By John J. Spitzer, M.D., author of Finding God Again and Again. This post was originally published here and republished with permission.
Our lives are frequently challenged with work and other external pressures that often make it hard to parent. Sometimes we find ourselves trying to parent but are not in the moment, we are stressed or preoccupied. It is not much different with children and teens, although their stressors may seem trivial to us.
Starting with this post, I’ll try to cover the practice of mindfulness over the next 3 editions (mindfulness in infants, children, and teens) and hopefully you’ll find these tips helpful for you and your children.
The concept of mindfulness is a technique that helps us pay attention to the current moment with an accepting, gentle and non-judgmental attitude. This practice helps develop compassion, curiosity, focus and empathy, thereby relieving stress, minimizing anxiety and promoting happiness.
Our frontal lobes act as the Executive Office in our decision making and conscious behavior. The area behind these lobes, the pre-frontal cortex area, oversees focus, paying attention and cognitive control. This area develops quickly in our infancy and childhood years and is involved ultimately in the development of skills such as self-regulation, focus, judgement, and patience. As parents, we are instrumental in the development of mindfulness in our children. In fact, the best way to teach them this skill is by modeling it ourselves.
It is possible to begin to instill this concept with our infants, even right after birth. Newborns and infants can feel our bodies when we are holding them. Feeling relaxed, we can impart this feeling to them and help them relax as well. Being in the moment implies putting away our distractions, including electronics, no matter what is happening. While holding the baby quietly, we can make eye contact in a gentle and loving manner. Being in the moment, totally dedicated to them during the feedings, can allow the infants to bond with us in a relaxed and mindful way. They will actually start to copy our behavior.
When your infant becomes upset or cries, try to not let him or her make you agitated and anxious. You will end up tensing up your body. Instead, remain calm, maybe take some deep breaths, and remember that you are always in control. It is important that you feel confident in yourself. Acknowledge to yourself what is going on and think calmly how you are going to solve the problem. With time, it will become important for you to acknowledge that you can soothe your infant.
Finally, incorporate thankfulness into the moment. After all, how special is it that you are here with your infant? Feeling their breathing, the warmth of their body, and the wiggles of their legs on your chest and belly will help you feel thankful that you have brought this little creature into the world. It then becomes easy to feel that our lives are better because of our child.