“The greatest gift you can give (yourself or anyone else) is just being present.” – Rasheed Ogunlaru
For the past few days I have been listening to interviews on parenting as part of a free online parenting event called Parenting with Presence. Not only have I been inspired, but I have learned some techniques that I want to incorporate into my parenting immediately. Additionally, just by immersing myself in the world of conscious parenting for short amount of time each day, I find myself interacting more consciously and intentionally with my children.
The conference ends today, but the recordings of some of the interviews are still available for three days for free, or the whole conference is available for purchase. At the very least, the bios of the participants are a great resource for future reading and researching.
I would like to share a few highlights of the interviews I have listened to so far.
The first talk I listened to was Mindful Parenting with Jon Kabat-Zinn and Myla Kabat-Zinn. As a fan of their book Everyday Blessings on parenting mindfully, I was excited to hear them speak.
One thing that really made an impact on me was about the importance of looking behind our reactions to our children’s behavior to find the emotion driving the reaction. When we can uncover this emotion, we can use it to inform the present moment. Typically for me, my reaction is so fast that the thought or feeling behind it is completely obstructed. This happens most often in situations involving my daughter’s aggression towards her younger, still toddling, brother. When I look back at my reactions, I see that there is a desire to protect him and to “punish” her for her aggression. As a more conscious parent, I don’t want to punish my children for their aggression. I want them to understand that aggression is often the result of a natural surge of energy stemming from anger or frustration, and that instead of suppressing it, they can find healthy outlets for that energy. I would love to be able to practice this, to help give me that pause that makes the difference between reaction and response, and help me to respond more kindly.
Myla Kabat-Zinn gave a great practical tip to use when that anger or frustration arises. When we start to feel angry or frustrated, one way to return to the present moment is to bring ourselves back into our body by noticing the feeling of our breath and the feeling of our feet on the floor. Another speaker suggested, noticing the color of the child’s eyes; something that anchors you to that moment with that child. Once we are back in the present moment, we can ask ourselves “What does my child need from me in this moment?” Or some other question that focuses our perspective on the situation at hand and not our interpretation of it.
She advised that, the more you practice being this returning to your body mindfulness in non-stressful moments, the more easily you’ll be able to return to the present moment in stressful moments.
The second talk I listened to was What Nobody Tells You: The Real Secret to Raising Successful Children by Jacqueline Green and Shelly Lefkoe.
The “secret to being a successful parent” that they talked about is to be aware of what children are concluding about themselves from their interactions with us. When your child walks away from you, ask yourself, “What did they just conclude about themselves from that interaction?” Do they feel loved? Heard? Validated? Or unimportant? I liked this question. It helps return your perspective to one of discipline as teaching rather than discipline as punishment.
Another interesting comment from this interview was that often when we are angry, the anger is motivated by feelings of fear and powerlessness. And frustration is a milder form of anger, also fueled by powerlessness. Like the talk on mindfulness by Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn, they also suggested looking for the fear or limiting belief behind our reaction. For example, when your child ignores you, your underlying belief might be “I’m not important” or “My Child SHOULD listen to me”. Instead of responding in anger to that feeling of fear or powerlessness, they advise parents to return to the present moment and respond without the fear, either making physical contact with your child to ensure they hear you, or if they are ignoring you, simply saying, “Honey, I don’t like to be ignored. I don’t ignore you.”
Jacqueline Green mentioned that one of her frequent pieces of advice is to aim for lower standards with your children and accept their mistakes. When your child hits another child, instead of thinking, “That’s not acceptable!” Think, “Okay, well that wasn’t very nice. How could we be nicer the next time?” She emphasized that it isn’t that we want less for our children, but by lowering our standards for their behavior, we give them room to make mistakes and learn from them, ultimately reaching a higher standard of behavior.
My favorite interview was Passionately Parenting with Alanis Morissette. I have to say that I wasn’t initially drawn to this interview because, although I like her music, I didn’t know what Alanis Morissette would have to offer in terms of parenting wisdom. It turns out that she has a lot. This interview was not only inspiring in terms of her views and her parenting, but now I just want to hang out with her. She is that cool!
In her interview, Alanis Morissette talked about the importance of staying connected and present with your child when they are upset, describing how she and her husband remind each other to, “Sit with it, sit with it, stay, stay, stay,” during difficult times with their son.
She talked about how important it is for parents to understand the stages of emotional development in children, so they can more consciously meet their children’s needs at those critical times. She described the stages mentioned in Harville Hendrix’s book Keeping the Love You Find, which is inexplicably, yet conveniently, available HERE.
Stages When Someone Says No:
- Denial – She can’t really mean no. I’m going to whine until she changes her mind.
- Anger – You are a terrible mother. I hate you!
- Bargaining – I just want a treat now. I haven’t had one today. I won’t ask for one tomorrow.
- Disappointment – Crying (this is when we allow space for our children to feel their feelings).
- Acceptance – Acceptance that there is not treat forthcoming and if their feelings were heard they can move on.
I really appreciated her take on non-judgement of behavior. She advised to “separate the behavior from the little person.” She sees the behavior as neutral as in that it may or may not work given the context – hitting your siblings isn’t okay, but if you are in boxing match, hitting is expected. She says to her son, “That behavior is NOT awesome, but YOU’RE awesome. Now lets look at that behavior. I really liked this one and have started to use it with my daughter to remember to parent more kindly. I have been saying, “I love you, but I didn’t love that behavior. Can we talk about that?” or “How could you do that more kindly?”
And another gem that I will definitely put into practice was her mantra of “Do no harm.” She advised on those days when you just don’t have anything left to give, just being there and giving your quiet presence is often good enough. Instead of yelling or otherwise giving into frustration when you are worn out, simply be with your children and don’t expect more from yourself. “Do no harm.”
The last interview I will mention in this post is Mindful Motherhood with Cassandra Vieten. Cassandara Vieten had a wealth of practical parenting tools.
She also talked about the importance of being with your child in the moment of their upset and suggested the following inner monologue: My child is crying. What is she trying to tell me? I’m going to figure this out and try to help her. I’m going to let go of what I think should be happening and accept what is. I’m going to let go of my ideas of who I am as a mother, what this all means and just be here 100% present in this moment.
She also compared a child’s emotions to waves or a storm on the seas. When an actual storm happens, we cannot stop the storm, we can just hold our children and keep them safe until it passes. It is the same with emotional storms. Instead of trying to make the feelings go away, just sit with your child and keep them safe until the storm passes.
She acknowledged that it can be difficult to be mindful and present with our children when they are experiencing strong emotions and suggested that, when something happens with your child (outburst, tantrum, etc). Think, “Okay here we are. My child is doing _______ or feeling _________ . I am feeling ___________. What can we do?” And make a decision based on the situation as you see it in that moment without external or internal input. She advised to make eye contact, voice contact, skin contact with your child to connect to them.
She noted that there are times that this rational thought is not immediately accessible when we are wrapped up in strong emotions, we have the choice to go into “survival mode.” To do this, she said, focus on the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet and breathe, and just stay present with your child until the moment passes.
That is all I have for now, but my hope is that some of what resonated with, might also resonate with others who didn’t have a chance to listen to the talks. More interviews have become available now and I look forward to learning, and sharing, more.
Have you listened to any inspiring talks on parenting lately? Do you have any bits of inspiration to share?