mindful parenting tips

Mindful Parenting Tips

NOVEMBER 2022

Practicing Gratitude

Looking for ways to become happier and healthier? Try practicing gratitude. Scientific studies show that the benefits of practicing gratitude are far reaching: improved physical and mental health, more empathy towards others, better self-esteem – and even a good night’s sleep! According to Harvard Health, “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity and build strong relationships.”

Being that the mind has the ability to form new neural pathways and learn new ways of thinking, you can actually train yourself to be more grateful. Practicing gratitude can be as simple as jotting a few notes in a gratitude journal or pausing to reflect on what makes you thankful.

Here are some areas of focus for a gratitude practice – whether you’re practicing yourself or teaching your child how to practice:

  • Pause at any time and notice what you’re grateful for by tapping into one of your five senses. For example, if you’re outside on a sunny day, pause and notice the feeling of the sunshine on your skin as you feel gratitude for its warmth. If you hear the birds chirping, pause and notice the varied melodies of their songs.
  • Take time to be grateful for aspects of your life’s circumstances. Perhaps you’re grateful for a comfortable house to call home, a nearby grocery store that carries your favorite snacks or a steady job that makes it possible to live in your home and purchase your snacks.
  • See if you can be grateful for qualities of the people in your life, whether you’re with a favorite family member or with someone you know casually. For instance, perhaps you’re grateful for the friendly greeting your favorite barista always offers when you purchase your morning coffee.
  • You can even bring gratitude to negative feelings to see if you can shift to a more positive mindset. For example, if you notice that you’re annoyed by a challenging relative during the holiday season, see if you can shift your feelings. Perhaps you’re grateful for the way this relative bakes a delicious apple pie or how they always take an interest in your children.
  • Finally, remember to practice gratitude by reflecting on the qualities within yourself for which you’re grateful. Perhaps you’re grateful for your ability to run a couple miles, to be diplomatic in contentious situations or even your amazing skill at word games such as Wordle.

Consider training yourself to cultivate the quality of gratitude this holiday season. The good news is that you can practice gratitude most anywhere and anytime.

OCTOBER 2022

Cultivating Calm With Counting

Is your busy mind creating stress? Are you looking for ways to calm your mind or to help your children calm their minds? Consider cultivating calm with counting.

This technique helps you shift your attention from subjective thoughts that can create stress, and rest your attention on something neutral instead – in this case, on counting numbers.

Here’s how to practice:

  • Sit in a comfortable posture that you can maintain for your practice time. Keep your spine straight and your head and neck aligned with your spinal column.
  • To reduce visual stimulation, gently close your eyes without changing the position of your head and neck. If you prefer to keep your eyes open, gaze softly at the ground, with lids partially lowered.
  • Then, notice your breath for a few moments or longer, and become aware of the pace of your breathing without changing it. Notice your belly expanding and filling with air as you inhale. Allow your belly to release with your exhale. You can even rest your hand on your belly to feel it rise and fall with each breath.
  • Next, take a few moments or longer to notice the points where you make contact with your seat and the ground beneath you. Try to allow your body to relax into these points of contact. Release any muscle that is not being used to support you. You don’t need to hold on to anything; simply allow your muscles to let go. Try to keep your body relaxed, but your mind alert.
  • Now, count silently to yourself with each breath. Count one as you inhale and then count one as you exhale. Count two on your next inhale, and count two again on your next exhale. Count three on the following inhale, and count three again on the following exhale. Continue counting with each breath through the number 10, then return to the number one and begin again.
  • You could also silently say to yourself, “I am inhaling one, I am exhaling one. I am inhaling two, I am exhaling two,” etc. Every time you count to 10, return to one and begin again.
  • If at any point during this practice you lose count, simply start over again with the number one – without judgment or internal comment. Simply accept the fact that you’ve lost your place.
  • Continue this practice for the rest of your meditation period.

This is a simple practice that is especially accessible for those who like numbers. You can take a meditation break most anytime and practice this technique for cultivating calm with counting, even if you practice for just a minute or two.

If you’d like to practice with a guided version of this Counting with the Breath meditation, you can find one at joyrains.com/episode-77.

