Parenting is a journey filled with constant ups and downs, and sometimes we may be a loss at how to handle our lives. Mindfulness is a practice that all of us can benefit from. Hereby, the joy and excitement of introducing my first guest blogger, the wonderful Kitt from One Red Hazelnut! Kitt is an amazing friend and beautiful soul, one of those people who will always bring sunshine to even the gloomiest of days. Grab a cup or glass of your favorite beverage and enjoy, it’s a long one, but well worth the read!
5 Simple Tips For Cultivating Calm During the Emotional Storms of Parenting a Toddler
How ironic it is, that I sit down to write this after 3 days of apparent HELL from my 2 year old. I am not feeling very zen – I am feeling grumpy, exhausted and left wondering why I seem to be doing such a crappy job of, well, everything.
However, the very process of sitting down to write this blog is creating the perspective needed to start making sense of the ever revolving cycle of parenthood; that cycle which takes you from the high altitude bliss of the Divine made manifest, through the depths of fear, frustration, anger and guilt (oh, that ever present friend, Mother’s Guilt), before a dimpled, gappy-toothed smile and a “Mummy, I love you!” banishes all existential doubt from your mind and the world, nae, the whole of creation, makes perfect, crystal clear sense to you once again.
Of course, cycles being circular, the ecstatic high of motherhood will wane as surely as does our celestial sister, the moon, sending us crashing back into darkness and confusion before too long.
But of course, I am being overly dramatic. It is a consequence of writing to the lifeless sterility of my computer screen. However, if you take away the drama, the cyclic high and low of parenthood remains. It is a cycle which is mirrored in life at large, and just remembering that we are, like everything else, governed by cycles, by ups and downs, can help us let go of much of the high drama and emotion which can bubble up when dealing with a screaming, kicking, hitting, spitting beast of a toddler.
Mindfulness is Not All Zen
Something else which is of HUGE benefit is practicing a little mindfulness. However, before I start talking about HOW to be mindful, I want to clear up a misconception about mindfulness which can thwart many people’s attempts to practice it.
Mindfulness is NOT about being ‘zen’.
It is not about being an image of serenity or the manifestation of calm itself. It is not about being always composed and joyful and graceful. Let’s be fair on ourselves now – there is a reason the saints and sages of the world have tended to head off to caves and forests to live a life of solitude – they knew that having kids, families, jobs, bills, relationships, households and all other assortment of life accessories was definitely not conducive to a life of tranquility, introspection and blissful contemplation of the divinity within.
That being said, I believe that human consciousness has evolved to the point where we are becoming able to bring the skills, wisdom and insights of a contemplative practice into the practical life of family/career/house/relationships/etc. But that is another blog altogether.
So, if mindfulness is not about being a Buddha of blissful zen, what is it about?
It is simply a practice in developing conscious awareness.
Mindfulness is the practice of directing your conscious awareness to the fullness of the here & now. It is the practice of harnessing the full potential of your mind in order to respond to the present situation in the best possible way.
You can read more about mindfulness in my article What Is Mindfulness? However, here, I want to talk about the relevance and benefit of mindfulness for parents, in particular, parents of toddlers, although it is a valuable skill to have in your parenting tool belt no matter how old your kids are.
Mindfulness as a Parenting Tool
The problem which many of us face when confronted with difficult and stressful interactions with our little guys and gals, is not a lack of information or knowledge. Let’s face it, 99% of the time, we know what we SHOULD be doing, but for some reason we find ourselves not doing it. We’ve all read the books and googled the hell out of it, we have heard what other mums and the ‘professionals’ have to say on the subject, and on top of all that, each of us are gifted with the all-powerful (but often little used) Mother’s Intuition. A shortage of knowledge is not what is missing.
However, in the heat of the moment, when our little angel has spontaneously morphed into a mini beast of hellfire, there are times when we seem to get sucked into the reactive patterns which leave us shaking our heads in wonderment at what went wrong.
Well, mindfulness won’t make those temper tantrums magically disappear. What it can do though, is help you stay present in the moment. This doesn’t always make it any easier to deal with as such, but it allows you to make a conscious choice of how you respond to the situation, and to your little mini-beast.
