“Become silent in your children’s presence, free yourself of all distractions, and attune yourself to them in a state of curiosity and delight.”
-Dr. Shefali Tsabary
So you’re now a parent. Welcome to most intense roller coaster ride (that never ends) any human being can embark upon! Let’s hope you don’t get motion sickness.
Picture this. You’re at Target. It’s crowded. Your five-year-old son is standing in front of your cart pushing it backwards with all his might screaming “I want
shooooooes!” Your three-year-old daughter is trying to climb out of the cart wailing and screaming “shoes mama shoes!” You’ve dropped your purse and everything
spills out onto the floor. You’re sweating. You glance up and catch the disdainful gaze of a nearby shopper before they quickly avert their eyes.
You feel shame. Then anger. How DARE your kids act like such brats in front of so many people! “Stop it NOW!” you say. They ignore you. You suddenly realize you did
everything wrong. You pushed them to go to that one last store after two hours of running errands. It’s past lunchtime. They are hungry and tired. You randomly
promised shoes but realize none were the right style for what you need. You are hot and tired and have been snapping at them. Is it any wonder your kids are descending into the emotional extremes typical of their age?
I’ve been there. Many times. I’ve felt the frustration, experienced the anger and shame for how I handled my children’s behavior. Before becoming a parent I
thought I’d be a joyful, centered, mom with endless patience. “Parents who let their kids act out are just being lazy.” I’d smugly thought to my pregnant self. I meditated
for God’s sake. My kids would be little angels and when they acted out I’d be as unmoved and calm as Mother Theresa herself. “Be still my child. Mother loves you.” I’d say as I soothed them back to serenity.
Oh sweet ignorance.
Was I in for a rude awakening! As soon as my children started developing little personalities of their own I found myself resisting and triggered at every turn. I
realized it was much easier to act “spiritual” when life went my way. Then it dawned on me. I don’t need to go mediate on a mountain or contort my body into Yoga poses
to reach awakening. Parenting is my own opportunity to practice what I believe about being an awakened, conscious person in everyday life.
Contrary to what my old, smug self used to believe, we don’t own our children. We don’t own their behaviors or personality. Our children are individual souls with
their own personalities and purpose that has nothing to do with us! It’s not up to us to make them successful, rich, and happy or anything else! In a way this realization was a huge relief.
I believe children are here to teach us about ourselves. They trigger our pain, anger, frustration, fear, and intense love like no other! It is our responsibility as parents to
create conditions for our children to express their authentic selves, holding space during their challenging times and living as an example of peace, presence, joy and authenticity for the growth of both parent and child.
When we are present with our children we are okay with who they are right now instead yearning for who we wish them to be. We also see who we are and where we
need to re-parent ourselves first before trying to influence our child from a place of fear.
Being a present parent is more than mindfully playing with our children. It’s about being a loving, attentive presence, completely aware and receptive to whom our child is in each and every moment. So how the heck do we go about doing this?
How to practice presence with your child
Here are five practical tips to implement more mindful parenting.
1. Give your child your full attention.
Our children need our full attention. Attention is an act of love. Turn off the TV. Put your phone away. Let those thoughts about what you are going to make for dinner
flow through your mind. Let go of control and allow your child guide the play as you completely focus your attention on him or her. Talk less. Let her direct you. Be as
receptive as a flower is to a butterfly. When we just listen, fully present with our children, we nourish them in ways toys, classes, and extracurricular activities can’t
compete with. When we give our kids our fullest attention we find that they nag less and their emotional cup is filled quicker than we’d expect.
2. Listen to your child without an agenda.
Our children are smarter than we think! If we try to push our well-meaning agendas onto our children they will pick right up on it and respond accordingly. This is why
empty threats never work. “If you don’t eat your veggies you will NEVER get dessert again” (words I’ve actually said). What our kids hear is “I’m feeling out of control
and fearful and will give in because I don’t know what to do.” Our energy speaks louder than our threats. Instead of fearing they won’t get enough nutrients we can
surrender and let our children choose. No veggies, no dessert (trusting they will not starve) and following though on the consequences. We trust our children to make
choices and learn from them. We notice that resisting our children’s choices or behavior only causes more resistance and stress for everyone.
When we listen to our children without an agenda we realize it’s not our job to solve our children’s problems for them. Our children need the opportunity to have asafe space to feel their feelings without us controlling the situation or determining what needs to be fixed.
