Lately, Happinez-editor Nicole had been short-tempered more often than she'd want to be. That’s why she took Mindful Parenting classes, hoping that her whole family would benefit.
‘Look at everything always as though you were seeing it for the first or the last time’
- Betty Smith
In my Mindful Parenting class, there are several others –mainly mothers- who suffer from it too: stress. Perhaps they suffer even more from it than ‘average’ parents: one woman’s daughter has an anxiety disorder, another woman’s son has anger issues, another one suffers panic attacks herself. All of a sudden, my own family seems to be quite normal.
No matter what your children are like, the teacher comforts us: most of us react to stress in the same way. We’re more impulsive, get angry and act snappy more easily, we’re worried more often. We act on autopilot, which is the opposite of consciously being in the here and now. And if we reply in the same way often, these replies pave their way in your brain – like a bicycle tire in loose sand. When you’re angry or stressed, you can’t think clearly anymore and you take the most popular path. The next bike (reaction) will use the same furrow.
What’s your stress reply?
But there’s hope: reacting differently is something you can learn. You create new connections in your brain, new paths to take. But how? It has to do with awareness – getting to know your stress replies. The ‘triangle of awareness’ will help. Think of a situation (a fight with your child, a conflict with your partner) and observe what you feel inside your body, which emotion is connected to this, which thought comes to mind and what you tend to do next. Important, we learn, is to look at it without judging. This is simply what the mind does, what we’re programmed to do. Once you see your automatic patterns, you can choose to react differently. And the more often you do so, the easier it gets.
Open your eyes (and stop talking!)
An example. When my son grabs the tablet, I usually reply with an automatic ‘No, we’re not playing Minecraft / Subway Surf / Angry Birds.’ But last week, I shut up and let him do what he wanted to do (I had taken a sneak peek in the textbook already). As it turned out, he didn’t want to play a ‘stupid game’, he started a drawing programme and made a beautiful drawing – which gave way to a nice conversation. Such a hopeful perspective: if you reply differently, different things happen.
The first class ends with another eye opener: because of your history with someone (your child, your partner, friends, even yourself), you’ve created an image, and that image influences the way you are around a person. Labels we’ve given them –we all do that: ‘he gets angry / sad quickly’, ‘she is very smart / shy’- cause us to focus on behavior that reestablishes this label. This narrows our attention, so we don’t see everything else. If you try to have a beginners mind, you’ll be more open, making room for change – in your child and in your relationship. So please take a look around you this week, just as if you’re an alien, and enjoy the surprises!
*See your child with fresh eyes, as if you have never seen them before. This helps you to make new connections
*Pick a routine activity to do every day –brush your teeth, bike to work, have a shower, get dressed – and try to focus on the activity entirely
*Do a short meditation each day: for instance by mindfully drinking your coffee.
*And pay close attention to each bite of your dinner: try to taste the best you can. This is a fun thing to do together with your children. It helps you to start eating quietly and gives you an immediate subject to talk about: where does this food come from, how did it arrive on your plate? You teach them a little mindfulness too.
Text: Nicole van Borkulo - Photo: Tara Evans