far. When that happens, they don’t respond positively. So try waking up a little earlier or prepping things ahead of time. Better time management will allow you to slow things down and have more mindful mornings (afternoons, and nights!)
5. End the perfectionism. When kids see their parents trying to be perfect at everything they do, they will think they have to do the same. This is giving them an unrealistic expectation of life and basically setting them up for failure. It’s important to do your best and make an effort, but if things don’t go your way, you can’t beat yourself up over it forever. And if you do, your child might end up doing the same. We don’t want that for our kids. So the best thing you can do for them is show them that not everything has to be perfect, and that’s okay.
At the end of the day, being a parent is hard and so is being a teen. They both have their own struggles but there are ways to make things run a little more smoothly. Incorporating mindfulness techniques into both your personal and parenting life can have endless benefits for you and your family.
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