SEPTEMBER 2022

A Powerful Technique to Build Understanding

Having a heated argument with your child? Are the two of you at an impasse? Let’s say your child disregarded her curfew, but felt justified in doing so. Perhaps you strongly disagree with her reasoning. You’re both locked into differing viewpoints, as the conversation takes on a defensive tone and your voices begin to rise. In situations like this, consider using a technique to build understanding.

The Speaker/Listener Technique gives you a way to see beyond your point of view – and helps you empathize with the other’s reasoning. If you practice using this technique during small disagreements when tensions aren’t high, the steps will likely be more accessible when major disagreements occur.

Here are the steps to follow, whether your disagreement is big or small:

  • First, assign each person a role, either Speaker or Listener.
  • Next, the Speaker talks first, explaining their position. They speak for up to five minutes.
  • The Listener is not allowed to speak during this time. The only words the Listener is allowed to say are words that show they’re listening. (“Um-hm, I see,” etc.)
  • After the Speaker talks, the Listener paraphrases what they just heard, without voicing their own opinion. They can only state what they just heard. (“I heard you say that you felt …”) The paraphrasing step can take up to three minutes.
  • Then roles are switched. Speaker becomes Listener, Listener becomes Speaker. Each gets up to five minutes of speaking and up to three minutes of listening.
  • Finally, once each has their turn as Speaker and Listener, it’s time to reflect. What did they learn? Have their points of view shifted at all? Can they come to a new level of understanding?

Why this technique works:

If you hear a position that’s contrary to your own, the tendency is to disagree and explain why your position is the right one. The Speaker/Listener technique does not allow for disagreement. You are required to listen without interjecting your viewpoint.

As a result of following these steps, you’ll likely loosen your attachment to your way of thinking, as you paraphrase and acknowledge another’s point of view. Although you may not like the other’s viewpoint or agree with it, these steps can still help you cultivate understanding.

Consider learning to build understanding with the Speaker/Listener Technique. These steps will help you navigate those times you reach an impasse with your child, your spouse or anyone else with whom you want to foster strong relations.m

AUGUST 2022

Simple Techniques to Cultivate Inner Calm

Today’s parents and children regularly face challenges in school and in their communities. Incidents of bullying, divisiveness and violence are widespread – and they’re typically beyond one’s control. Where you can take some control, however, is with the way you respond to life’s events.

Consider responding by taking time to regularly cultivate inner calm. Developing a calm center will help you strengthen your mental fortitude, enhance your well-being and optimize your response to life’s events. Here are two simple techniques that both you and your child can practice.

Meditation on Breath

Your breath moves continually throughout your body, even when you’re not conscious of it. When you become aware of the rhythmic nature of your breath, its ebb and flow can help calm you, just as rocking a baby will lull it to sleep.

To practice

Take a few minutes or longer to rest your attention on your breath. See if you can relax into your breath’s ebb and flow, noticing that your body is being rocked by your breath. Imagine the rocking motion lulling you into a calm and peaceful state. Any time your mind wanders, gently shift your attention back to the flow of your breath – even if it’s every second or two.

Meditation on Gravity

As long as you’re on the Earth (and as long as you’re not in an antigravity chamber!), gravity is in force. Gravity holds you every moment of every day, even when you’re not aware of its pull. Focusing on the sensation of being held can help you realize that you’re secure upon the Earth.

To practice

Take a few minutes or longer to focus on the points in your body where gravity is holding you. You may want to notice where your feet connect with the ground, where your buttocks connect with a chair or where your back connects with the surface beneath you, such as a bed. Anytime your mind wanders, gently shift your attention back to the feeling of being held. See if you can develop a body memory of the sensation of being held securely.

In addition to practicing with the sensations of breath and gravity, consider trying ancient practices that cultivate inner calm, such as yoga, tai chi or qigong. Some studios even offer parent/child classes, so that you and your child can learn and practice together.

Taking time to cultivate inner calm can help you find moments of repose amid life’s challenges. Sometimes these moments are simply a matter of pausing and noticing one breath. And then the next one … and the one after that … and so on.

