By Megan McQueen
As a parent, I’ve found that the path to my best self is space. I need space to cultivate my interests, but also space between an event and my reaction. At that moment, I can collect myself, calm myself, and choose how I want to react. Putting this simple concept into action is much more challenging than it seems. It takes practice, and meditation is that practice.
Some people may think that meditation is religious, so you may want to discuss these methods as mindfulness practice instead of meditation.
Consider using these ideas and research to guide your parenting education classes:
Why? Much research shows parents are more responsive to their children after practicing mindfulness. Many parents say they get lost in the moment and forget to use parenting strategies. The simple practice of focusing on our breathing can have ripple effects on our emotions, responses, and relationships. We practice non-judgment on our thoughts, which helps us remember to extend this to others. Consider learning more about how mindfulness can support children. (These links are focused on early childhood but translate to other ages as well.) Begin your practice and notice any effects. Be aware; it may take consistency and time to see change.
Add mindfulness moments to start and end your classes. Centering ourselves can be powerful bookends to your classes. A moment to close our eyes, take a deep breath, and let go of the outside world can help bring presence to your time together. Try extending this for several breaths or several minutes. Ask families to choose an intention for your time together to give them some focus. End classes with another deep breath. Ask families to check in with how they are feeling at the end of each course. Practicing this simple technique of taking a breath can be a strategy families can take with them and use to center themselves outside of class. It allows them to stop, think about what choice they would like to make, and access tools you discussed in your classes.
Model mindfulness. Anyone can practice mindfulness. Looking into your families’ faces (if culturally acceptable), greet them by name, smile, and tell them you are grateful for their presence in your group. These skills, just like any other, can be explicitly taught. If a member of your class asks a challenging question, you can pause, take a breath, and say, “I’m going to take a breath to center myself and give myself a chance to pause and think about how to respond.” Modeling and teaching steps to pause before we react can be a game-changer for us all, especially when parenting.
Share techniques to practice at home. Consider giving families a couple of strategies to try in their homes. My favorite idea is to take a moment to really hug their children. If people are open to physical touch, suggest they embrace their child in the morning and evenings for longer than usual. When they would typically part, stick with the hug just a moment longer. Close their eyes. Think about how deeply they love their child. How tall are they? What does their body feel like against their child’s? Soak in their scent and the fleeting moment. Where did they feel the love in their own body?
There is no “perfect parent.” Integrating mindfulness into parenting strategies can help us all be more gentle with ourselves and each other. We may be able to let go of stress easier and hold on to moments of joy. Bringing mindfulness to your parenting education classes offers you and your families an opportunity to build your mindfulness toolboxes while practicing these skills in real time together.
- Hurry Up! A Book About Slowing Down by Kate Dopirak, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal
- Listen by Gabi Snyder, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
- Mindful Kids (50 Mindfulness Card Activities) by Whitney Stewart, illustrated by Mina Braun
- Quiet by Tomie de Paola
- The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld
For Teens and Adults:
- Meditation Practice Videos by Calm
- Mindfulness for Beginners / Mindfulness Para Principiantes by Jon Kabat-Zinn
- Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff
- The Self-Compassion Workbook for Teens by Karen Bluth
Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, imparting a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup.