Cultivating Mindfulness as a Parenting Skill

Mindfulness

By Chinar Som

Being a Mindful parent is one of the best gifts anyone can give their children. It has been termed as a fundamental parenting skill and practice (Kabat Zinn & Kabat-Zinn, 1997; Steinberg, 2004).

A Mindful parent is able to self-regulate his/her responses and lay the foundation for a healthy parent-child communication and relationships. The foremost aim of suggesting Mindfulness for new parents is to help them cope with new changes in their life. It is well documented that, the significant sources of parenting stress in new mothers are sleep deprivation, attempting to manage a crying infant, and the constant demands of breastfeeding. Maternal stress and anxiety can have a negative outcome for the mother and her child; mothers who are undergoing stress tend to neglect self-care and feel reduced capacity for care-giving due to the emotional overwhelm. Hence managing one’s post-delivery emotional health gains utmost importance.

However, Mindfulness doesn’t easily become a go to “fix it all” tool and for many it simply remains in the “coping skills toolbox.”

Why? Probably, because it feels easier to REACT, than to RESTRAIN one’s behaviour. More so, in overwhelming, emotionally charged situations.

With the many new challenges in their life, new mothers might view it as a purely aspirational mental state rather than an acquirable, practical approach. We are here to assure you, it is indeed achievable!! It is a matter of practice. More importantly, it is a matter of will.

Mindfulness has to be developed consciously and gradually with small steps. Even one minute of conscious effort can be an exercise with beneficial outcomes. The secret is to keep stealing those minutes through the day. Breast feeding? Burping the baby? Pacing the room? Standing under a running shower? Lying on the bed from exhaustion? Yes! Simply any moment can become an exercise in mindfulness. Though, few minutes of alone time will be needed for some of the practices.

Exercises to Develop Mindfulness:

    Breathing- It is said that our ‘breath’ is our present. When we focus on our breathing, we bring awareness to the present moment. Breath work is hugely beneficial for reducing stress and it can be done almost anywhere! Depending on how little or how much time you have, choose at least one of the following:
      1. Simplest of all is to become aware of your breathing. Feel fully present in your body. Take at least 5 deep and slow breaths. This can be done even with the baby in your arms.
      2. Stand with your legs a foot apart, hands on your hips and inhale and exhale slowly, ten times.
      3. Box/Square Breathing- Sit on a chair, with your feet on the ground and back straight.
        • Exhale through your mouth.
        • Breathe in slowly through your nose to the count of 4 seconds.
        • Hold your breath for 4 seconds
        • Exhale through your mouth over 4 seconds.
        • Pause for 4 seconds and repeat the process.
        4. Belly Breathing- Lie down on a flat surface, bend your knees, thighs apart and rest your feet on the ground. Close your eyes, keep one hand next to your body and place the other hand over your navel. Do a few rounds of abdominal breathing while watching your belly rise and fall with each inhalation and exhalation. Continue till you feel completely relaxed.
            AffirmationsThese are motivational in nature and based on the premise that what is stated repeatedly has the power to program the mind into believing it is true. Therefore affirming a positive statement can make you see the light in a tiresome situation and can work to improve your mood. You can either create your own phrase or select any pre-existing one that resonates with you. Few statements to get you started.
                • All is well.
                • What I do, I do best.
                • I am doing my best as a mom.
                • This too shall pass.
                • I am stronger than I seem.
                • I have got this!
                Chanting- Though similar to reciting affirmations, chanting has a spiritual dimension as well. It is based on the concept that vibrations created by the sounds can lead to energetic changes. Chanting anchors us into the present and harmonizes our breathing. “OM or Aum” can be a powerful and easy one to begin with. The Buddhist chant of “OM Mani Padme Hum” is a mantra of compassion which also lends a calming effect when listened to. Similarly, there are ancient chants in multiple cultures around the world. For those open to this concept, explore the possibility and details as spiritual chants often have associated rules to get maximum benefit out of them.
                      Mental Body Scan- Bring your awareness to your body. Notice the sensations as you mentally scan from head to toe. Identify, which part of your body is holding on to your stress. A clenched jaw, a racing pulse, an aching knee, a swollen ankle- all are your body’s way of talking to you, letting you know something is amiss. Consciously loosen up, each part of the body. Smile gently. Playing some soothing music along can make it feel more meditative and enjoyable.
                        Attitude of Gratitude- Being thankful for what you have, what seems to be going right in your life has significant benefits. (A healthy baby, a little less crying, a supportive spouse, a quick nap, a baby who is easing into a sleep routine gradually, etc). This simple act of “counting one’s blessings” shifts the focus to a better mind set. No matter how tiring or chaotic your day is, you will always have something to be grateful for. This recognition, eventually trains your mind to think positively.

                          We hope you take a pick from the above, practise it, and set yourself on a journey to be mindful.

                          References:

                          1. 4 Factors that can decrease breast milk supply- and how to replenish it. https://utswmed.org/medblog/decrease-breast-milk-supply/
                          2. Kabat-Zinn, M., & Kabat-Zinn, J.(1997). Everyday blessings: The inner work of mindful parenting. New York: Hyperion.
                          3. Parents under /stress: What it means for Babies. https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/1711-parents-under-stress-what-it-means-for-babies/
                          4. Sounding Off On Spirituality: Exploring Chanting In Different Cultures. https://www.soundoflife.com/blogs/places//sounding-off-on-spirituality-exploring-chanting-different-cultures/
                          5. Steinberg, L. (2004). The 10 basic principles of good parenting. New York: Simon & Schuster.
                          6. The Relationship between Life Stress and Breastfeeding Outcomes among Low-Income Mothers. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3546433/
                          7. What is box breathing? https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321805

                          About the author-

                          Chinar Som has Post Graduate degrees in Special Education and Human Development, with over 16 years of experience. She has taught from High school to Post-Graduate University students in India. She is an expert on a wide range of educational and parenting topics. A polyglot with a passion for writing. She practices a holistic healing lifestyle.

                          Picture Credit: Max van den Oetelar


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