Becoming a Mindful Parent

Becoming a Mindful Parent

Just like motherhood or childhood, the phenomenon of parenting is rather unique and exclusive for both, the child as well as the parents. Although one may find exemplary practices, there is no one definition of “good parenting” and thus, it would be unreasonable to say that one size can or should fit all.   

Our rightful duty and obligation as parents is the responsibility of nurturing, safeguarding, and consciously raising our children. We have been entrusted with this responsibility by Allah, The Creator and Sustainer, and we will be held accountable. As Muslim parents, we believe that the best example of parenthood was set in the character of our beloved Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, and there is much we can learn from his example. 

What Is Mindful Parenting? 

The very notion of conscious parenting is what mindful parenting is all about. Mindful parenting does not mean being a perfect parent. In fact, it acknowledges and takes into consideration the many aspects of parenting, such as how we often get overwhelmed by responsibilities, the day-to-day stresses tied to a gazillion things, and finding the right fit between your parenting style and your child's personality, etc. It also recognizes that when it comes to parenting, there is no such thing as failure. 

At the same time, it allows us to reflect and be conscious of our emotions rather than letting them consume us. This does not mean in any way that we overlook or ignore our emotions. Instead, it has more to do with the art of learning how to manage our responses by adapting to the prevailing situation. 

In this way, we spare ourselves of the guilt, shame, worries, stresses, and all other external factors. Being mindful requires us to be “present” and more aware of ourselves and, at the same time, it gives us the opportunity to make thoughtful parenting choices in the moment. 

Of course, it is easier said than done and requires a great deal of practice, motivation and perseverance, but in the end it is all worth the effort.  

When and Why Is It Needed? 

In everyday parenting, we experience stress in response to various challenges, particularly when it involves behavioral issues in our children. Even though these (in majority of the cases), are relatively harmless, they tend to trigger our defensive “fight or flight” reaction. That, in actuality, causes more of a threat to parenting than if we were to let go of our guard.

This is so because when we react, our response towards an unreasonable behavior is being noted by our children who gradually see it as an acceptable response to a threatening situation. There is scientific evidence that is also suggestive of a strong correlation between a parent’s emotional regulation skills and the child’s abilities to regulate their emotions. And, this is why it is imperative to adopt strategies that can support us in practicing mindful parenting.

Adopting Mindful Strategies 

By making informed and well-thought-out choices, we can learn and practice how to respond rather than react to the whims, cries, and tantrums of our children in a calm and effective manner.

1. Know yourself. 

The first and most important step involved in practicing mindfulness is being more aware of yourself. ln terms of parenting, this would require one to think back on the challenges that they encounter as part of their daily routine. And, subsequently, identify what triggers the mood to escalate in those challenging situations. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are there certain times during the day when you feel more vulnerable because there is too much to juggle in terms of personal commitments, family and childcare responsibilities, etc.
  • Is your child's behavior challenging your concept of “the perfect child”?
  • Is your child's behavior evoking fear or a traumatic memory from your own childhood which sends you in a tailspin of emotions?

Once we gain recognition of our own responses, we are generally better able to manage our emotions rather than “flipping our lid.” As goes the saying, “Anything predictable is preventable.”

2. Understand the developing brain

Like adults, children experience a wide range of emotions. Due to their inability and lack of self-discipline, they are not able to gain full control over their heightened emotions, thereafter resulting in meltdowns and outbursts. We can gain an increased understanding of the challenges if we turn to the science of cognitive psychology.

The human brain uses different regions, for different purposes.

Prefrontal cortex: This part of the brain controls executive functions such as regulating emotions, considering consequences, and being sensitive to others' needs and feelings. It only develops fully when an individual reaches their mid 20's.

Mid-brain: This part of the brain is driven purely by emotions. So, when this region of the brain is activated, the individual begins to show signs of inappropriate behavior due to some loss of control over their emotions.

Amygdala: This part of the brain is responsible for strong emotions which are backed by instinct and/or judgment. The individual normally feels threatened in this case. The threat could be real or perceived. Regardless, it sends the individual a trigger warning to take the “fight or flight” response. In such situations, access to the prefrontal cortex is blocked and the individual's ability to act based on reasoning halts completely. And, they are unable to control their behavior.  

3. Be emotionally present for your child. 

During outbursts and tantrums, we must not forget to listen to what our children have to say, even if we disagree with it. When we allow our own judgments to take over and meddle with the problematic behavior, it signals a warning sign to our own neural pathways. This sets off our defensive mechanism and the response intensifies into an overreaction.

As parents, we need to remember that our level of stress is highly contagious. So, staying calm is the best strategy that we can adopt in the moment. In these instances, we need to try to keep our cool and shift our focus and attention to our own bodies, so we can remain in control of our own responses and reactions. Practicing breathing exercises can help a great deal, too. 

Also, many examples from the Seerah of our Prophet, peace be upon him, can be found which particularly highlight anger management and controlling our emotions. 

Narrated Abu Dharr, The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said: 

“When one of you becomes angry while standing, he should sit down. If the anger leaves him, well and good; otherwise he should lie down.”

(Sunan Abi Dawud)

4. Forge a plan. 

In order to make things easier for yourself as well as your child in the advent of stressful situations, ask yourself some insightful questions:

  • How could this have been a more positive experience for myself and my child?
  • If I were faced with the same situation again, what could I do differently?
  • What skills do I need to develop so that I can handle this type of situation better?

By working our way around these, we will gradually learn to respond rightfully to our children's unruly behaviors, rather than fueling them. It is imperative here, that we set realistic goals for ourselves and devise a concrete plan. This plan of action needs to be worked on in partnership between the spouses and would entail helpful strategies on how parents can help each other (together or individually) cope mindfully to assist our children.   

Sustaining emotional bonds requires positive energy and attention. A prerequisite to this is trying to understand the other person’s point of view. When parents are easily triggered into overreaction, children either copy this reaction or find less obvious ways to communicate. This can damage the parent-child relationship. So, let's be wary and strengthen this beautiful bond by practicing mindfulness in our day-to-day parenting. 

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Umm Ahmed is an early childhood educator and writer who is passionate about seeking knowledge and passing it on to others. She and her husband are parents to three boys and are currently living in Abu Dhabi.


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