Raising Good Humans, A Mindful Guide to Breaking the Cycle of Reactive Parenting and Raising Kind, Confident Kids by Hunter Clarke-Fields MSAE
You’re running late when your toddler decides she doesn’t want to wear shoes to preschool. You yell that she’s going to wear shoes “because I said so” – a phrase you vowed to never use with your kids. Immediately, you give yourself the World’s Worst Parent award. You can avoid this react-and-blame cycle, explains mindfulness expert Hunter Clarke-Fields. A mindful approach to parenting can help you stay calm during stressful moments, and allow you to communicate more thoughtfully and effectively. With practice, you can build stronger family relationships and enjoy a peaceful, loving home.
- Mindfulness quiets ill-considered reactivity.
- A mind that preoccupies itself with planning and to-do lists may miss the concerns of the present moment.
- Instead of trying to suppress anger and other powerful emotions, acknowledge them.
- Unforgiving and critical self-talk undermines your ability to parent well.
- People expend a lot of energy and effort repressing strong and uncomfortable emotions.
- Active listening and supportive responses form the basis for a strong parent-child relationship.
- Express your own needs clearly.
- Neither punishment nor permissiveness teaches the right lessons.
- Mindful parenting routines support strong family connections and create a peaceful, loving home.
Raising Good Humans Book Summary
Mindfulness quiets ill-considered reactivity.
It’s almost time to take your child to school. You go up to his room to see what is keeping him, and he yells, “I don’t want to go to school today!” Do you feel anxiety well up just thinking about this scenario? Stress can trigger an innate fight-or-flight response, which cuts off access to your rational, upper brain. As a result, you snap and start yelling at your child. Later, you feel guilty, ashamed and distraught over your behavior.
“We are at our worst in the parenting department when we’re in reactive mode.”
Fortunately, a mindfulness practice can help you respond differently. Mindfulness – nonjudgmental, deliberate attention to the present moment – quiets reactivity. Mindfulness meditation can reduce anxiety and depression, increase positive emotions and bring about a sense of peace. Thus, developing a mindfulness meditation practice is the starting place for becoming less reactive – and remaining calm in exasperating parenting situations.
A mind that preoccupies itself with planning and to-do lists may miss the concerns of the present moment.
As you spend time with your children, your mind may wander to the question of what to make for dinner or how to solve a problem at work. With your brain occupied elsewhere, you may miss your child’s signals about what he or she needs – leading to responses that are more reactive than thoughtful. As you practice mindfulness, however, you can learn to focus your awareness and become less distracted.
“Being present means really seeing, hearing and understanding your child. It means letting go of your agenda and preconceived notions to instead be curious about what is.”
“Mindfully eating a raisin” is an easy mindfulness exercise that only takes a few minutes. Begin by choosing to focus fully on this exercise. Next, hold and examine the raisin as if you never saw one before. Give it your full attention, feel it with your fingers and hold it to your nose to smell it. Place it in your mouth and savor every sensation as you slowly eat the raisin. End the exercise by reviewing everything you experienced. Mindful eating is one method for bringing a mindfulness practice to your everyday routines.
Fitting just five minutes of mindfulness meditation into your busy schedule produces positive results. Begin with a sitting meditation exercise. Sit comfortably in a chair, set a timer for five minutes and gently close your eyes. Concentrate on your breathing, saying “breathe in” and “breathe out” in time with your inhales and exhales. As your mind wanders, acknowledge the thoughts, and refocus on your breath. Continue to do this for five minutes. Your “mindfulness muscle” will strengthen with practice, allowing you to experience less stress and anxiety and a greater sense of peace.
Instead of trying to suppress anger and other powerful emotions, acknowledge them.
When your child is upset, you instinctively want to fix the problem. However, it’s better to first acknowledge the emotion he or she is feeling. For example, if your child protests when it’s time to leave the playground, say something like, “Wow, you were having so much fun you don’t want to leave.” Acknowledging and naming emotions makes your child feel respected and heard. Additionally, it helps to admit your own feelings. If you feel irritated with your child’s behavior, you might say, “I’m feeling very grumpy right now.” You’ll feel better, and your child will understand what is happening in that moment. During meditation, pay attention to and name the feelings that associate with the thoughts going through your head.