Ultimately, practicing mindfulness means you are more able to consciously respond to the situation, rather than blindly reacting from previously held emotional patterns and habits. You will still have to deal with the tantrum, or whatever other particular emotional tussle is unfolding. The silver lining which mindfulness gives you is a greater ability to pause in the moment of madness and unite the emotion of your heart with the reason and clarity of your conscious mind to respond to your little one in the best way possible in that moment.
So, how do you cultivate the presence of mind to call on that inner place of calm clarity when the fireworks start? Of course, there are many different approaches, but following are 5 of simplest and most effective tricks, thoughts or exercises which have helped me over my short, 7-year journey of motherhood.
5 Tips for Cultivating Presence of Mind to Deal with the Emotional Minefield of a 2-Year Old
1. Practice Mindfulness When Everything Is Calm and Happy
Calling on an inner calm when there is a storm raging around you takes a little practice. So by far the biggest thing you can do to make it easier on yourself is to practice calling on that calm when you are surrounded by calm. We are naturally wired to attune ourselves to the emotions and energies which surround us, which is why it can be so easy to become reactive and mirror the negative emotions we are witnessing. However, it is possible, with practice, to over-ride that emotional short-circuit, and mindfulness is the tool to do so.
You don’t need to sit cross-legged on a cushion chanting Ohm for an hour. In fact, I recommend NOT doing that, especially if you are new to mindfulness. Becoming aware of what is inside our often ignored mind can be uncomfortable enough without adding to it physically. Make yourself comfortable, and start there with your practice. If that means sitting on a chair for 5 minutes of undisturbed quiet time, then that is where to start. Then you can gradually begin to build up to longer periods of time and add variety to how you are sitting or standing. It is also good to add variety to where you are practicing your quiet time so you can gain experience in connecting to that inner calm whether you are at home, in the garden or in the middle of the supermarket.
If you are completely new to mindfulness, you can listen to the guided meditation on my website: Get Connected
2. Invite Your Child to Join You
Although it can help in the beginning to find some alone time to tune in without so many distractions, as you become more steady in your practice it is a great idea to allocate short times for mindfulness while your kids are in the room. This way, they will see you taking time to sit and be still, both physically and mentally/emotionally. Despite all the lectures we can find ourselves disseminating, our kids will learn from what they see us doing, not what they hear us saying.
Set them an activity which they can settle to on their own for a few minutes, such as colouring or stacking blocks. Don’t choose a time when they are in front of a screen as their little minds will be fully absorbed and will miss the valuable opportunity to notice what you are doing. Then say to them that mum is going to have a little quiet time for listening to her breath. Then just go sit and practice your mindfulness in the same room as them.
In all likelihood, it won’t be long before they come over to you. You will have to judge what the best thing to do is; ask them if they would like to join you, ask them to give you 1 more minute, or hug them and say thank you for them giving you the space for your quiet time. Never force them to join in and don’t force them to give you space when they are beyond their comfortable alone-time limit. The idea here is to introduce the notion that mum needs a little quiet time sometimes. It is also an introduction to them taking quiet time for themselves, and they will only start to do this if it is perceived as something fun, comfortable and feel-good.
3. Be Aware Throughout the Day
Don’t wait for the fireworks to let off before you tune in to your child’s emotions and the energy between you both. Sometimes, tantrums or emotional strops are inevitable – after all, learning to navigate the emotional environment of being human can be a life-long lesson. Kids are only just beginning to experience many of these emotions, so we can’t expect them to be able to manage them and process them perfectly every time.
However, sometimes, tantrums, strops and arguments can be deterred if we have the awareness to notice the signs. Take time during the day to tune into your little one (or your not so little one – or, for that matter, your partner, your colleagues and anyone else you spend time with). Ask them how they are feeling. Also, ask yourself how you are feeling throughout the day as your kids and loved ones will be picking up on your emotional currents too. If you notice you or child are sliding towards frustration, boredom, distraction, hunger, discomfort, tiredness, impatience, etc. then take control and do something to change the mood. Take a stroll round the garden for 5 minutes, play a game together, have a snack, or a hug. Talk to your child about how they are feeling, before and after, so that they can start learning to become aware of their own emotions, moods and feelings too.
4. When the Fireworks Let Off, Remember the Conscious Responder’s ABCs
Despite our best efforts, sometimes the emotional meltdown will happen anyway. When it does, pause just long enough to remember the ABC of Mindfulness:
A – Acceptance.
