Parenting is arguably one of the toughest jobs in the world. Raising kids is no joke. It can be exhausting. It can test a parent’s patience, and it may not get easier as the kids grow up.
Different ages pose different challenges for parents. Some even think they won’t be able to survive their kids’ teen years. They may get some moments to give a sigh of relief and breathe a little easier when the kids are asleep or at school, but there is always something to do and things to think about.
The stress, anxiety and difficulties that come with having children is what mindful parenting wants to address. Like other methods of parenting, it also believes that whatever parents do — from disciplining to spending time with them— can somehow influence what these kids would grow up into.
Mindful Parenting Defined
As defined by Kabat-Zinn (2003), mindfulness is “the awareness that emerges through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.” The very concepts and practices governing this belief are extended into the model of mindful parenting.
Children, whether they are still toddlers, tweens or full-blown teens, can set off a wide range of emotions in parents. When the stress becomes too much, the parents may often become aware of unresolved issues in the past or may burst into anger that their reactions to situations may become inappropriate. Additionally, they tend to be preoccupied with the past that has already happened and a future that hasn’t happened yet, adding more anxiety and stress on top of everything else that they do in the present.
In mindful parenting, parents are encouraged to step back from a tense situation, double check their emotion and take a deep breath before reacting. Theoretically, this will help them be calmer and more rational in dealing with difficult situations with their teenagers.
Mindful Parenting and Risky Behaviours Among Adolescents
A recent study (Turpyn, C. & Chaplin, T., 2016) investigated if mindful parenting can mitigate risk behaviors in adolescence. The authors wanted to know if parent emotional expression can have a “potential mechanism in the relationship between low mindful parenting and adolescent risk behaviors.
To find out, they asked 157 12–14-year-old adolescents, 49 of which were females, and their primary caregivers (99 % are women) to participate in an emotionally arousing conflict interaction. Negative, positive and shared parent-youth positive emotions were then coded. They also did an assessment regarding the use of prohibited drugs and other substances and sexual behaviors through self-report, interviews and physical toxicology screen tests.
Results revealed that mindful parenting can cause the parents to have less negative emotion and generate more positive emotion between them and their children in the given conflict-driven situations. Additionally, this method of parenting is shown to have an indirect effect on adolescents’ substance use. The researchers noted, though, that there is a lack of correlations between how parents express their emotions and adolescent sexual behaviors.
The Five Dimensions of Mindful Parenting
1. Active Listening and Full Attention
Awareness is one of the most important facets of mindfulness. In mindful parenting, active listening plays a vital role. Full attention should be given to the child while listening to what he or she has to say. Duncan, L., Coatsworth, J. & Greenberg, M. (2009) explained that combining “listening with a quality of focused attention and awareness... goes beyond simply hearing words that are said.”
This becomes the more important when children reach their adolescent period. Parents can no longer physically monitor them as they go on their daily lives. They can only gather information through their kids’ friends and other people they interact with most of the time. Arguably, the only way for parents to perceive the thoughts and feelings of their adult children is to bring full attention to how they act inside their homes and their answers to questions they throw at them. Moreover, when parents have time to “hang out” with their adolescents more often and be truly “present” on those moments, they may be able to promote self-disclosure (Smetana, JG., et. al., 2006).
2. Acceptance of the Child and Self Without Judgment
Parents are encouraged to see their child as a human being separate from themselves and that he or she is a unique individual with his or her own aspirations, desires, attributes and values. To recognize this, they should be mindful of their own expectations as to how their child should be and aware of how these expectations can affect their relationship with the child. This also means that they should accept the challenges and situations that come with becoming parents.
There will be inevitable moments of imperfections and committing mistakes that the child will witness. Parents should not shield their children of these realities. Instead, they should be conveyed in ways that are appropriate to their children’s development.
3. Emotional Awareness
Mindful parenting encourages parents to keep their emotions in check most of the time and to be fully aware of their teen kids’ emotions as well. Strong emotions can have a powerful influence on igniting undesirable behaviors, but when parents are able to channel more positive emotions even in stressful situations, they tend to become more able in making conscious choices and give more calm and rational responses.
4. Self Regulation
Self-regulation means taking a pause before responding to something a teenager has done. This way, parents can exercise better parenting practices. This is where “count to 10 before you react” belief comes to play.
5. Kindness and Compassion
Having a compassion for one’s adolescent children means fulfilling that desire of meeting their appropriate and realistic needs and comforting them when they’re distressed. Mindful parenting also emphasizes kindness and compassion for oneself as a parent by accepting the fact that you cannot always be perfect.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-Based Interventions in Context: Past, Present, and Future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10: 144–156. doi:10.1093/clipsy/bpg016
Turpyn, C. & Chaplin, T. (2016). Mindful Parenting and Parents’ Emotion Expression: Effects on Adolescent Risk Behaviors. Mindfulness, 7 :246–254. DOI 10.1007/s12671-015-0440-5
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): 255–270. http://doi.org/10.1007/s10567-009-0046-3
Smetana, J. G., Metzger, A., Gettman, D. C., & Campione-Barr, N., (2006). Disclosure and Secrecy in Adolescent-Parent Relationships. Child Development, 77: 201–217. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2006.00865.x