It can be uncomfortable to sit with your child when he/she suffers. Allow the discomfort. It’s not about us. If our child cries, sit quietly in full alertness, holding
space for him to experience his feelings. Offer hugs and comfort but refrain from trying to solve the problem. Our children are so very capable. Often, they will come
to their own solutions without our active “help.” By being fully present, we are more likely to offer just what they need at that moment (we take inspired action and say
or do exactly the right thing) instead of doing what our ego needs to avoid discomfort.
3. Be a loving but firm guide for your children.
Being a present parent doesn’t mean we let our children walk all over us! It doesn’t mean we let them do whatever they want for fear of stifling their spirit.
Being a present parent means we understand the importance of boundaries. We act as a guide to nourish our children’s individuality while at the same time
keeping them safe and making our boundaries clear. We lovingly, clearly and calmly state what is okay and what is not okay.
For example, if your child gets angry or upset and hits her sister you might say, “While it is okay to feel angry it is NOT okay to hit or hurt anyone.” Then you remain totally present especially if the child is still very angry and upset. Once your child has calmed down you can say, “ Let’s work together. What are a few ways we can safety get out our anger? (Let your child come up with a few suggestions) “Hitting our pillow? Stomping our feet?” The key is to let our children know it’s normal to experience a range of feelings and help them come up with healthy boundaries for themselves and others.
Our job is to let our child understand where our boundaries are. Boundaries may vary from family to family. Set aside time to agree to which boundaries are
flexible and which are not for your own family. The key to successful boundaries is to communicate them clearly and consistently.
4. Let your child be a child.
Even though children are smart, astute and highly aware, it is unrealistic to expect our children to respond to their feelings with the emotional awareness
and maturity of an adult. Let your child to be a child. Let them react however they react. I know this is easier said than done (especially when they are having
an epic meltdown at Target), but by allowing them to react, we are accepting the moment as it is and refraining from adding our own emotional resistance to an already intense situation. We can then calmly assess what actions are needed in that moment from a place of centered presence instead of a place of anger or
After a few minutes of my own internal resistance to my kid’s behavior in Target, I took a breath and got still. I realized it’s best to not take my kids shopping at lunchtime and that I need to make my expectations clear (we are only buying what’s on our list) before shopping. Yes there was lots of screaming in the store. Yes, I yelled at my kids in the car (briefly losing myself again to my own egoic reaction). I drove us home and after lunch (and time for me to calm down) we talked about the importance of good manners in the store and how we could ensure our next visit would go smoothly. I could have beat myself up for yelling at my kids (like I’d done so many times in the past) but I chose to forgive myself for my own reaction and knew it was an opportunity for me to return to present again and not buy into the narrative “I’m a bad mom.” I let my children be children and I let myself be imperfect.
Let your child be a child. Don’t get caught up in the “my child needs to be a success” mentality by overscheduling activities. It is important we leave ample
time for our children to play, explore and yes, get bored. By allowing our children the space to explore, they create a strong sense of self-reliance. When we overschedule or overpraise our children for their achievements what our child internalizes is “I am nothing without my accomplishments.” Our children must go through whatever challenges occur in their lives in order to grow and become resilient, confident adults. To do this they need internal space. Don’t rob your children of time to discover who they truly are in their essence by filling up their every waking hour with structured activities.
5. Observe your thoughts
This is the most powerful tip of being a present parent. Children have a way of triggering old wounds within us like no other! Observe yourself. Observe
when you feel upset or triggered by your child. While it’s easy to blame our children for their behavior or choices, our upset feelings are an indicator to go deeper within ourselves to see where our children’s behavior is stirring up old pain and beliefs that need to be questioned.
Our children are little mirrors of our own state of mind. Say your child acts sassy and disrespectful. Use this as an opportunity to ask yourself “Where have I shown my child disrespect? Have I been connecting with my child in a positive way? Am I respecting myself?” Maybe you are constantly criticizing and berating yourself. Start with your own attitude first. Anytime we feel upset with our children it is a clear indicator it is time to go within and investigate.
There is no quick fix with parenting. By addressing our old wounds and unhealthy beliefs we can begin to shift the entire dynamic within our family.
It starts with us.
Remember to cut yourself and your child some slack. No parent is perfect and no kid is perfect. We are all doing the best we can in the moment with our current level of consciousness. Forgive yourself for the times you screw up or lose it with your child. Laugh at yourself and laugh with your child.
Everything is okay right now, in this moment.
May your parenting journey be filled with love, understanding, growth, successful trips to Target, and when in doubt, lots of hugs and laughter!