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Three Steps to Becoming a Mindful Parent

Take a breath, look at the situation, and try something.

Alison Escalante, M.D., is a pediatrician and parenting expert. Her recent TEDx talk, The Parenting “ShouldStorm,” provides helpful and science-based perspectives for becoming a mindful parent.

First, Escalante explains the parenting culture we live in, wherein it is easy to feel criticized for every move you make. There is extreme perfectionism in parenting, leading parents to be anxious and stressed-out, leading to raising anxious and stressed-out kids.

The key to overcoming what Escalante calls the Should Storm:

  1. Sigh
  2. See
  3. Start

As a parent of five kids (three of whom we adopted from foster care), I really appreciated Escalante's words. I could easily see how applying this, and helping my kids apply this, could improve the peace and growth in our family.

Here's a brief rundown of how it works:

The Power of "Sighing:" Often when a situation comes up in parenting, such as the kids fighting, it's easy to react to the emotions of the situation. This only increases the tension. Moreover, it stops the child from being able to make their own decisions. Instead, the parent storms in and forces a "should" on the situation. Instead of reacting, take a deep sigh. The slow inhalation immediately pulls you from the fight-or-flight response. You calm your system and can think (and feel) much more clearly.

See (Look at the Situation): After you've taken your deep sigh, look at the situation. Don't make any snap decisions. Mindfulness is all about awareness of context. Rather than assuming you know what's going on, get some context. What's going on with the situation? What does this situation require? Rather than having some immediate response, each situation could be dealt with situationally. After you've taken your deep sigh, you'll be able to examine the situation calmly and with curiosity, not anxiety.

Start: Try something, whatever you believe the situation requires. That "something" may literally be nothing. In the TEDx Talk, Escalante explains how in one parenting situation, her child was angry about not getting something they wanted. Instead of reacting and getting angry back, instead of throwing "shoulds" at her child, she sighed, looked at the situation, and decided to just sit silently and let the situation play-out. It took about 10 minutes for her child to calm themselves down, but eventually, her child came to his mother after having calmed himself down and apologized for his behavior.


The key to mindful parenting it seems, it not being reactive to situations ourselves so we can help our children regulate their own emotions. Rather than handling the situation for them, we could help our kids learn how to become more mindful themselves so that they can regulate their emotions and make better decisions. This is what will build confidence both in you as a parent and in your children.

Crucial to this approach is not being obsessed with perfection. Rather than following some playbook, you're actually making decisions you believe are best in the moment, which sometimes won't be the best. You'll make mistakes. Oh well. At least you're actually learning. At least you're actually trying something and getting better at handling the craziness of parenting and life. Through the process, you will create a more peaceful home, because you'll learn to trust each other more.

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