Slow down: How mindful parenting benefits both parents and kids

February 1, 2022 - 16 min read

mindful-parenting-kid-hanging-on-parents-back 

Jump to section

What is mindful parenting?

Why is mindfulness important for parents?

What are the 5 positive parenting skills?

How can I be mindful with kids?

Mindful parenting for ADHD

When you think of parenting, the first thing that comes to mind is long, peaceful days filled with quiet activities and lots of love.

…Right?

The truth is, raising kids has never been an easy thing to do, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier. Parents — whether they work outside the home or not — are busy people. Getting homework, household, and work stuff handled doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for self-reflection. 

You might be surprised to learn, though, that there’s a way you can slow down and still get it all done. Better yet, you can be just as efficient and a lot less stressed. Read on to learn more about mindful parenting, whether it’s really possible, and how it makes a difference for your family.

What is mindful parenting?

Mindful parenting doesn’t mean that you have to meditate, be perfect all the time, or never get frustrated with your kids. Like many forms of mindfulness, it’s a practice, so there’s no getting it right or wrong.

When you practice mindful parenting, you slow yourself down so that you’re less reactive with your children. This helps you regain a sense of calm and control. It helps you as a parent maintain perspective and feel less overwhelmed. And it frees up space for you to gently process negative emotions and begin to appreciate small, everyday blessings.

Why is mindfulness important for parents?

To say that parenting isn’t easy is an understatement. Parenting is, at best, challenging. At worst, it can be intensely triggering.

Becoming a parent is a major change in a person’s life. Few other events have the power to completely upend your priorities, schedule, emotions, and well-being. Very few of us (and I’d argue, none of us) are really prepared for a change of that magnitude or what it will bring up. And if we thought our lives were busy before…whew. Children are pretty much born busy.

But once we become parents, busy often becomes suffocating. Children bring a constant onslaught of demands. Raising them often feels like trying to hit a moving target. And — with no clear guide as to whether or not we’re doing it right — we tend to internalize that uncertainty as failure. Actually, it’s worse than failure — it’s downright painful.

That’s not an exaggeration. In several studies on uncertainty, failure, and pain, researchers found that people are more afraid of uncertainty than we are of loss, a negative outcome, or pain. In one experiment, participants who were unsure if they would receive a painful shock were significantly more stressed than those who knew that the shock was coming. 

Raising children can sometimes feel like an extended period of waiting for that shock.

New call-to-action

Our brains perceive ambiguity as a threat. Not knowing what’s going to happen is much more stressful than anticipating something bad. When we know the worst is coming, we can prepare for it. When we don’t know what’s coming, we can’t do much more than worry and wait.

Children stir up this sense of uncertainty in multiple ways.

For one, they’re fairly unpredictable by nature. Parents are in a near-constant state of low-grade anxiety as they try to anticipate every possible threat (or inconvenience, of which there are plenty).

For another, there’s no way of knowing if you’re doing a good job parenting. And honestly, you probably won’t find out for about thirty years or so.

Rather than submit to constant stress, parents can choose to take control of the only thing within their grasp — the present moment. Choosing to let go of anxiety and focus on what’s happening right now has some powerful benefits:

What are the 5 positive parenting skills?

Positive parenting is an approach to child-rearing rooted in mutual respect, affection, and clear expectations. With its focus on responsive (not reactive) parenting, it dovetails nicely with mindfulness practices and conscious parenting.

In their article “The Power of Positive Parenting,” Matthew Sanders and Trevor Mazzucchelli draw on developmental research to outline 5 key skills for positive parenting. These are providing a safe and engaging environment, a positive learning environment, assertive discipline, realistic expectations, and parental self-care.

1. Safe and engaging environment

The more child-friendly your learning environment is, the less often you’ll have to say no. Set up your home in a way that’s easy and comfortable for the children living there. You could try putting snacks on an easily-accessible shelf, or store toys in clear bins so it’s easy to see where things are. Helping your kids build their independence is an important part of child development.

2. Positive learning environment

Children are born with a love of learning, and their caregiver is often their favorite teacher. When they come to you with questions or with excitement, they’re sharing their love of learning with you. Embrace it by answering their questions patiently and enthusiastically. It may be old news to you, but everything is brand new to them.

mindful-parenting-happy-kid-dancing-with-headphones

3. Assertive discipline

Positive parenting doesn’t mean that you let your kids do whatever they want. It means that you set clear expectations and boundaries that they understand. Consistency is important to kids. It helps them understand their world and minimize uncertainty. It also teaches adolescents that their environment is predictable and secure.

4. Realistic expectations

As a parent, we expect our children to make mistakes — and we’re prepared to love them when they do. But we often extend them a kind of compassion that we don’t allow for ourselves. You hold your kids to high standards, and you meet them with understanding and support if they don’t meet them. It’s important to give yourself the same grace. Not every day will go perfectly or even well. But you always have the ability to choose how right now goes.

5. Parental self-care

Mindfulness — and in fact, any kind of Inner Work® — is much, much easier when you’ve taken care of your basic needs. Positive parenting isn’t a commitment to martyrdom. It only really works when you’re stable enough to slow down and choose your optimal response. I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly not my best self when I’m hungry, tired, dehydrated, or emotionally exhausted.

Taking care of yourself is easier said than done, especially when you have small kids. But it makes Inner Work® feel a lot easier. Our mental health is directly linked to our physical health, and neglecting one often causes more reactivity in the other.

Self-care doesn’t have to be done perfectly all the time either. Developing mindful awareness will help you notice when you’re feeling overwhelmed, hungry, or otherwise off-balance. After all, coffee is a wonderful thing — but not when it’s all you’re running on.

How can I be mindful with kids?

