Parenting Mindfully When Life Spirals Out of Control
My yoga teacher Tiffany Wood loves to say, “You may not be in control of every situation, but you can always take charge.” It took time for this teaching to sink in, and becoming a mother gave me a whole new perspective on being out of control. Parents are handed a tiny human with their own agenda and pretty strong opinions out of the gate. It’s physically and emotionally exhausting and it only gets harder when your child is old enough to look you in the eye and shout, “NO!”
Adding challenging situations like massive winter storms, losing a job, family health issues, or coronavirus can leave you feeling vulnerable and unprepared. The good news is that when you apply a mindfulness lens you can learn to take charge of what’s meaningful and necessary without needing to control things that are not in your grasp.
Here are four simple tips to mindfully take charge when life seems out of control.
Dedicated Time for Connection vs. Independence
When I first got the news that my kids’ school would be canceled for three weeks straight, I panicked. The first few days I scheduled our time too rigidly and I always seemed to be “on,” as if I was running a three-ring circus. I learned after some trial and error that our daily cadence went more smoothly when I created times for us to come together and times for us to play apart.
So now we typically eat a meal together and follow it with 20-40 minutes of focused instructional or learning activity time that fosters connection with my kiddos. Then I say, “Okay, now it’s choice time! Would you rather play magnatiles or go outside while I do my work for half an hour?” In an hour or so I help them clean up and transition back together for a snack and meaningful learning time before giving them an entirely different choice (i.e. “Play with your dolls or make a sticker scene?”).
“Notice” When Your Kids are Independent, Responsible, and Cooperative
Many unwanted toddler behaviors come in response to a child’s deep desire to have more control, and you can help them be in charge where it’s possible. While it may feel strange at first to talk to a child like an adult, I encourage you to try it and see what you discover.
- Independence - “You are learning to do so many things all by yourself, aren’t you? I see you climbing up into your seat and getting yourself dressed. You’re working hard!”
- Responsibility - “Did you put your muddy pants in the laundry hamper? Thank you! That’s so responsible, you know just where they go, don’t you?”
- Cooperation - “Wow - I love how cooperative you are these days. I know it’s not always fun to brush your teeth or put away your toys, and your help is much appreciated.”
Learn Together, Naturally
Don’t pressure yourself into thinking you need to teach your child like their classroom teacher would. I’m a high-school educator by trade, and I spent a few hours going down the homeschool rabbit hole trying to prepare myself to teach my kindergartner and preschooler while they were home from school. In just a few hours we churned through the resources I had prepped the night before, so I sent them out to “recess” feeling defeated.
Instead, I started noticing small opportunities for learning unfold naturally around us. At meals we played alphabet or rhyming games. The girls asked if they could make their own snacks, so I moved a selection of food to lower cupboards and shelves and discussed food groups so they could make a “balanced meal.” We “played math” using playing cards for a game of go-fish and memory. Yesterday, my girls, ages three and six, collected various pinecones for a fairy garden, and I quickly found a chart online to help us identify the different trees. My favorite natural learning opportunity was when they counted, sorted, compared, created patterns, and traded their mini-M&M’s while I did the dishes!
Oftentimes parents see a rise in tantrums, bedtime call-backs, mealtime meltdowns and other unwanted behaviors during a time of instability or transition. The good news is that a little reassurance goes a long way. Let your child know that they are a priority in your life by carving out “Special Kiddo Time;” put down your agenda, set a 10-minute timer and let them pick an activity to do together. Additionally, you’ll want to remind your children that life may look, sound, and feel different than it used to, but you love them just the same.
There are plenty tools to help parents take charge of big emotions and connect more deeply with their kiddos. Using mindful parenting practices helps us to solve problems more efficiently and experience fewer breakdowns in general.
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Kristine Petterson is a highly sought-after yoga instructor, birth doula, certified sleep consultant, and mindful parenting educator. She’s dedicated to creating a sense of freedom and support for other families so they feel more capable, thriving and nurtured. Kristine’s classes and packages support families in changing old unwanted patterns. Her Facebook community inspires laughter and learning together without judgement. Kristine lives in Idaho with her husband and two daughters.