A Time to Speak — The benefits of mindful parenting

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Patricia McIntyre Salem

By Patricia McIntyre Salem

In today’s world, our children face many challenges: bullying, obesity and social media, not to mention poverty, crime, and racial/ethnic discrimination.

In recent years, there has been research and clinical experience regarding mindfulness and compassionate practices that will support Catholic parents in meeting these 21st century challenges.

According to holistic physician and mindfulness teacher Amy Saltzman, mindfulness is “paying attention on purpose with kindness and curiosity, and then choosing one’s behavior.” Mindfulness can be a means to support parents in coping with everyday stressors and worries, such as balancing work and home responsibilities, bills, child tantrums, burn-out and conflicts in relationships.

These practices and skills can benefit all family members. Scientific research on mindfulness with children reveals increased orientation to attention and decreased anxiety, each supporting the capacity for learning. Mindfulness practices teach children kindness, compassion and empathy, along with skills for being less reactive — enabling them to make wise choices in their behavior.

Mindful parenting can be understood as paying attention to your child and your parenting intentionally, here and now and without judgment. Parents who learn mindfulness with their children notice a strengthening in their relationships with one another and a sense of family calm. With regular practice, mindfulness can help parents become more aware of internal and external “noise,” respond to events with less reactivity, better manage their own stress, and become positive role models for their children.

Skill-building comes in the quiet moments, through breathing and through noticing thoughts and feelings without self-judgment.

Bringing attention to the moment and to the breath helps reorient the mind to the present, allowing space for quiet and discernment in making choices with purposeful intention. Parents learn to become more self-compassionate, which increases their sense of effectiveness in parenting.

In our Catholic tradition, mindfulness also provides a meditative practice for parents and children that can incorporate self-reflection and traditional prayer, including quiet, contemplative prayer from the heart. Meditative prayer opens us to a deeper relationship with God, and it reinforces values and the fruits of the Holy Spirit, such as love, peace, joy, kindness, gratitude, patience and self-control.

While stress is a part of life in our ever-changing world, mindfulness can help faithful parents find grace, hope and, sometimes, a bit of humor amidst the chaos.

If you are interested in learning more about mindfulness and parenting, the Passionist Earth and Spirit Center is offering a series of four classes this month.

Patricia McIntyre Salem is a licensed therapist and a counselor at St. Agnes School.

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