It may seem like the concept de jour, but mindfulness or mindful awareness is a practice that goes back thousands of years. Only fairly recently have we been able to understand, from a brain science perspective, why and how mindfulness helps us in so many ways. The research now on its power, is so compelling that it only makes sense to learn about it and apply it to your own life. As a parent, you have an added advantage; your child will be your best teacher!
There are many ways to define mindfulness. Let’s start with some of our favorite thinkers whose writings describe this ancient practice in language we can easily access today. These concepts can be applied across all fields relating to human health, harmony and relationships.
I’m fond of Jon Kabbat Zinn’s definition of mindfulness:
- being aware
- in the present moment
- on purpose
- without judgment
- to the unfolding of experience, moment by moment
In his book, The Mindful Brain, Daniel J. Siegel, Director of the Mindsight Institute, Co-Director of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center and the author of many books, including “Whole Brain Child” and “Parenting From the Inside Out,” writes:
Mindfulness in its most general sense is about waking up from a life on automatic, and being sensitive to novelty in our everyday experiences. . . . . . . . . mindfulness helps us awaken, and by reflecting on the mind we are enabled to make choices and thus change becomes possible.
Dr. Siegel uses the acronym COAL to describe mindfulness as approaching the present experience with a reflective awareness describing how the qualities of Curiosity, Openness, Acceptance create Love.
When we, as parents, pause, breathe, and mindfully choose to see, hear and feel our babies, we give them the gift of feeling “known” by us. We connect with their internal mental world and are open to the magic of the moment. Not only will they detect our mindful stance and feel free to show us who they are at any given moment, but they will also come to trust that we are receptive to all of their emotional states, especially those we think of as “negative.” How much do we all long to be seen and heard in our most challenging emotional states?
You can imagine how moving into this state of Curious, Open, Accepting and Loving (unconditionally) will help us to move away from rote, automatic, ways of being with our babies to a place of open possibilities. When parents choose to cultivate this curious, mindful state, a deeper, more genuine connection emerges and babies feel our attunement to them. This also creates the feeling of security babies need to trust their own innate march toward exploration, mastery and independence. This principle is at the heart of the book, The Happy Sleeper, I coauthored with Heather Turgeon.
4 Steps to a mindful approach in a very common parenting moment
Instead of quickly scooping your baby up to go change his diaper,
1. Take time to be present
Pause, take a deep breath and become as present, aware and curious as you can (more about how to do this in my next post).
2. Acknowledge what your baby is doing and feeling at that moment
Approach your baby, make eye contact and start to notice what’s going on with him. “Hey cutie, I see you having fun with that toy.” Reflect back to him what you observe.
3. Prepare him for what you’re about to do
“It’s time to change your diaper. Mommy (or Daddy) is going to pick you up and move you to the changing table.”
4. Stay connected and curious
Notice, during the diaper change, whether your baby is happy or not. If he is communicating with you (notice all those non verbal messages), acknowledge to him what you notice, including all feelings. If you baby is focused on his toy his hands, or the ray of light on the ceiling the mindful choice is to simply stay present and observe him. If he is unhappy and protesting the diaper change, only after you’ve acknowledged his emotional state (“I can tell you’re sad or mad or just not too happy about this!“), help him by handing him a novel toy or singing a silly song.
You can apply this mindful approach to many moments throughout the day. Think of it as a practice or a way of being. Use it on your partners, your friends, your own parent and yourself. And be sure to be kind to yourself along the way, because adopting such a practice takes time and your goal as a parent is never to be perfect. As long as your intentions are loving and open to what is going on with your baby in that moment, he will feel wonderfully seen and heard and in attunement with you.
Stay tuned for more blog posts about Mindful Parenting. Share your thoughts with us on Facebook @theWrightMommyandMe.
Written by Julie Wright
The Wright Mommy and Me classes nurture the adjustment to motherhood and explore many topics throughout baby’s first year, while also creating a place to find new and supportive friendships with other moms. Developed by Julie Wright, MFT, co-author of The Happy Sleeper (praised by Daniel Siegel, MD, author of Whole Brain Child as “Compassionate, courageous and creative!”)