Remember the character Helen Parr – Elastigirl — in the animated Disney Pixar movie, The Incredibles?
The moms are always pulled in a million different directions, so I made her stretch like taffy.—Brad Bird, writer and director
That is one of the most perfect and succinct descriptions of motherhood I’ve ever heard.
And even on the days we don’t think we can stretch one more inch, our young child tells us — as they’re going to bed– that they’re supposed to bring in a “nutritious snack” for the entire class the next morning.
Our heads our full, our days are short (or long if you have a new infant), and we have no idea if all the little things we do for our kids is actually sticking. Doing everything on the “I am a good mother if I….make sure they brush their teeth… oversee homework… make sure they get a good breakfast… read a book before bed”…the list goes on and on. Just fill in the blanks.
I hate to suggest just one more thing and it may be the hardest. (I know because I didn’t always succeed with this one – or to be honest, with some of the other things on the “have to-do list.”) Being present. Being present entails active listening. And active listening pays off big time.
Mindfulness may sound trendy but parents who practice being in the moment are more aware and can pick up on cues from their kids. Practicing mindfulness isn’t solely about bringing personal perspective and peace, it can also help the people around you, including your family. (In other words, being mindful is different than being a mindful parent. It’s not just about personal awareness, it’s also about being aware of the feelings of your children.)
One of my favorite resources is the Greater Good Magazine and in a compelling article Jill Suttie describes the results of a study from University of Vermont that analyzed the impact of a parent’s mindfulness on their children’s well-being. (The fact that the lead author of the study is a man by the name of Justin Parent only added to my curiousity.)
Analyses showed that parents who reported more mindful parenting engaged in more positive and less negative parenting behavior, which was then linked to more positive behavior in their kids—meaning less anxiety, depression, and acting out.
While Parent’s study suggests that positive mindful parenting is related to positive outcomes for kids, it’s hard to know why. In his view, it’s about noticing your own feelings when you’re in conflict with your child, learning to pause before responding in anger, and listening carefully to a child’s viewpoint even when disagreeing with it. These skills potentially help preserve the parent-child relationship, while also providing positive role modeling of how to handle difficult situations.
What if we could also teach children the techniques of noticing their feelings and reacting to conflict in a more positive manner?
According to organizations such as the Committee for Children and the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, they can. Incorporating these skills in our day could be the key to better behavior, better grades and better relationships.
Mind Yeti, developed by the Committee for Children is a new app that helps children (and their parents) learn simple mindfulness techniques to improve their focus and study time, help build kindness and empathy and enhance their social interactions as well as to relax at bedtime for better sleep.
As part of the RULER program, the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, developed the Mood Meter to help children identify their feelings and self-regulate their behavior. Anger may actually be sadness or frustration. Once children understand that, they can communicate better and get a better response from teachers and parents who can support them.
The fact that more schools and homes are using mindfulness techniques and tools is encouraging. Communicating effectively is a lifelong skill and only adds to positive school climate and happy homes.
And just like making them brush their teeth, reading to them at night, and feeding them good food, it just takes a while to see the results of your hard work. But helping them become their best selves is the reward.