If you're like most parents, you're thinking “This sounds nice and all, but how in the world am I supposed to slow down and be mindful with my kids?” 

The answer is, you just do. Before you even try to jump into it, you have to believe — on some level — that stress, anger, and running on empty are not prerequisites for raising happy kids.

Say that you're getting the kids ready to go to school (what I call “rush hour” in my house). You're half-awake, the kids are hungry, you only have 3 socks, and you can feel that you’re starting to lose your temper. If this sounds familiar, then you’ve probably been to my house. 

This way of getting up in the morning can become a habit. That's the bad news. The good news is, habits can be broken — or better yet, they can be replaced with habits that work better for you and your family.

How do we break a habit? We start by identifying the behavior that we want to change, noticing when it's happening, and committing to do something different.

If you're tired of running yourself ragged in the morning, sit down and decide what would make the biggest difference in your day. Once you commit to doing something different, you'll begin to see options open up.

mindful-parenting-kid-taking-food-from-table

When I feel stuck, I like to brainstorm as many ways to change a situation as I can. I start with the most plausible and, as I run out of ideas, I fill in the ridiculous. For example:

Ways to make mornings easier:

  • Put out the school clothes the night before
  • Wake up 30 minutes earlier so that I have some time to myself
  • Give the kids a reward for getting to school on time
  • Stay in bed and ask my partner to do it
  • Throw water on the kids, effectively combining waking up and showering
  • Send the kids to school in pajamas, claiming I thought it was pajama day (will only work once or twice)
  • Move into the house next door to the school
  • Bribe the bus driver to get the kids ready for me 
  • Change careers, become a bus driver, and take the kids to work with me
  • Decide to homeschool, vowing that I'll never run for a school bus again in my life

Most of the time it makes me laugh and gets me to start thinking differently about the situation. Sometimes, I even come up with a viable new solution. But even when I don't, I feel more in control of my own stress and less bothered by the situation — because I know that it can be changed.

It's not easy to do, but really tuning in and giving your child your full attention can also be helpful. Kids don't make good background noise. Young children are designed to get your attention — after all, they need it for survival. 

The next time you find your attention split between your kids and your other responsibilities, first try taking a deep breath. Then put down whatever you're working on and see what your child needs. Of course, this may be tricky to do all the time. You may feel like you're not getting much done. But realistically, there's a good chance that your undivided attention for a couple of minutes will make more of a difference in your child's behavior than hours of multitasking.

Mindful parenting for ADHD

Mindful parenting can benefit any family, but it's especially helpful for families of children with attention deficit disorder. Parenting a child with ADHD, anxiety, or other emotional needs can add stress to the entire family. Parents often cope by becoming hyper-vigilant about managing their child’s triggers and behavior. 

But the more stressed you are, the harder it is for you to manage. You begin to focus on how things should be, instead of how things are. All that does is create resentment and more frustration.

Children can be challenging in the best of times, and that's especially true for children with ADHD. But parenting them can be a very rewarding and unique experience. Children with ADHD are often highly creative, sensitive, and they see the world in unique ways. Being lost in your own frustration can cause you to lose those moments of calm and joy.

If your child struggles with emotional regulation, modeling mindfulness is possibly the best thing that you can do for them. Many of us have memories of growing up with parents who didn’t have great coping mechanisms — and we may have spent a lot of time unlearning those habits. We can support our children and our own well-being by modeling healthy ways of dealing with frustration.

Key takeaways for mindful parenting

It would be nice if mindful parenting was a quick fix to all the challenges of family life. The fact is, there will always be days where you'll feel frustrated — but they'll be fewer and farther between. Parenting will always present challenges, but you can change the way you look at them.

As you begin to bring a mindful approach into your parenting practice — and that's what it is, a practice — you'll be more patient and less judgmental with yourself and your children.

You may find a new way to deal with stressful situations. Or nothing may change — at least, on the outside that is. But you'll be different. You'll have more self-compassion, more patience, and be able to handle stressors with non-judgment. And you'll have more insight into your own feelings.

As long as you're willing to be curious about your own inner world, you're doing this mindful parenting thing right.

New call-to-action

Published February 1, 2022

Allaya Cooks-Campbell

BetterUp Staff Writer

Read Next

Employee Experience
15 min read | September 2, 2019

Are parents happier (at work)?

Becoming a parent signifies the end of many things: an uninterrupted night’s sleep, the ability to to take a night off at a moment’s notice, and perhaps, your fancy glass... Read More
Well-being
6 min read | September 14, 2021

How to help working parents navigating back-to-school

Considering all they have on their plates, it’s no surprise working parents are feeling the pressure this fall. Yet many don't feel support from their organizations. Read More
BetterUp Product
12 min read | November 10, 2021

Sleep, nutrition, new parent coaching and more: Meet BetterUp's specialist coaching network

To perform at our peak, we need to thrive physically, emotionally, cognitively, and socially. We also need rest, healthy habits, a sense of belonging, and resilience. What if... Read More
Well-being
12 min read | November 17, 2021

Parenting styles: Learn how you influence your children’s future

Each family has different values, but research says that we all fall into one of four parenting styles. Learn how these styles impact your child’s future. Read More
Well-being
11 min read | November 30, 2021

Conscious parenting: Raise your children by parenting yourself

Looking for ways to break the cycle with your kids? Conscious parenting might be the answer. Learn how you become a better parent by doing Inner Work. Read More
Research & Insights
10 min read | March 22, 2022

Difficult to get and not widely available, paid parental leave eludes many working parents

When it comes to paid parental leave, half of working parents either don’t have access to it or are unaware of what is available to them. Read More

Stay connected with BetterUp

Get our newsletter, event invites, plus product insights and research.