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The Gift Of Your Presence: How To Inject Small Moments of Mindfulness Into Everyday Parenting

By Debra Kissen

As parents, it’s absolutely essential for us to be able to stay grounded in the present. When we aren’t present, we find ourselves feeling reactive, disorganized, distractible, and disengaged from what matters most. As life’s precious moments fly by, you deserve to be truly present with your child, savoring time together and creating lasting memories, instead of feeling bogged down by stress and anxious thoughts. Mindful parenting is about intentionally practicing being here and now with your child and family. Think of mindfulness as attention with intention. When modern family life brings endless multitasking and distractions, mindfulness is your go-to tool to bring your attention back to essential things. Think about how much more you would appreciate one hour of truly connecting with your family than ten hours of distracted, multitasking time together. And you don’t need extra hours in the day to make mindfulness a key component of your life—you can mindfully go for a walk, have a conversation, eat a meal, or even play a board game. No need to wait for the kids to be older or the to-do list to be shorter—today is a perfect day to be a more mindful parent. It is time to embrace the moment, no matter what the moment holds.

Practicing mindfulness offers a myriad of benefits not only for you as an individual but also for your child and family. Parents often wish their children would be more mindful—to put the electronics down and be more present with the family, or be more mindful of their manners at the dinner table. Remember that teaching your child to be more mindful cannot be outsourced; the best way is to practice mindfulness yourself. Mindful parenting means doing what it takes to slow down, stop the multi- tasking, and be present with your child and family. When you are truly present in the moment, you are cultivating a meaningful connection with your child and creating treasured memories together. As you take intentional steps to mindfully attend to the moment with your family (think: attention with intention), you model this behavior for your child. By observing your actions, your child will learn how to be curious, be present, take their time, and enjoy all that life has to offer. As children grow, many parents wish they could slow down time. While we can’t stop the clock, parents and children alike can learn to put down the distractions and be together in the moment, savoring whatever it brings.

Time to Hit the Mindfulness Brain Gym

All mindfulness exercises involve the same active ingredient: the practice of making contact with your thoughts, feelings, and sensations, then gently bringing your attention back to the current moment. Note that some of the mindfulness exercises in this chapter and the ways you can incorporate them into your life take longer than others. Some you can do while walking down a busy street; others require a quiet place free of external distractions. Much like the different exercise equipment and classes at a gym, there are many different ways you can enhance your mindfulness mental circuitry.

What often gets in the way of our clients’ engaging in mindfulness training is preconceived ideas of what mindfulness should be and how long they should practice.

Give yourself the space to create this practice. First, set a realistic and feasible goal. The mindfulness exercise below was created with busy parents in mind. We doubt you have the time or emotional bandwidth for a weekend-long silent retreat, but we hope you can give yourself a few minutes a day to consistently exercise your mindfulness muscles. You and your loved ones deserve a more present, emotionally available, grounded version of you.

Small Dose of Mindfulness Training

  1. Set a timer for two minutes. When you first start engaging in mindful- ness exercises, less can be more in terms of how many minutes you practice. This first baby step of working your mindfulness mental muscles can take you a long way.
  2. Set your soothing object within view and take a seat in your mindful- ness spot.
  3. Gently rest your gaze on your object. You might part your lips slightly, letting breath flow smoothly in and out. Try to bring a completely nonjudgmental awareness to the object, perhaps viewing it as though you’re an alien from another planet who has never seen such a thing before and therefore doesn’t have all sorts of stories about it. Simply notice its shape and its colors, its shadows and angles.
  4. Whenever you start to have judgments or thoughts, getting lost in stories about the past or the future, simply notice where your mind has gone, then bring it back to noticing the qualities of your object. Remember, you’re learning to not try to block your thoughts, but to simply observe them, without judgment; to notice where your mind goes without getting carried away by distractions, always coming back to the present moment.

Expect the unexpected. When you engage in mindfulness exercises, whether with a guided recording or our instructions, you’ll have all sorts of experiences. Some days your thoughts will seem like a storm, nearly unending and impossible to get out from under. Other days your thoughts and feelings will seem more like clouds that float by peacefully. Truly, there is no right or wrong experience. Everyone has stormy practices and practices that offer an oasis of calm. Just by showing up to your spot and practicing returning to the present moment—no matter how drenched in “mental rain” you may feel—you are rewiring your brain and realizing the benefits so many have gained from mindfulness training. In fact, your very stormiest sessions may ultimately bring the greatest rewiring benefits.

Remember, the essence of mindfulness training is not the elimination of uncomfortable thoughts and feelings but growing your ability to be here and now, noticing when your thoughts and feelings have wandered from the present and gently guiding them back to the current moment.

To learn more about mindful parenting, read Overcoming Parental Anxiety.

Dr. Debra Kissen is CEO of Light On Anxiety CBT Treatment Center. Dr. Kissen specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)...

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