(Trying to) Become a more mindful parent

(Trying to) Become a more mindful parent

Sometimes it feels like I only ever say no to my kids (or to be more specific, to my 3 year old, Theo). Stop climbing on there. Stop hitting your sister. Stop whining. Say please. Why is there water all over the floor!? Don’t yell. If you throw that again, it’s going in the bin. And on and on and on. I started to feel like I spent most of my time telling him off, rather than enjoying my time with him.

The older Theo gets, the less compliant he is. We have occasional, though thankfully not too frequent, tantrums when things don’t go his way. There is a lot of whining. And of course, there’s the classic: pretending no one has said anything and just ignoring us completely. I thought this wouldn’t kick in until his teens, but apparently, here we are.

This has resulted in a lot of frustration on my side. But the more frustrated I get, the shorter I am with him, the worse he behaves. It’s a pretty vicious circle. There were a good few weeks where I was actually dreading the weekend, and having to ‘manage’ him all day.

So about 6 weeks ago, I decided to look at my own behaviour and see what I could do to change how I was acting, in an effort to change his response. And… it’s sort of working. We absolutely do not have a perfectly behaved 3 year old (pretty sure that’s not a thing). It’s probably less about his behaviour, and more about the fact that my mindset has changed. That might seem silly, but it still feels like things have improved immeasurably in quite a short space of time, so I thought I’d share what I’ve been trying.

Here are the three key things that I’ve been doing to be a bit more patient and a bit less shouty:

1/ Incorporate actual mindfulness practice into quiet time with Theo.

I started teaching Theo about his body and breath – how when you breathe in, your lungs fill up with air and when you breathe out, the lungs empty again. I can’t just do this when he’s hyperactive and going feral, as much as I’d love to, but when he is reasonably quiet, or when it’s bedtime, it’s a nice activity we can do together, to help his mind (and mine) relax. At his nursery, they’ve also been learning a lot about senses, so that’s quite a fun way to be mindful of our surroundings as well. ‘Can you use your eyes to find things that are green’ or ‘Shhh, let’s use our ears to see what we can hear’ have turned out to be great ways to introduce small pockets of calm (and quiet) during the day.

I also started following an Instagram account called Mindful Kin, which shares some great ways you can slow down and get them involved in mindfulness. The woman who runs it has a really fun looking pack of mindfulness flashcards, so I might need to pick some up now that Theo is actually responding to my other attempts.

2/ Do what I always do when facing a problem: buy a book on it.

After seeing it recommended time and again, I ordered a copy of How to Speak so Little Kids Will Listen. Using the techniques in this book really requires a complete shift in the way I speak to him. So CLEARLY I don’t manage to do it all of the time. However, when I do manage to use them, there is a noticeable difference in how Theo reacts to me. The techniques do take a lot of mental effort but, as the authors point out, they work almost every time, so they’re absolutely worth it.

Acknowledging feelings, getting his suggestions for solutions, and trying to make some things (getting dressed, tidying up, etc) a bit more fun, are all simple take aways that have made a big difference already.

Similarly, Janet Lansbury’s No Bad Kids is a great read when thinking about toddler discipline, although I found How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen to be a bit more help practically.

3/ Try to pause and see things from his perspective a bit.

Who cares if the erasable marker goes on the table? It can be cleaned. Why does it matter than he’s splashed water all over the floor? It can be dried. So the playdoh colours get all mixed together. He doesn’t care, why should I? I’m trying to chill the f**k out, basically. Every time I’m starting to get cross about something, I try to ask myself ‘do I ACTUALLY care about this?’. Most of the time, the answer is no. I still talk to him about why he should try to keep water in the sink, and then get him to clean up after himself as many times as possible, but him doing it in the first place doesn’t bother me as much anymore. It’s made things like arts and crafts, “washing up” and cooking together significantly less stressful!

Let me be clear: I am NOT always winning at parenting. There are MANY times when the kids misbehave and I definitely don’t always deal with it well. But what has changed is that I generally think before I say something. Is what I’m about to say actually going to make any difference? Is there something else I can say or do in this situation which will improve things? Often, the answer is ‘no’ or more likely, ‘I can’t think of anything else right now’, but the thought process has started to change, and that’s a good start!

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(Trying to) Become a more mindful parent

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5 thoughts on “(Trying to) Become a more mindful parent”

  • YES! I would recommend that book to all parents. I wish it was handed out at the two year check. It’s SO helpful and makes so much sense. I have it on Kindle and I’m seriously considering buying a paper copy, too, so it’s easier to flick through.

    The not answering questions thing – this got discussed in the local gentle parenting Facebook group recently and some things which came up which I found helpful were: sometimes the kid finds having to make a decision so overwhelming that they just switch off (this happens to ME and I’m 39) so I quite often say, for example, “Would you like to choose your clothes or shall I choose for you?” rather than going straight into “Dress or trousers?” territory; sometimes they’re too distracted to process the words you’re saying (if somebody asks me a question when I’m in the middle of reading/watching/writing/doing something, I often don’t hear it, either – it can help to wait for a natural break in whatever they’re doing or to touch their arm and say “Please answer this question-“); and sometimes they don’t understand the words you’re using so simply don’t engage with them (this happens to us a lot – Matilda’s always had good verbal skills so I forget that there might be some basic phrases she hasn’t learned yet; generally, rephrasing the question solves the problem). ANYWAY, I didn’t mean to write quite so much about this – I’m definitely no expert – but maybe something in all of that will help?!

    • I’ve taken photos of all the boxed out sections and keep them in my Google Keep app. Maybe you could do that in the kindle version? Good suggestions re the questioning. I think I just need to be more patient, generally!

  • Sounds like you are doing a good job. I used to watch a program called ‘The House of Tiny tearaways’ It helped me out massively when trying to manage challenging toddler behaviour.

  • #3 is a great tip, my kids are older but I constantly find myself letting stress and overwhelm (I’m a single parent who has my kids 24/7) get the best of me. My son especially has been hard to deal with lately and I know that a lot of it has to do with his dad’s limited involvement so I’m trying to remember to view things through his lens when he does something that frustrates me or makes me angry.

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