“Like little spiritual masters, children have the uncanny ability to reveal our unresolved issues.”
Learning what triggers your anger and how to manage those impulses is a powerful practice. This process begins with understanding the aspects of your upbringing, which you carry into your own parent-child relationship. Once you recognize the triggers for negative reactions, you’re free to make different choices. For example, when Sam’s toddler spilled orange juice on the just-washed kitchen floor, Sam lost her temper. She realized that her overreaction stemmed from her parents’ emphasis on cleanliness and perfection. Identifying the source of her anger allowed Sam to change her behavior and avoid repeating the pattern with her own children. Triggers deeply embed themselves in your psyche. It takes time and a deliberate effort to adopt more mindful responses.
“It’s a shame how often we deride ourselves and each other for having strong feelings. It’s like berating someone for breathing.”
Yelling at your children often provokes strong feelings of shame and guilt. If suppressing anger is harmful, and expressing anger is damaging, what are you to do? Take steps to reduce stress. Get enough sleep, exercise regularly, spend time with loved ones and practice mindfulness mediation to lower stress levels. Acknowledge your feelings, and practice responding differently when anger arises. Try removing yourself from the situation. Tell yourself affirmations (“You can handle this”). Focus on deep breathing.
Unforgiving and critical self-talk undermines your ability to parent well.
Negative self-talk undercuts your ability to parent well and generates feelings of shame. Researcher Brené Brown explains that while guilt over bad behavior can motivate you to change for the better, shame simply brings you down because it makes you believe you are incapable of change. Replace self-shaming with self-compassion. Practice self-kindness by talking to yourself as you would to a friend. Identify shame-filled thoughts (“I lost my temper” or “I’m a lousy mom”), and counter them with compassionate thoughts (“It is extremely difficult to be a patient parent at times”). This practice allows you to take responsibility and move forward rather than wallow in frustration and distress.
“How we talk to ourselves after our mistakes can shape whether we shrink or grow from the experience.”
Remember that all humans make mistakes. You’re not the only one struggling with parenting issues. Incorporate loving-kindness into your meditation routine by envisioning someone you love and thinking the following phrases: “May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live with ease.” Next, repeat these same phrases to yourself.
If you want your children to be kind and empathetic, model kindness and empathy. Authoritarian parenting forces cooperation through fear and intimidation. It works for a while, but in the long run, it teaches children to be forceful and manipulative. Conversely, when they experience kindness, children wish to reciprocate, and the parent-child connection strengthens. Empathy is kindness in action. Empathetic parenting involves tuning in to your child’s perspective and feelings, without judgment. You can then respond appropriately and compassionately, while helping your child develop the ability to identify and regulate his or her emotions.
People expend a lot of energy and effort repressing strong and uncomfortable emotions.
You may try to block or deny distress through distraction or unhealthy habits, such as overeating or drinking alcohol. Alternatively, negative emotions might overwhelm you until you feel stymied and powerless. Mindful acceptance is the process of feeling and managing emotions as they occur. Accepting the experience of painful feelings, even though you may not like them, allows you to heal. Behavioral expert Luc Nicon developed a technique for allowing feelings to fully evolve. When a strong feeling threatens to overwhelm you, close your eyes, focus on your body’s physical reactions, note how they pass through your body, and observe the sensations until you return to a state of calm.
“Accepting the reality of your painful feelings will put you on a faster track to healing that pain.”
RAIN – an acronym for “Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture” – is another mindful approach to processing difficult emotions. First, recognize and label the negative emotion. Next, allow it to exist in your experience. Investigate the cause of the feeling with interest and curiosity. Lastly, nurture yourself through the pain with compassion. Soothing self-affirmations (“It’s not your fault” and “Trust in your goodness”) may help you recover quickly and calmly. As you grow comfortable accepting and processing negative emotions, show your kids how to do the same. Teach children that crying is an acceptable way to release emotion and feel better. When children throw tantrums, it’s because their feelings have frustrated and overwhelmed them. Stay present, keep them safe, and offer hugs and closeness when the tantrum passes.
Active listening and supportive responses form the basis for a strong parent-child relationship.
