Mom, there's chocolate cake in the fridge...and other mindful parenting tools
Parenting with intention, kindness, and compassion is at the top of my personal values. As a psychologist, I know that the way I interact with my children now impacts their inner dialogues for life.
Mindfulness can be a wonderful tool for guiding how we parent our adult selves or how we parent our children. We can become living examples of how to speak lovingly to others, listen deeply, and live in a way that is awakened. Because my children are young, I use simple mindfulness tools with them. These practices could easily be adapted to how we parent ourselves or interact with our loved ones.
Chocolate Cake in the Fridge
My mommy dark side shows up when I am overly busy and overwhelmed (we are late for school, one child cannot find his shoes while the other is pulling my flowers from the porch and dumping them on my living room carpet). I become irritable, snappy, pressured, and disconnected from my kids. Children are tuned in to their parent's moods much like a sea captain is to the weather. Children's lives depend on it, and they can sense the most subtle shifts. In our house, we have a code sentence we can use with each other when we notice that someone is overwhelmed or irritable (from Planting Seeds, a film by Plum Village for children). We say, "there is chocolate cake in the fridge." It feels safe to say this, it is something nice to think about, and it helps the other person shift perspective. My son will often tell me, "mom, there's chocolate cake in the fridge" just as I am about to slam the car door. I take a breath, refocus my attention on what is important, and take a moment to look into his eyes. "Thank you, Honey, I forgot to take a breath."
We have a small altar in our living area where our breathing bell sits. It is at a height that everyone can reach and all are invited to ring. When someone rings the bell, we stop what we are doing and take a breath. Then we thank the bell ringer for reminding us to breathe. I introduced the breathing bell when my youngest was 1 year old. Before he could walk, he would ask for it and then sit on the floor ringing the bell with delight over and over--watching his family start, stop, breathe. Start, stop breathe. And, he learned to breathe with it himself. Now the bell rings randomly throughout the day. It is a wonderful sound that connects us to each other and to our breath.
Children are natural yogis, popping into downward dog to look at the world upside down as early as 6 months. When my first son was 3, we began practicing yoga together (yoga was the only video he had access to and still the only video he has access to). He was thrilled. We particularly like the "Silly to Calm" video from Gaiam because it teaches emotion expression and regulation with yoga practices. Now my boys (2 and 5) practice together. They move their bodies, breathe, and play with the sacred geometry of yoga (who needs video games?).
I believe that how we put ourselves to sleep has a deep impact on how we digest our day. Sleep is as important as nutrition for the health of our children. While we sleep our brains flush waste and consolidate learning, our immune systems produce cytokines and antibodies, and our bodies produce growth hormones (particularly important for kids). To facilitate a restful mind and relaxed body, I practice mindful relaxation with my kids before bed.
Our night relaxation is similar to the guided mindfulness practices I use with clients. We begin by focusing on our breathing, taking a deep breath and counting down on the exhale...five, four, three, two, one. Then we take a brief body scan to notice sensations in our bodies and invite body parts to relax with our breath. I usually end relaxation by taking them on a journey (floating on a cloud or magic carpet) to the homes of people they love. We hover over our loved ones' homes and send them love with our breath (a kid metta meditation)
If you try some of these practices with your kids (or yourself), I would love to know how they turn out. In the meantime... don't forget, there's always a chocolate cake in the fridge!