Often, the frustration we experience in response to our child’s outburst is arising from an underlying feeling that it is ‘wrong’, or at least something which we do not want to happen. Of course, we DON’T want it to be happening, but that doesn’t change the fact that it IS happening. When we judge an experience as wrong, or not right, or wish it wasn’t happening, all we do is create resistance, which takes the awareness of your mind away from the present moment as it compares the present situation to an alternative – an alternative which is not happening right now. Not only that, but if we are able to accept the outburst, by not condoning it or condemning it, but simply accepting it and choosing to deal with it, it gives a gentle but clear message to your child that there is no resistance, and therefore no fight, within you. It may not calm them down, but it won’t add fuel to their fire.
B – Breathe.
Taking a few deep breaths before you respond to your child will create a few precious moments of space within you. And within those few moments, if you have been practicing during the calm times, then it will give you the presence needed to make a choice in how you are going to respond, rather than reacting immediately with little thought.
C – Compassion.
Remember, they are still learning (as are many of us adults!). Try to see the situation from their angle; your child is not doing it on purpose, they are not trying to ‘push your buttons’. They are trying to communicate or trying to exert their will on their environment and becoming frustrated that they are not achieving the results they want. Being compassionate doesn’t mean that you give in to them and allow them to have whatever they want. As the adult in the relationship it is your job to set the safe and loving boundaries which will allow your child to grow and explore their environment – both their inner environment of their own hearts and minds, and their outer environment of the world around them. Being compassionate simply means that you take a moment to understand where they are coming from and try to direct the situation in a way which will help them grow and learn in harmony with the people and environment around them. Sometimes, that means sticking to your guns and saying no, but be aware of HOW you are communicating to your child. Lengthy explanations justifying your choice are usually not the best approach with a toddler, but making sure that you are communicating your love for them alongside your “No” will go a long way to reassuring them that although their present actions might not be too great, it is not detracting from the fact that you still believe that they are great.
5. Take Time to Just BE With Your Child
If you are anything like me, it can be easy to find yourself caught up in a whirlwind of DOING. Making breakfast, doing the dishes, driving the school run, changing nappies, writing on the computer, making lunch, teaching classes…….. The list can go on and on, and on.
If we are not mindful of the importance of spending quality time BEING with our child, rather than DOING things for them, we can easily become disconnected. Take time each and every day to get into your child’s world of sensory experience and association. Don’t always have an agenda or a plan. Let your child lead the activities within the safe but creative parameters and boundaries which you as the adult have set for them.
As you spend this precious time with them, practice your mindfulness to tune into them as an individual, as a real little person. In our duty to be a good parent we can become lost in the roles of ‘mother’ and ‘child’. Take some time to get to know them as the separate and individual person they are growing from, and into.
It is great to do this out in nature, where our sensory experience is at its highest. Take a walk together in the park or woods and touch the trees together, notice the colours, the smells. Share with your child what you are experiencing and feeling, and listen to what they are experiencing and feeling too, without the need to always be ‘teaching’. Give them some time to teach you about how they experience and perceive the world. As adults who have moved from a primarily sensory perception of the world to a mental and conceptual perception, we can learn a lot from our little ones!
Mindfulness Is an Awareness Tool, Not A Magic Spell To Prevent Difficult Situations
Remember, mindfulness is a practical exercise in awareness – awareness of your own body, mind and emotions; those of your child and the other people in your life; and of your environment. It is not a silver bullet which makes life difficulties and stresses magically disappear. Dealing with life still takes effort and parenting will still test your limits and stretch your boundaries. However, with a simple but steady mindfulness practice at hand to call on in those times of impending doom and emotional cataclysm, you will find yourself more able to navigate your way through the chaos safely, picking up those valuable nuggets of worldly wisdom along the way.
Kitt Keawwantha is the author of Purposeful Joy:
Purposeful Joy “In this simple, down-to-earth guide, Kitt Keawwantha outlines the gentle yet powerful practice of Purposeful Joy: A practical approach to actively harness your potential for bringing authentic and loving joy to each moment. With everyday examples and relaxed narrative, she outlines the differences between Intuitive Joy and Sensory Joy, giving you practical exercises and inner tools to appreciate and celebrate moments of each and every day. “
Get your own copy here!