What you say to your children, especially in trying situations, can either exacerbate problems or help kids manage their emotions and find resolutions. Conflicts form when one party’s needs are not being met. Your child doesn’t mind his backpack on the kitchen floor, but it hurts your sense of order. In other words, it’s your problem, not his. When confronting an issue, consider whose needs are unfulfilled and who has the problem. Oftentimes, it’s better to let children come up with their own solutions. When your child has a problem, serve as an empathetic collaborator. Certain types of responses hinder supportive communication.
- Blame – “If you were nicer with your toys, you’d have more friends.”
- Name-calling – “You’re just acting like a big baby.”
- Threats – “If you won’t share, no one will like you.”
- Orders – “Stop that right now!”
- Dismissiveness – “I’m sure it’s not that bad.”
- Solutions – “Why not try…”
Listen mindfully by putting away your smartphone, facing your child, making eye contact, and focusing on what he or she is saying. Listen not only to the facts, but also to your child’s emotions. Reiterate what you believe your child is trying to tell you, and convey empathy.
Express your own needs clearly.
Society conditions parents to believe that their own needs are secondary to those of their children. To stay healthy and happy, however, you must fulfill your needs for rest, time with friends and family, exercise, and more. Again, skillful communication is crucial to obtain a positive result. Speak in a way that promotes cooperation rather than resistance or resentment. Communicate your feelings honestly, and use the phrase “I feel…” to get through to kids about how their actions affect you, without putting them on the defensive.
“Because in all human interactions, we’re trying to get our needs met. When we start to see this in ourselves and in our children, the blame and judgment drop away naturally.”
In Parent Effectiveness Training, psychologist Thomas Gordon suggested that you describe the behavior in question, and explain how that action affects you and your feelings. For example, when your child leaves toys on the floor, you could say, “I feel irritated when your Legos are on the floor, because if I step on one, it will hurt my foot.”
Neither punishment nor permissiveness teaches the right lessons.
With a traditional authoritarian parenting approach, parents decide which behaviors are acceptable, and they punish insurrection. Unfortunately, punishment teaches children that having power is what matters most. Additionally, punishment causes resentment, can damage a child’s psyche, may encourage lying, and places the focus on consequences rather than empathy. Conversely, in the permissive parenting scenario, children’s needs take priority, which makes them more self-centered, less empathetic, and less able to regulate their feelings or understand boundaries. Viewing conflict resolution through the lens of balancing needs offers a middle ground.
“When we work together to solve problems and recognize each person’s needs, conflicts bring us closer together.”
For a minor conflict, identify your child’s needs and your own, and suggest a solution. For example, your daughter wants your attention while you are on the phone. Make eye contact and convey your I-message: “When you interrupt my phone call, I get annoyed because I can’t hear the other person.” Let her explain why she interrupts, and reflectively listen. “You have something important to tell me, and are worried I will talk too long and forget about you.” Next, suggest a solution. “I promise to give you my attention the minute I finish my call. You can even quietly sit next to me, so I don’t forget.” This win-win approach also works well for more serious conflicts: First, identify the needs causing the conflict, and brainstorm solutions that will meet those needs. Then, determine who must take certain actions by what time, and confirm that all parties’ needs are being met.
Mindful parenting routines support strong family connections and create a peaceful, loving home.
When children receive unconditional love and support, they experience less stress. They feel safer and more secure. Loving, physical touch conveys affection and concern. Children crave physical connection through hugs, snuggles and roughhousing. Although children should play independently, it’s also important to play with your kids. When you do, give them your undivided attention. Let them make the rules and set the tone.
“Children need play like they need air and water. It helps them understand the world, heal hurts and develop confidence in their abilities.”
Children also like to contribute and work alongside mom and dad. Encourage them to participate in household chores such as cooking, taking care of pets and cleaning. Provide positive verbal reinforcement. Make words of encouragement specific. Instead of saying “Good job,” try phrases such as “Your imagination is awesome” or “That was very generous.” Children need routines. Ensure that they get enough sleep, and try to schedule events around nap time. Kids love to see, discover and linger, and rushing from one activity to the next deprives them of those opportunities. As much as possible, simplify your daily life to foster their ability to explore, experience and wonder.
About the Author
Hunter Clarke-Fields is a mindfulness teacher, practitioner and coach. She hosts the Mindful Mama podcast, and is the founder of the Mindful Parenting online course.
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