The Scientifically Proven Way to Improve Your Parenting
Recently I was commiserating with a girlfriend about one of my (many) parenting fails. I’d been triggered by my older son, completely lost my cool and shouted something to the effect of, “H! You’re driving me insane!”
My girlfriend nodded knowingly and replied, “Ah, you broke the cardinal rule of parenting: Never let ’em see you sweat!”
Her comment stuck with me and got me thinking…
Never let ’em see you sweat. It’s not just the cardinal rule of parenting, it’s the cardinal rule of life!
Happiness - our capacity for feeling good and enjoying our day-to-day - is contingent on how we deal with the unexpected, the stressful, and the out-of-our-control events life throws our way.
If we’re “breaking a sweat” at the onset of every challenging circumstance (whether it be a rude interaction with a stranger or our child’s out of bounds behavior) - losing our temper, feeling offended, feeling victimized, getting engulfed by worry, making impulsive decisions, blaming others - we’re most likely not feeling good and enjoying our day-to-day. And we’re probably not enjoying parenting either.
On the flip side, if we’re able to regulate our emotions, to pause when we get triggered, respond objectively, and then accept the outcome without judgment, chances are we’re living pretty darn happy lives and having fewer parenting fails.
Good self-regulation = ability to enjoy life and enjoy parenting
Now, hear this: If you have a “differently-wired” child, your ability to self-regulate takes on heightened importance for several reasons:
These kiddos tend to struggle with self-regulation which means more frequent meltdowns, which means you are getting triggered multiple times a day (sometimes an hour!). Let’s be real. Staying calm during a couple of meltdowns a day is doable. Staying calm during a couple of meltdowns every hour all day long isn’t - this is where the heightened importance comes in.
Kids pick up on our energy. If we’re constantly in “breaking a sweat” mode, we are adding fuel to our “differently-wired” kid’s already inflamed nervous system.
Your “differently-wired” kid requires a lot more than typically developing kids when it comes to your attunement and responsiveness - two qualities that are entirely dependent on your ability to self-regulate.
Bottom line? The number one way to improve your parenting, to embody the “Never let ’em see you sweat” mantra, is to improve your ability to self-regulate.
So, how in the heck do we do this!?
Lucky for us, there is a scientifically proven way: Mindfulness Meditation.
Before you stop reading, let me assure you, I am not some meditation guru, no one would use the word “crunchy” to describe me, and I’m not going to get all “woo woo” on you.
If you read last week’s post, you learned about my meditation journey. I was a skeptical and reluctant meditater, but once I experienced its benefits in the form of recovering from an eating disorder, I became a believer!
Even if you’ve never meditated, chances are you’ve heard of mindfulness; it’s fair to say that it’s been having a moment.
For the past two decades, major universities such as UCLA, Carnegie Mellon, and Harvard (to name just a few), have been researching the effects of mindfulness meditation on the brain. And the results have been impressive.
So impressive that Fortune 500 companies like Google, Apple, and Nike offer on-site meditation classes as well as “Mindful Leadership” courses. Entire school districts have adopted Mindfulness curriculums. Just Google “mindfulness” and you’ll discover endless resources - articles, apps, courses, you name it. Turns out, the Buddhists have been on to something!
Consistent Mindfulness Meditation has been shown to:
- Improve ability to self-regulate (i.e., improve your relationships, your parenting, your life)
- Decrease depression
- Decrease anxiety
- Reduce fatigue
- Increase stress tolerance
- Decrease pain
- Increase ability to relax
- Improve overall health
- Change brain chemistry
- Improve self-esteem
So...What exactly is Mindfulness?
Rooted in a 2600-year-old Buddhist tradition, mindfulness is defined as being present, in the moment, in a non-judgmental way. It’s the awareness that arises out of intentionally paying attention in an open, accepting, curious, and discerning way. It’s both a way of being and a formal practice.
Mindfulness is not…
- A relaxation technique
- A religion
- Emptying your mind of thoughts
- “Woo woo” hippie BS
What is Mindfulness Meditation (a formal mindfulness practice)?
After designating a set amount of time, you sit down, close your eyes, and start breathing. Every time you notice your mind drift away from the focus on your breath (or mantra), you intentionally and without judgment, bring your attention back to your breath. That’s it. Simple!
The act of noticing your mind has wandered, then bringing your attention back to your breath is mindfulness. You may have to bring your attention back to your breath 100 times during a ten-minute meditation and that’s perfectly ok. Remember, no judgment.
You’re training your mind to be non-reactive and present, you’re strengthening your ability to self-regulate, you’re learning how to be mindful.
- Happiness - our ability to engage in and enjoy life - is largely dependent on our ability to stay calm in the face of stress and tolerate big and uncomfortable emotions, or… our ability to self-regulate.
- A parent’s ability to self-regulate is a top predictor of a child’s ability to self-regulate.
- If you have a “differently-wired” child, your ability to self-regulate takes on heightened importance.
- Mindfulness meditation is a scientifically proven way to strengthen your self-regulation, improve your overall well-being, and improve your parenting.
Through both my personal experience as an anxious mom who was struggling to meet my own needs let alone my kids’ needs and my professional experience working with kids and families, I have seen the most dramatic difference in parental enjoyment come from adopting a consistent mindfulness meditation practice.
Recently I worked with a mom who was in utter overwhelm as a result of her differently-wired son’s defiant, explosive behavior. He was losing it multiple times a day and so was she. She was exhausted, riddled with guilt, and desperate for help.
My first line of defense? Ten minutes of daily mindfulness meditation.
This wasn’t what she wanted to hear. But her desperation trumped her reluctance and she committed to trying it for two weeks. When we talked again, she reported that, while there hadn’t been any dramatic shifts in her son’s behavior, there had been in hers.
She was still losing it, but not as often. She felt less overwhelmed and more in control of her reactions. Progress!
Two months later, she told me she was hooked. Being intentional about setting aside ten minutes a day to meditate had led to being intentional about other forms of self-care. She was filling her tank so she had more fuel to handle her son’s explosions and lo and behold, it was working.
The more calm and regulated she was in the face of his challenging behavior, the less intense and frequent his behaviors became.
If you’re in the same boat - your kids frequent meltdowns are causing you to let him see you sweat multiple times a day, and you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and unhappy - give mindfulness meditation a try. What do you have to lose?
Start with five minutes a day. Seriously, you can do anything for five minutes a day. Start there and increase the duration as you go. After just a month of a consistent daily practice, you will without a doubt notice a shift.
To get you started, here are a few of my favorite meditation apps:
Comment below if you’ve experienced the benefits of meditation. Tell us how you started meditating and how it’s helped you.
If you read this post and are thinking, meditation-shmeditation, this is just not for me, let us know too. Remember, it took years for me to reclaim my meditation practice, even though I’d already experienced the benefits first-hand, so I completely feel you. There’s no judgment!
I’ll leave you with this inspirational mindfulness quote…
“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).” ~James Baraz