Mindful Parenting: How To Stop Reacting to Your Child

Mindful parenting can be defined as when “parents intentionally bring moment-to-moment awareness to the parent-child relationship” or “acting with awareness.” There are certain qualities and skills that must be developed in order to accomplish this, but it is worth it.

Mindfulness in general has been associated with:

  • More positive emotion
  • Less anxiety and depression
  • Greater relationship satisfaction
  • Less relationship stress
  • Brain activity associated with greater emotion regulation.

There are five dimensions of mindful parenting:

1. Listening with full attention – “Goes beyond simply hearing words that are said….You should be sensitive to the content of the conversations as well as your child’s tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language, effectively using these cues to successfully detect your child’s needs or intended meanings.” This becomes especially important during adolescence when parents cannot physically monitor their children most of the time.
2. Nonjudgmental acceptance of self and child – Through your behavior and what you say you communicate what you think about your child’s competencies. We need to be careful with our attributions and expectations. This does not mean however that we relinquish responsibility for enacting discipline and guidance when necessary. Rather, it means “an acceptance of what is happening in the present moment that is based on clear awareness…It also means acceptance that there will be struggles in parent-child relationships.” As a mindful parent, you should convey your acceptance of your child while also providing clear standards. We need to drop our “cognitive filters” as they are called. For example, we have a whole array of past experiences that we usually use to judge the current interaction with our child; however, this may produce a biased view of our child, where we inherently view him or her negatively no matter what is going on.
3. Emotional awareness of self and child – How aware are you of your own emotions during interactions with your children? “Strong emotions can trigger automatic [responses and behaviors]” that are not always successful. Emotional awareness is key. Without awareness of your emotions, you may undermine your own parenting! With awareness, you can consciously choose how to respond instead of reacting.
4. Self-regulation in the parenting relationship – Mindful parenting requires self-regulation in your relationship with your child. This “does not imply that the impulse to display negative [emotion], anger, or hostility is not felt, but mindful parenting involves pausing before reacting.” Sometimes, you may need to stop during an interaction with your child and tell yourself, “Stop, Be Calm, Be Present.”
5. Compassion for self and child – You should meet your child’s needs and comfort any distress. As you do this, your children will feel a positive connection with you. As parents, we also need to be less harsh on ourselves and our parenting efforts. The way you evaluate your parenting influences your parenting! For instance, if you believe you are a competent parent this generally will result in better parenting overall.

If you are able to master mindful parenting, you will find that it contributes to:

  • a more positive parent-child relationship
  • greater flexibility and responsiveness inside the dynamics of your home
  • a decreased level of parenting stress
  • a wider use of parenting strategies
  • greater youth well-being
  • It will also help to disrupt destructive cycles that may be working in your family right now.

What Is A Mindful Parent? (A Summary)

“Parents who bring a mindful parenting approach to [situations] may listen intently with nonjudgmental acceptance, not focus on memories and/or future expectations to interpret what is happening in the moment, show low emotional reactivity and thereby maintain parent-youth closeness, support parental monitoring and use the situation to help socialize appropriate behavior. This kind of interaction is likely to yield strong adolescent-parent connections that contribute to a mutually responsive orientation.”

Duncan, L., Coatsworth, J., and Greenberg, M. (2009). A Model of Mindful Parenting: Implications for Parent–Child Relationships and Prevention Research Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 12 (3), 255-270 DOI: 10.1007/s10567-009-0046-3