- Mindfulness transforms relationships.
- Mindfulness helps calm your stress reactivity.
Do you want to raise cooperative children, children who want to help without threats? Do you want to raise happy, confident children?
Today, US culture is one of disconnection on multiple levels. The disruption of relational connection from lack of parental presence is compounded by parent behavior that does not model what parents expect of children. That is, parents order, threaten, punish children—they use coercion and power plays—yet expect children to act respectfully and cooperatively. It is hard to raise “good” children when parents model “bad” behavior.
In her book Raising good humans: A mindful guide to breaking the cycle of reactive parenting and raising kind, confident kids, Hunter Clarke-Fields offers a way to change these behaviors and learn to mindfully demonstrate the respectful behavior expected of your child. Instead of being reactive, you learn ways to get your child’s and your needs met in calm ways. Clarke-Fields calls it mindful parenting--
What is mindfulness? Clarke-Fields uses Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition: Mindfulness is “the awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn, 2018, p. xxxiv).
What is mindful parenting? It means being emotionally present, calm, authentic, and free, ready to grow and learn from parenting challenges. Mindful parents are self-compassionate, free themselves from toxic stress and limiting stories to let their authentic nature shine through. They embrace imperfection, emphasize empathy over obedience, wisdom over reactivity.
The first part of the book focuses on parent self-healing practices. One of the key aspects to self-calming is to spend more time in mindful non-reactivity, which can have an effect of diminishing stress-response triggers. Recall that when the stress response is activated, blood flow shifts away from higher-order thinking towards mobilization for muscle action (Arnsten, 2009). One just does not think as well.
On the other hand, the more mindful one is—presence that is nonjudgmental—the more practiced the brain becomes at maintaining calmness. This also shrinks defensiveness and blaming of others for one’s feelings, critical for parenting and everyday living.
Being mindfully present makes it easier to acknowledge and express your feelings (e.g., grumpy, annoyed) before they escalate and you lose your temper uncontrollably. Mindfulness also makes it more likely you will acknowledge your child’s feelings and not reactively try to fix them. You will listen and acknowledge, which is more likely to lead to cooperative compliance.
One of the many exercises to build up your mindful parenting repertoire is the “create your yell-less plan” (Clarke-Fields, 2019, pp. 48-50). Make a list of choices that you can consult (until they become automatic) when a difficult situation arises. Here are a few of her suggestions:
- Create or adopt a mantra (e.g., “It is what it is,” “Relax, release, smile,” “This will pass—breathe”).
- Sigh five or six times.
- Whisper instead of yelling (because it is hard to sound or stay angry).
- Use a funny voice or character.
- Walk it out or wait it out.
A peaceful home is one where mindful parents listen to and meet children’s needs. This contrasts with unmindful parenting, where parents express their stress reactions to children’s needs (e.g., through ordering: “Stop that!;” dismissing: “Don’t be such a big baby;” threatening: “If you don’t stop crying, I’ll give you something to cry about!”).
The book emphasizes techniques that align with nonviolent communication (Rosenberg, 2003) and with with Kate Silverton’s book, There is No Such Thing as Naughty. These techniques include observing nonjudgmentally the actions that are affecting your well-being and become aware of the feelings you are having in reaction to your observations; discern the needs your child is expressing through their feelings and actions; acknowledge their feelings and needs through reflective listening that expresses empathy and understanding; brainstorm together ways to coordinate your and your child’s needs. When needed (e.g., bathing), request concrete actions like you would speak to a friend, or set limits with humor (e.g., “Please don’t get in the tub. Don’t do it! You know I hate it when you’re clean! Ew, you’re using soap!,” Clarke-Fields, 2019, p. 121).
The book has many helpful suggestions for adolescents and adults, whether parents or not. Although the examples are most often about parents relating to children, the wisdom can be applied in adult-to-adult relationships as well. Staying mindful, no matter whom we face, can be a balm for enhancing neighborly community connection.
Arnsten, A.F.T. (2009). Stress signaling pathways that impair prefrontal cortex structure and function. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 10(6), 410-422.
Clarke-Fields, H. (2019). Raising good humans: A mindful guide to breaking the cycle of reactive parenting and raising kind, confident kids. Oakland: New Harbinger.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2018). Meditation is not what you think. NY: Hyperion.
Rosenberg, M.B. (2003). Nonviolent communication: A language of life, 2nd ed. Encinitas, CA: PuddleDancer Press.