The Power of Mindful Parenting
Written by Scott Spradlin, LPC, LMAC

The Power Parents Possess

We all know the power parents possess by way of their influence on us. Whether we come from a family wrecked in the chaos of parental neglect and abuse, or if we come from a lovely thriving family rich with security and validation, we know, the apple doesn’t fall from the tree. Invalidating environments that ignore or punish children’s emotional experiences, and more so their expressions of painful emotions undermine their confidence and leave them bereft of emotion regulation skills. Emotion coaching families, on the other hand, tend to accept the emotional lives and expressions of their children which nourishes self-confidence and secure attachments within the family. Children who are validated by emotion coaching parents tend to grow up to be healthy, integrated persons who go on to form their own meaningful and lasting friendships and families of their own.

“As children develop, their brains ‘mirror’ their parent’s brain. In other words, the parent’s own growth and development, or lack of those, impact the child’s brain. As parents become more aware and emotionally healthy, their children reap the rewards and move toward health as well.”

— Daniel J. Siegel, MD, The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, Survive Everyday Parenting Struggles, and Help Your Family Thrive

Embracing the Power of Parenting

As we grow into adulthood and have our own children, or become stepparents, we can embrace our roles as parents and cultivate the powers we have to nurture our kids toward love, meaning, and connection. Starting from birth onward, if we exercise intention, we can increase our skills in nurturing our children with validation, skills training, and limit setting.

The following practices can be helpful in learning how to connect with our children and will help us to embody the love we have for our children. And love is, as Viktor Frankl writes: “…the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him.” He goes on further to say in the same entry from Man’s Search for Meaning, that the loving person has a profound influence on the beloved. In this case, imagine that he is speaking to us about our love for our children, as he writes, “Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.”

All of us parents, stepparents, or grandparents care for our children. And in our hearts, each of us wants to love well and rigorously. Even when we fail to put love into action, the truth remains: we want to love our children with embodied tenderness. And whatever our present emotion coaching skill set happens to be, whether excellent or poor, we can do better. We can grow our skills as we grow our kids. We can grow with them. Fallibly and surely.

Where We Start

The most powerful, accessible, and essential skill in parenting is mindfulness. Mindfulness helps us with recollectedness, a self-gathering of scattered attention that we harness with a gentle and relentless return to ourselves where we can access our wise mind. A day’s activities can fracture our attention and impede our intention. When our intention is impeded, we are at higher risk of over-reacting and forgetting our mission to love our kids.

Mindfulness helps us to remember who we are, and who we wish to grow into as wise and loving parents. As we start each day we journal or list our intentions for the day, with respect to how we desire to engage our children. Perhaps we list keywords or phrases to keep us connected to our intentions, for example with some inspiration from Daniel Siegel’s works in The Yes Brain, No-Drama Discipline, and The Whole-Brain Child we might write down:

  • Be gentle
  • Validate
  • Soothe
  • Be responsive, not reactive
  • Win the relationship, not the argument.
  • Engage don’t enrage
  • Connect first then redirect behaviors

Mindfulness and Your Emotions

Let’s not forget that we adults are emotional creatures, too. We have our own histories, as noted above, with learning to be at peace with our emotions or to live in emotional chaos. Our emotions are an essential part of human connection. Without them, we wouldn’t bond with our kids, and this whole discussion would be moot. As we work on being emotionally skillful this will benefit our kids. Remember that our emotions:

  • Give us information about our safety and social connection.
  • Mobilize us to effective action.
  • Communicate to others, especially our kids, even when we are unaware.
  • Sometimes are disproportionate to situations with our kids.

Important mindfulness for emotion regulation skills to remember and practice :

  • Label and validate our emotions. This helps us know what we’re feeling, and likely why.
  • Modulate the intensity of our emotional communication. We can be intentional with facial expressions, gestures, and words to connect with kids effectively.
  • Opposite action. If we’re too angry or irritable to connect with our kids, the emotions don’t match the situation. We can soften these emotions by acting opposite of the emotions by half-smiling, walking gently, and speaking with prosody.

Taking Our Time

“For fast-acting relief, slow down.”

Lily Tomlin

In all things, we can take our time. We don’t need to be in a hurry to pounce, lecture, or chastise. These reactions tend to drive an emotional wedge between us and our children. Our hearts crave connection, just as theirs do. To slow ourselves down to the speed of intention, we can use the skill S.T.O.P., which stands for:

Stop.

Take a step back.

Observe.

Proceed mindfully.

In the words of Lily Tomlin, “For fast-acting relief, slow down.”

As we continue to cultivate mindfulness we find compassion for ourselves as parents. We are doing the best that we can, and we need to do better. We improve and grow into fallible stability with our kids, who, through our dialectical dance, teach us as much as we teach them. Maybe more so.

Scott Spradlin, LPC, LMAC

Scott-Spradlin
Scott completed DBT intensive training with Marsha Linehan, Ph.D. and Linda Dimeff, Ph.D. in Seattle, WA. He is the author of “Don’t Let Your Emotions Run Your Life: How Dialectical Behavior Therapy Can Put You in Control.”

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