JULY 2022

5 Easy Steps to Manage Your Emotions

Fear. Anger. Frustration. Challenging emotions are part of life. If you’re looking for steps to manage your emotions, look no further than the present moment. Becoming aware of your immediate experience can help lessen the sting of life’s difficult circumstances.

Consider applying the following five steps to situations that trigger negative emotions, even the minor, everyday happenings. For instance, let’s say you start to prepare dinner while your toddler is playing a game in the kitchen. You find the musical sounds of his toy particularly annoying after a long day at work. Yet, since he’s fully engaged, you don’t want to interrupt his playtime. This is a perfect time to practice bringing your attention to the present by noticing the small sense of unease that’s arisen in you.

Notice your body.

Start by paying attention to how your body feels. Perhaps your muscles automatically tensed when you heard the sound of the toy. See if you’re able to release muscular tension. Here’s a guided meditation that will help you learn to relax your body.

Focus on your breath.

Feel the rhythmic movement as you breathe. Notice the coolness of the air when you breathe in and its warmth when you breathe out. Notice the feeling of your chest or belly rising and falling.

Pay attention to your self-talk.

Perhaps your internal dialog is saying, “I’ll never get a quiet moment to myself!” See if you can release predictions you may be making about the future. Stay with the immediate experience of the present moment, i.e., “I notice I’m agitated by the toy’s sounds.”

Engage your senses.

See if you can shift your focus beyond the sound of your child’s toy. A great way to do this is to notice what you’re experiencing with your senses. Bring your attention to the smell of the onions you’re chopping or the sound of the knife on the cutting board.

Witness yourself.

Imagine you’re seeing yourself through a third party’s eyes. Look at yourself with compassion as you wrestle with your emotion. Witnessing yourself in this manner can give you perspective about your situation, and also serve as a calming mechanism.

These simple steps to manage your emotions are meant to acknowledge what you’re feeling, while also broadening your awareness beyond just the emotion itself. By practicing these steps with everyday situations that don’t have a big emotional charge for you, you’ll be better prepared to deal with more challenging situations. Additionally, teaching children these techniques will give them tools that can last a lifetime.

JUNE 2022

The Labyrinth: An Ancient Meditation Tool

Looking to introduce mindful practices into your child’s life? Consider trying the labyrinth – an ancient meditation tool that has been rediscovered in modern times. Walking the labyrinth’s path is a perfect activity for families who are constantly on the go.

Labyrinths are often used as tools for meditation, relaxation, healing or enlightenment. Some walk the path of this ancient meditation tool to quiet the mind. Others like to bring a question to the labyrinth to see if they can gain insight or clarity.

What is the labyrinth?

The labyrinth consists of a single winding path that leads to the center and back out again. Unlike a maze, there are no choices to make about which way to turn. The labyrinth is level with the ground and doesn’t have walls or dividers. Permanent labyrinths are made from materials such as rock, pavers or tile, along with being painted on hard surfaces such as concrete. A labyrinth’s diameter can range from as little as 12 feet to 50 feet or more.

Children (and adults, too!) often enjoy running, skipping or jumping along the labyrinth’s path. Alternatively, some people like to walk slowly, deliberately placing one foot in front of the other. No matter what walking style you choose, it’s important to be respectful of others on the path. Allow anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes for a labyrinth walk, since times vary depending on the pace of those walking.

How it works

To walk the labyrinth, start at the beginning of the path, follow the twists and turns to the center, pause and walk out using the same pathway. A significant physiological effect is created by the many left-to-right and right-to-left turns on the path. These turns can balance the left and right sides of the brain and provide a centering experience.

The origins of the practice of labyrinth walking remain a mystery. Labyrinths have been found in ancient civilizations such as Greece, Crete, Egypt, Ireland, Peru, Scandinavia and more. Today they’re found in both secular and religious settings, including the grounds of retreat centers, parks, hospitals and universities.

Want to try a labyrinth walk? You’ll find an outdoor painted labyrinth overlooking the Potomac River in Georgetown Waterfront Park. You can also discover more labyrinths in the Washington, D.C. area, along with labyrinths around the world, by searching the World-Wide Labyrinth Locator.

In addition, click here to discover varied practices to bring to this ancient meditation tool. As you begin on the path, remember that there is no right or wrong way to walk the labyrinth. Simply honor your own pace and trust your experience.

MAY 2022

Five Relaxation Tips for New Parents

Welcoming a new baby into your household is a time of great transition. The first few weeks or months of parenthood can often feel overwhelming. For this reason, consider using strategies that help reduce stress, such as these relaxation tips for new parents.

1. Stay present.

“Be” with your baby, no matter how exhausted you are. Rather than stressing about unfinished tasks that need to be completed, try to focus on the here and now. A great way to stay present is to notice what you’re experiencing with your senses. Smell your baby’s hair, listen to the sounds your baby makes and notice the softness of your baby’s skin.

2. Take a mini-break.

Taking even a couple of minutes to pamper yourself can help restore body, mind and spirit. When you’re caring for a newborn, it’s easy to forget that you need care, as well. Consider taking a luxurious bath during the baby’s nap time, applying a rejuvenating face mask or enjoying relaxing music.

3. Meditate.

Practicing meditation is a proven technique for reducing stress. Here’s a simple exercise to try: Sit in a comfortable position, bringing all your attention to your breath. Whenever your mind wanders, gently bring your awareness back to your breath, even if it’s every second or two. For more information about meditation, visit joyrains.com/resources/.

4. Create a meditative retreat place in your home.

Having a place to “get away” can be especially restorative. Enjoy your retreat place during the baby’s nap time or after the baby goes to bed. One new mom carved out a small space next to the dryer in her basement laundry room. Installing a sliding translucent screen for an outer wall transformed this basement nook into a sacred space. Another created a private meditation space by using a sheer curtain in a bedroom corner as a divider. Another uses a favorite chair in the living room. Your place could even be portable – for example, a meditation cushion that you use in different settings.

5. Keep your perspective.

Since newborns need care around the clock, you may feel like you’ll never enjoy a full night’s sleep again. Even when you’re exhausted, realize this time of sleepless nights is temporary. At some point your child will, indeed, sleep through the night – and so will you.

In addition to these relaxation tips for new parents, consider keeping a running list of tips that work for you. These strategies will not only serve you when your child is a newborn; they will continue to serve you for years to come.

APRIL 2022

A Simple Remedy for Natural Stress Relief

Looking for natural stress relief? Try spending time in nature. Numerous studies point to nature’s healing properties – including reduced stress, boosted immunity and enhanced well-being. In fact, doctors in Canada can now prescribe national park passes to help patients improve their health!

Nature helps you focus on the here and now, rather than being in lost in thoughts about the past and future. For example, let’s consider a teenage girl who’s overcome with embarrassment because of an incident at school. She’s overwhelmed by thoughts cycling in her mind, such as “I can’t believe this is happening to me! I’ll never get over this!”

Recognizing their daughter’s angst, the parents take her to their favorite destination for natural stress relief: The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park in Potomac, Maryland. The father reminds his daughter that it’s important to acknowledge her difficult feelings, but it’s also important not to constantly focus on them. He encourages her to interrupt her cycling thoughts – and broaden her awareness by noticing the sights and sounds around her.

Taking her father’s advice, she shifts her attention to the beautiful vista of the river stretching into the distance. She listens to the thundering waters of Great Falls cascading over the rocks. As she focuses on her immediate experience, a deep feeling of relaxation envelops her. As a matter of fact, for a time she totally forgets herself and becomes fully immersed in the beauty of nature.

She’s completely aware of the present moment, rather than consumed by her anxious thoughts. With the vastness and sensory experience of the park, all her attention is on nature’s sights, sounds, textures and smells. Her thoughts still exist; however, now she’s able to focus beyond them. In essence, nature is offering her a simple remedy for natural stress relief.

The Washington, D.C. area offers many options for enjoying the outdoors, including:

MARCH 2022

Stressed? It’s not all in your head.

