To roar or to rear—thoughtfully? The question is one most parents know all too well. When commonly contentious situations arise, like turning off the TV during dinnertime, or denying a request for a candy bar on the supermarket checkout line, do you lose your cool or hit the pause button?
“Having a mindfulness practice of your own can help diffuse potential confrontations with your kids,” says Susan Verde, kids yoga instructor and the author of I Am Yoga.
When anxiety wells up inside, or you’re clenching your fists, “Acknowledge what is happening physically and emotionally in your own body and mind,” says Verde. “Once you take notice, you can choose your response, instead of just reacting.”
Before responding, pay attention to what you’re experiencing, and why you’re upset. “Doing so allows you to be more compassionate towards your kid as opposed to getting angry,” says Verde. “Maybe what’s transpiring is not as big of a deal as you initially thought.”
With an ability to approach a conflict without projecting your own emotional state, “You can deal with the situation as it is and perhaps with more empathy,” says Verde.
If, for example, you’ve repeatedly asked your child to put away his electronics to engage with you, instead of berating him for not doing so, “Consider that something may have happened at school and he doesn’t feel like talking,” says Verde. “Lashing out will only make your child more withdrawn and more inclined to continue the negative or oppositional behavior.”
Try shifting your perspective and thinking up a more pleasant way to get him to reconnect or share, says Verde.
You could say, “I love seeing you and have missed you all day. Let’s talk,” she says.
As parents, judging ourselves comes with the territory, says Verde. It’s tiring work, and becoming more mindful—especially when you butt heads with your child—takes practice, but, she says, “The more you do it, the easier it comes.”
Turn these top parenting battles on their head:
Table eating terrors.
You may not be able to hook a reluctant child on veggies, but if you make dining on them more fun, it can often lead to more conscientious eating habits, says Verde. Practice mindful eating and, “Pick a food that your child’s less inclined to eat. Ask him to experience it through his senses. Have him smell, listen, hold, and taste it. Bring awareness to what’s on the plate. Did it start as a seed? Did a farmer plant it? Having kids help you cook is another way to involve them in the process and remain engaged,” she says.
Keeping up with chores.
Rather than dread household tasks, some people actually enjoy making a bed or vacuuming. “If you pay attention to what you’re doing (how tightly we can tuck bedsheet corners), there’s a sense of pride, appreciation, and responsibility in taking care of your things, yourself, and your family. Ask your child how he feels inside when he’s accomplished a task and why it’s important to do so,” says Verde.
Going to bed.
If your child is wired, or fighting off bedtime, question why. “Is there a fear involved? Was there too much activity during the day, or did he not get enough of your attention? Mindful breathing can be helpful,” says Verde. “Put your hands on your bellies, feel the breath, and notice how your bodies calm down. Tell your child that you can’t read one more book and have to turn down the lights so that your bodies can reenergize and rejuvenate for the following day.”
Too much tech.
Instead of reprimanding or punishing your child for spending too much time online, discuss what’s appropriate and what’s not. “You’re the parent, but a child should know when it’s time to shut down,” says Verde. “Work with them on time limits and boundaries. Pay attention to your own behavior. Are you often on the phone or electronics while interacting with your child? Remember you are the model.”
Your embarrassment over public perception of your child’s tantrum shouldn’t interfere with your response to it. “If you need to scoop your child up and exit a situation, that’s okay,” says Verde. “Worry less about what’s happening around you and more about what’s happening in that moment, so that you can be more helpful. You can’t let the feeling of failure overtake you,” she says.