March 1, 2022

Your Own Practice

How having your own mindfulness practice helps your child develop theirs

The most significant impact you have on helping your child learn emotional regulation, compassion, and resilience is to practice them yourself. Children learn volumes, from how to handle stress, to how to show emotions, to how to treat others, by observing your actions. 

Although this can feel daunting as a parent, there are gifts to be found in the way your child learns from observation. You have the opportunity to teach critical skills simply by committing to your own journey of increased mental wellbeing. 

You don't have to master or even feel competent to teach all the regulation skills, far from it. Simply by committing to learning alongside your kids, you model openness, courage, and curiosity. By learning mindfulness, you teach your kids how to do the same.  

Modeling tips: 

  • Perfection is not the goal. Progress is. Your child will learn just as much from you when you fail as when you succeed. You are human, and parenting is hard. Your child will learn what resilience and compassion are by watching how you respond to the setbacks, not by seeing you as perfect. 
  • Label your emotions: Help your child learn empathy and build an emotional vocabulary by labeling your feelings out loud and making "feelings talk" part of your family culture. Be as specific as possible. Instead of "sad" or "mad," try to use more nuanced vocabulary. Sad can be "lonely" or "disappointed," and mad might be "annoyed" or "furious."
  • Practice self-compassion. When you mess up, show your child what self-compassion looks like by engaging in an intentional self-compassion exercise. Talk to them about what you are doing and why. Teach them it is okay for you to mess up, which permits them to respond with grace when they do. For example, say, "Oh no! I burnt dinner. It feels disappointing when I ruin dinner. We all make mistakes, though. I am going to be kind and forgive myself instead of getting mad at myself." 
  • Give your kids opportunities to practice forgiveness by apologizing to them when you mess up. Your child won't learn the art of forgiveness if they don't get the chance to practice it. The next time you say or act in a way you wish you hadn't, own it, apologize and give them practice forgiving you. 
  • Give yourself space to feel the full range of your emotions. If you want emotionally intelligent kids, it's critical to allow them to experience and accept the full range of their feelings, not just the happy ones. Claim the difficult emotions you feel and then model a healthy coping skill. For example, tell your child you are feeling anxious about a work project. Drink some water or tea, hug a loved one, do a meditation, or take some deep breaths while your child watches you and you explain what you are doing and why. 
  • Be willing to try new things that feel scary or embarrassing. Some of these activities can feel silly and embarrassing to do, even in front of our children. If we aren't willing to try them, our children won't either. Model courage by trying something new. Tell your child you feel nervous, but you are trying it anyway. You can engage in the exercises' imagination aspect and share what you see during guided imagery or other activities. 
  • Have your own "toolbox" of things that help you calm down and regulate in times of stress. Whether going for a walk or locking yourself in the bathroom to breathe for two minutes, have a list of tools ready to help yourself cope with stress. Explain what you are doing and why so that your child gains context about how and when to use calm-down tools.  
  • Enlist your child's help, making it a "family" mission to learn calm-down and regulation skills. Are you trying to help your child learn how to take deep breaths to calm down? Try asking them to help you remember to take deep breaths when you feel stressed. Help them learn to link the behavior with the calming technique in you, which will then translate to them more easily.
  • Model stillness. Parents spend much of their time "doing." Sometimes, let yourself just be. Children absorb the stress and busyness of their parents, so be aware of your stress levels and how you are managing it.
  • Prioritize self-care. Self-care looks different for every person. No matter what it looks like to you, find something that brings you joy and peace, and prioritize it in your life. You inadvertently care for your child when you care for yourself. Self-care doesn't have to look like an hour-long massage but can be allowing yourself to watch your favorite show at night instead of doing laundry or choosing the dinner YOU want once in a while instead of always making something your child wants. Find one small thing, even if it's simple, and allow yourself the "luxury" of doing it. 

Although you might feel tempted to set aside your "you time" to make more space for your kids needs, it is important to remember the huge impact you can have on teaching your child mindfulness, self-compassion and self-care by practicing them yourself. Try a tip or two listed above and see how it goes. Chat with your child about what you are doing and why and see if the work you are doing doesn't spill over into their lives as well.

If you are looking for some wonderful guided meditations just for parents, check out the grown-ups section in the Wondergrade app!

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