Imagine you’re thinking about your packed work schedule when you receive unwelcome news. Your child’s school is shifting to remote learning, effective immediately. You struggle to regroup and arrange child care as your thoughts spin and your muscles tense. At this moment, you can’t differentiate between mental strain and physical tension – all you know is that you’re stressed.

Bringing awareness to the stress in your mind and body can help reduce it.

As the old saying goes, “If you can name it, you can tame it.” Pay attention to the tension in your body first, since it’s easier to regulate your body than your mind. For example, your body will walk more slowly if you tell it to, but telling your mind to think more slowly will not often work.

Your body’s stress response is an ancient survival mechanism called the fight or flight response. This instinctive reaction happens unconsciously. Where you can make a conscious choice, however, is with how you respond to your body’s tension.

Consider responding with a technique that helps you notice and release stress, such as the Progressive Muscle Relaxation exercise.

Developed by Dr. Edmund Jacobson in the 1920s, this exercise consists of a gentle tightening and releasing of each muscle group. These gentle movements will help you learn to differentiate between the feeling of a muscle when it’s tensed versus its feeling when relaxed. You can also practice this exercise to help you fall asleep at night.

  • Start by either sitting or lying down in a comfortable position.
  • Bring all your attention to your body as you take a few breaths, noticing your chest or belly rising and falling. Next, begin a process of gently tightening and releasing each muscle group, starting with your feet and working your way upwards to the top of your head.
  • Hold each muscle tightly for about five seconds, then release it completely.
  • Try to notice the difference between the muscle tightened and the muscle relaxed.
  • Move onto the next muscle group until you’ve worked through your entire body.
  • Be gentle with yourself. Don’t strain or do anything that causes pain.
  • Any time your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to the tightening and releasing of your muscles.
  • Once you’ve relaxed your entire body, pause and notice how you feel. See if you can develop a muscle memory of how it feels to relax.

Consider teaching the Progressive Muscle Relaxation exercise to your child. You can even practice together. Calling upon this technique will serve both of you throughout your lives.

Find my free guided Progressive Muscle Relaxation exercise on Insight Timer. In future columns, I’ll discuss releasing stress in your mind. Stay tuned!

FEBRUARY 2022

Mindful Parenting Tips: A Handy Tool for Peace of Mind

Want to find some peace of mind? Try a simple meditation practice using a stone as a focal point for your attention.

Choose a smooth stone that fits into the palm of your hand. Stones can be found outside in nature or purchased through retailers.

You can practice this meditation any time you have a few minutes to yourself.

  • To start, keep the stone handy as you sit in a comfortable position, bringing your attention to your body.
  • Become aware of how your body feels. If you notice any tension, see if you can release it. One way to do this is to imagine directing your inhale to any tense areas and then imagine breathing the tension out with your exhale. Another technique is to imagine any tense areas getting warmer and warmer until they melt away.
  • Next, pick up your stone and hold it in your hand. Gently rest your attention on its qualities, including the stone’s weight, temperature, shape, texture and size. Do your fingers close around it? How does it feel if you hold it lightly or if you hold it more tightly?

As you practice, it’s not uncommon to be continually distracted by thoughts, since it’s the nature of the mind to wander. When distractions arise, rather than forcefully pushing them away, simply shift your attention back to your stone — even if it’s every second or two. By resting your attention on your stone’s qualities, you’re focusing on a tangible object, rather than focusing on thoughts that may be creating stress.

With repeated practice, a stone can serve as a reminder of being centered and grounded.

You can even place a stone in your pocket, keeping it handy for times when a quick dose of centering is needed. For instance, let’s say your child throws a temper tantrum in the middle of a grocery store. Rather than letting her behavior send you into a tailspin, simply reach into your pocket and take a breath or two as you touch your stone. You can also teach your child how to meditate with a stone. Consider sending an anxious child to school with a stone in his pocket to remind him that he knows how to center himself.

As an added bonus, stone meditations can become family activities. Your family can collect stones while on walks or hikes and display them in a small basket in your home. Some families even like to set aside time to practice stone meditations together. Whether practicing together or practicing alone, this handy tool can remind you to center yourself, even if it’s just for one or two breaths.

Want to reduce stress? Try the mindfulness practice of “not knowing.”

