Be the change you wish to see in the world...

- Gandhi

Friday, April 25, 2014

Mindful Parenting

Mindfulness has become a very hot topic these days.  I hear it often as a buzz word in the health and wellness community.  I personally love my subscription of Mindful magazine, reading it cover to cover each month.  I am familiar with mindful topics surrounding self-care, stress management, and even nutrition, but I was recently interested to hear it applied to parenting. 

I wanted to learn more about this topic, and luckily have an expert right in my own backyard!  Bahar Rinsler, is a psychotherapist who just happens to be one of my best friends.  She regularly conducts presentations in Los Angeles on this topic, leading parents through exercises to achieve more mindfulness in their parenting.  I invited her to share some of her wisdom with us today.

VM: What is mindful parenting?
BR: Mindful parenting is the practice of responding to your children instead of reacting to them at any given moment.  In order to be able to be a mindful parent, one has to engage in bringing her awareness to the present, paying attention to what you are doing or seeing and how you are feeling about it without judging yourself for the thoughts and feelings.  When we bring this attention to our time with our children, we are better able to make appropriate decisions about how we wish to engage with our kids.

VM: What are 3 things parents can do today to start being more mindful?
BR: Three things parents can do today to cultivate their ability to be more mindful are:

Play or hang out with your kids for at least 20 minutes without any distractions on your end, while following their lead.  Enter into their world for a bit and be present to the experience.

Eat breakfast or dinner as a family.  Mindfulness as a parenting practice is about connection.  Ask your kids what they look forward to for the day or about their best and not so great parts of their day.  

Stop time traveling.  Most adults spend the majority of their time thinking about either past events/upsets or future worries/to do lists.  When you catch yourself doing that, bring your attention back to the present and what is right in front of you.  

VM: What do you see as the biggest challenge parents face in trying to be more mindful and what can they do to overcome it?
BR: A big challenge for parents in trying to become more mindful is judging themselves harshly for not getting it perfect! Mindful awareness is cultivated over time.  When you are mindful, you are activating your brain's prefrontal cortex and creating new neural pathways.  With continued practice, these neural pathways will become more favored by your brain and you will slip into states of mindfulness automatically.

VM: Being mindful is a family affair!  Do you have any strategies for teaching our children to be mindful?
BR: An easy way to cultivate mindfulness in children is by having them focus on what they are grateful for and what they are noticing during their day.  Every day you can ask your children questions like "Who was a good friend to you today?" or "What new thing did you notice on your way to school today?"  

VM: You are a working mom of two, who practices what you preach!  Do you have a daily practice or "go-to" ritual to keep you on track to be a mindful parent?
BR: My daily practice of mindful breathing meditation helps me in my desire to be a more mindful parent.  It is simple to do and I often do it while waiting in the car for my kids at school.  I set the timer on my phone, close my eyes and begin paying attention to my breath.  When my thoughts wander, I gently bring my attention back to my inhalations and exhalations.  This meditation refreshes me.  I feel like I've had a little vacation during my day.

VM: Are there any resources you can recommend for parents who want to learn more about this topic?
BR: There are wonderful books on this topic for parents.  My favorites are The Whole Brain Child by Dr. Dan Siegel and Mindful Parenting by Kristen Race.

VM: I am on a quest to live the "good life" in every sense of the word.  What does the "good life" mean to you?
BR: The "good life" means living authentically and with awareness of all the delights that surround you in your life.

VM: Can you share your favorite quote?
BR: "Think of all the ways that life conspires for you every day." Rabbi Naomi Levy

Bahar Rinsler, LMFT is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice in Beverly Hills.