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Why Mindfulness for Parents Matters More Now More Than Ever

As COVID-19 stresses everyone to the max, 10 minutes of mindfulness can help.

Source: Maureen Barlin/Flickr
Source: Maureen Barlin/Flickr

I’m having a hard time managing my moods. COVID-19 is a time of heightened anxiety for everyone, even for those not working on the front lines of medicine, food supply, and emergency response. For those who are trying to be good parents and keep working from home, or going out to work in a dangerous setting, I can only begin to imagine how hard it is to stay calm, focused, and available to your kids.

It seems it’s getting tougher, not easier, as this time of social self-quarantine moves deeper into the second month, with no real end in sight. I’m encountering more impatient people on my daily walks, and the parents and children in my life are getting more frayed, not less.

My own personal answer to coping in the time of COVID-19 is mindfulness. If I make time to do 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation once a day, I’m more patient and less perturbed. I’m more likely to feel grateful for what I have, less likely to feel angry about what I can’t do right now. It’s funny, but on January 19, just before the whole COVID thing blew up, I posted this post about mindfulness, and now, just three months later, I need it more than ever.

Sara Lazar is a Harvard neuroscientist who has investigated the benefits of yoga and mindfulness practices. The research she and her colleagues are doing shows that mindfulness reduces the neural indicators of stress and anxiety, improves attention and memory, and promotes self-regulation and empathy. There are many reasons to be a mindful human being—you’ll be calmer, healthier, more reasonable, less stressed, more pleasant to spend time with—but the reasons to be a mindful parent may be even more urgent.

Children have an uncanny ability to identify their parents’ emotional buttons, and to push them, which can lead to their parents getting angry and behaving badly. A mindful parent learns to recognize when their child is pushing their buttons. If you’re practicing mindfulness, you’ll still feel the emotional reactions, but instead of shouting or punishing your child, you can take a few deep breaths, analyze what’s happening, and respond appropriately, with maturity. In that moment, you’re modeling emotion regulation, and increasing the likelihood your child will eventually learn to regulate their own childish responses to problems and stressors.

Being mindful doesn’t mean you won’t feel anger, disappointment, irritation, exhaustion, and all the other negative emotions that are part of everyday life with children, especially now. It does mean you’ll be more aware of what you’re feeling, and less likely to act on those feelings, more likely to act in your child’s best long-term interest.

Now more than ever, your child needs you to be calm, strong, and present. Do what you need to do to be that person. If you’re not managing to do that, try taking 10 minutes once a day for yourself, and see what happens.