Rather than living with anxieties about an unknown future outcome, simply keep your attention on the present moment.

Examples

For instance, let’s say you get an unexpected call from the nurse’s office at your child’s elementary school. Your son is crying inconsolably after a tumble from the playground equipment. As you rush to the school, your thoughts cycle. What if he broke a bone? Do we need to go to the hospital? Will he still be able to play on his basketball team?

Or perhaps your middle schooler enjoyed a weekend sleepover at her best friend’s house. As Monday rolls around, you get a call from her friend’s mother. One of the children at the sleepover just tested positive for COVID-19. The news sends you into a tailspin. Will my daughter get sick? If she becomes ill, will she suffer from long-term effects? Are the other members of my household safe?

The Future

Much of the stress from these scenarios comes from anxious thoughts about the future. If you were to become aware of your thinking, you’d realize that you’re reacting to events that haven’t even happened. Maybe they’d happen in the future, but maybe they wouldn’t. You could remind yourself that you simply don’t know what will happen next.

To practice the mindfulness technique of “not knowing,” pause and and notice any anxious thoughts about imagined future outcomes. See if you can release these thoughts and simply accept the unknown. Each time another anxious thought arises, remind yourself that you don’t know. Did he break a bone? I don’t know. Will we need to go to the hospital? I don’t know. Will he be able to play basketball? I don’t know. All you know is that your child is hurting and that you’re deeply concerned. Keeping your attention on what you do know, rather than on what you don’t know, helps free you from anxieties. As an added bonus, when you reduce your own anxiety level, your child’s anxiety level is likely reduced as well.

Not Knowing

Although not knowing is a simple concept, it’s not always easy to practice, especially if you have a busy mind. Like learning any new skill, this technique becomes more accessible with repetition. The next time you notice yourself getting caught up in anxious thoughts about an unknown future, simply remind yourself that you don’t know — and it’s okay not to know.

JANUARY 2022

Want to reduce stress? Try the mindfulness practice of “not knowing.” Rather than living with anxieties about an unknown future outcome, simply keep your attention on the present moment.

Examples

For instance, let’s say you get an unexpected call from the nurse’s office at your child’s elementary school. Your son is crying inconsolably after a tumble from the playground equipment. As you rush to the school, your thoughts cycle. What if he broke a bone? Do we need to go to the hospital? Will he still be able to play on his basketball team?

Or perhaps your middle schooler enjoyed a weekend sleepover at her best friend’s house. As Monday rolls around, you get a call from her friend’s mother. One of the children at the sleepover just tested positive for COVID-19. The news sends you into a tailspin. Will my daughter get sick? If she becomes ill, will she suffer from long-term effects? Are the other members of my household safe?

The Future

Much of the stress from these scenarios comes from anxious thoughts about the future. If you were to become aware of your thinking, you’d realize that you’re reacting to events that haven’t even happened. Maybe they’d happen in the future, but maybe they wouldn’t. You could remind yourself that you simply don’t know what will happen next.

To practice the mindfulness technique of “not knowing,” pause and and notice any anxious thoughts about imagined future outcomes. See if you can release these thoughts and simply accept the unknown. Each time another anxious thought arises, remind yourself that you don’t know. Did he break a bone? I don’t know. Will we need to go to the hospital? I don’t know. Will he be able to play basketball? I don’t know. All you know is that your child is hurting and that you’re deeply concerned. Keeping your attention on what you do know, rather than on what you don’t know, helps free you from anxieties. As an added bonus, when you reduce your own anxiety level, your child’s anxiety level is likely reduced as well.

Not Knowing

Although not knowing is a simple concept, it’s not always easy to practice, especially if you have a busy mind. Like learning any new skill, this technique becomes more accessible with repetition. The next time you notice yourself getting caught up in anxious thoughts about an unknown future, simply remind yourself that you don’t know — and it’s okay not to know.

Mindfulness is the ability to keep your attention in the here and now, rather than caught up in judgements, anxieties and stories. The health benefits of mindfulness are profound, including reduced stress, increased focus and enhanced positive emotion. You can learn more about mindfulness at joyrains.com.

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