As parents, we often feel that our children may have better opportunities in life if they involve themselves in everything life has to offer. However, focusing on trusting the process, what our children are interested in and passionate about is key. It is wonderful for young people to value hobbies, likes, passions, such as art, music, dancing, sport.
There is a lot of pressure out there to do as much as we can. Encouraging children to enjoy their own free time starts with looking at ourselves as parents and facing our perfectionistic expectations on ourselves and perhaps our children. The premise of mindful parenting is that life is never fully certain. Our own resilience as parents will grow as we continue to grow as a family. We can practice being focused on the moment, catching ourselves in a good moment or a challenging moment, without expecting everything to always go according to plan. Meal times are a perfect opportunity to do this, spending time talking as a family, asking for help setting the table, preparing the salad. Being conscious of how the food tastes, who enjoys and does not enjoy what is on the table, the colours, the nutrients.
Homework is another way we can use mindfulness. Looking at what did and did not work for us and for the children. Figuring out new strategies, time management plans. Perfectionism wears the whole family out. We must learn to free up some space in our minds in order to role model this for our children. Working on our own awareness can encourage the process of living more in the moment, rather than being consumed by how much is going on in other families around us. It is also good to understand how we were raised, and which of those values we would like to bring into our family, and which we would like to let go of.
Developmentally, it is important to know that the most valuable times are those when our children have unscheduled quality time, involving nature, family, friends and play. This encourages children to use their imagination, to be mindful, to learn to love their own company. The brain develops naturally at its own pace. Therefore, a balance of scheduled and unscheduled time is crucial. When it comes to technology, children need the balance too, which is why it helps when we set time limits which we feel are well balanced. It is important to note that in today’s times, most young people (and adults!) find technology time to be unwinding and mindless, which can be helpful at some points in the day.
Balance is crucial to a healthy, content lifestyle - Good health including sleeping and eating well, getting the right nutrients, moving the body through enjoyable exercise, the balance between work and play. Our children will learn all this not through our words but through our role modelling.
Play is an important feature in creating resilience, strength, imagination, independence and positive social experiences. Unstructured play involves children using their instincts to figure out how they want to use their free time. Leave out some recycled goods, some paints and other goods lying around the house, or discover a tree, a garden and some flowers and stones. Given these, children will create an imaginative world. Other unstructured play can involve some of the old-style games such as card games, Simon Says, Chess, Monopoly and the list goes on. The important focus is that children choose how they would like to entertain themselves.
Research also shows that children will learn a lot more from reading. Exposure to lots of books has been shown to be really successful in building awareness and knowledge. Take children to the library or get out the old books, organise a book share with class mates. Role model for children by picking up a book of interest too. If we want our children to grow up to be enthusiastic readers, share this as a valued activity in the home.
Holding self-compassion, going a bit easy on ourselves as parents, is essential, as parenting can be challenging. What also helps is understanding old habits and letting go of those that don’t work. Protecting family meals and family down time encourages the ability to communicate with each other, to share experiences, to enjoy free time and encourage children to truly love their own company. Allow this to become a natural part of the week, no matter how time poor we are. We want to catch ourselves when we feel we are getting drawn to the pressures of what we think we should be doing.
A suggestion by Dr Mark Bertin, “How Children Thrive”, is to use a mindful calendar of the week, filling in what we want to prioritise as a family, making sure to include family time, down time, play time, and then all the other hobbies and activities. This can be done with the entire family, or alone with a mindful outcome. Another strategy is the PAUSE practice; Imagine a giant pause button (just like we see on a remote control) in front of you and push that when you need a moment. Pause what you are doing, take a few breaths, observe/check in on where your emotional state is, and move on. Learning to pause or walk away for a few moments is a very helpful tool. Once we are in a calmer state, we can always make better decisions.
Raising a mindful family starts with the parents setting the tone. There are times where life becomes stressful and we don’t feel as if we are giving of our best because of all that we are carrying. We must learn to be kinder to ourselves in these moments, to take care of ourselves in the little ways. Then, in the moments we are feeling strong and well, we can be more aware of how we are role modelling a more mindful lifestyle and continue to work on bettering that.