The Challenge: It’s challenging to stay calm and mindful as a parent.
The Science: Simple mindfulness practices can be really beneficial for the whole family.
The Solution: Try following mindfulness practices to be the best parent you can be!
E ver find yourself at your wit’s end with your kids? As an elementary school teacher and mother of two, I find myself losing my patience at work and at home. Maintaining my mindfulness is essential to give my students and children the lessons and love they deserve. In fact, I often use the techniques I teach my students are my best kept parenting secrets.
Mindfulness education is growing in popularity in schools and for good reason. Research has shown that it improves focus and concentration, decreases bullying and aggression, increases optimism and happiness in classrooms, helps students resolve conflicts, and increases compassion and empathy for others.
So what exactly is Mindfulness? It’s the act of bringing your attention to the present moment, including your current thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations, with calm acknowledgment and acceptance.
Juggling the complexities of life with kids in tow can feel like a monumental task, and staying calm and peaceful in the process may seem impossible at times. Here are 7 simple ways to use Mindfulness to stay centered, and sane, as a parent:
When you’re under stress, your brain’s capacity for logical thought becomes blocked. Square Breathing allows you to get your head back on straight by delivering much needed oxygen when particular regions of your brain get depleted.
To practice Square Breathing, inhale as you count slowly to four. Then, hold the breath to a count of four. Slowly exhale as you count to four. Finally hold the breath to a count of four before you inhale again. Repeat for a few minutes and be amazed at how much calmer you’ll feel.
Attitude of Gratitude
Science suggests that your brain is literally hardwired to transform thoughts of appreciation and gratitude into optimism. That new outlook is in turn calming and soothing for your psyche. What’s the science behind this? Gratitude lowers the stress hormone cortisol and activates the part of your nervous system responsible for rest and recuperation. Essentially, your brain becomes bathed in pleasure-inducing chemicals!
In addition to giving you good feelings, the areas of the brain that feel fear and stress deactivate when you focus on gratitude. Remain grateful by keeping a notebook in which you write down the things you feel thankful for. Often times, I’ll like to start my day with thoughts of gratitude and make it a goal to sustain those feelings as the day progresses.
Make Family, Distraction-Free Meals a Habit
What ever happened to when families used to sit down to a nice home-cooked meal on a regular basis? Science shows that families who eat together not only have healthier habits but also have a more positive outlook on life. Consistent practice of “slow” eating–taking note of the aroma, texture, colors, and taste of our food–and communal meals can strengthen family ties. Make these bonds even stronger by involving your children in the planning and preparation, not just the consumption, of your family meals. Turn off technology and make your table a tech-free zone to resist any temptations that might detract from your family time. Studies show that children who indulge in media at the dinner table have thicker waist lines and even developmental issues.
Wash the Dishes
If dinner didn’t go the way you planned, scrub your stress away! A study last year at Florida State University found that participants who washed dishes mindfully reduced their levels of nervousness by 27% and increased their feelings of inspiration by 25%. To wash your dishes mindfully, pay attention to the scent of the soap, feel the warm bubbles on your hands, and notice the texture and sensation of the dishes as you wash them.
To get more bang for your buck, add a relaxing mantra, breathing technique, or listen to a recorded meditation, inspirational talk, or uplifting music while you wash. Researchers who conducted the study implied that these results may be achieved from any common activity, including vacuuming, driving, and taking a shower. Done mindfully, these tasks can become a source of stress relief.
A common myth about meditation is that you have to be in yoga clothes and perched on a round cushion in a silent room in order to do it. In practice, you don’t have to be doing any of those things. You can give yourself attitude adjustment whenever or wherever you are if you just take a couple seconds to notice your breath. Breathing intentionally will distract your mind from its woes. You could close your eyes, put your hand on your chest, and feel the air fill your lungs. You may want to recite a calming mantra for a few minutes while you do this, such as “I am at peace” or “I am calm and relaxed.”
Squish and Relax
Science shows that this is a technique can help students relax. When calm, students can concentrate and learn more efficiently. I’ll even use it myself too. You can do this one lying down, sitting, or standing up wherever you are. Simply take a deep breath in, make two tight fists, squish up your face, and tighten all of the muscles in your body.
If you are on the floor, you can roll into a ball while you do this. Hold this squeezed position while you hold your breath for a few seconds, and then release. Allow everything to get completely floppy when you exhale. Repeat this process a few times and I predict you will quickly feel a release of tension throughout your body.
Dance Party in the Kitchen
Music is a powerful mindfulness tool. Psychologists have found that it can elevate both your mood and your feel-good brain chemicals. When the kids (or you) are heading towards a meltdown (or preemptively before things get that bad) why not crank the music and have a dance party in the kitchen?
Jump around and get your heart pumping, which will release warm fuzzies of endorphins throughout your body. Hug your kids while you dance for a boost of the love hormone oxytocin. Pay attention to the sensations of your body as you dance for a mindful experience.
These mindfulness tools hopefully will be useful additions to your parenting toolbox. Lead by example: If we want our children to be more focused, calm, and optimistic, we can start by cultivating those qualities ourselves. Mindfulness really is a skill for everyone.
This article first appeared on MindBodyGreen.
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