Simple Guide to Mindful Parenting

By Dr. Ryan Niemiec

It’s a scene familiar to many parents: a 2-year-old gets hold of some permanent markers and, with lightning quickness, scurries over to a wall and begins to use it as a canvas. The child scribbles and scribbles with purpose and intensity until the masterpiece is complete, then throws down the markers and walks away.

This situation, or some version of it, is almost a rite of passage for parents. Because what happens next is a reflection of your parenting. Do you scrub it away, or do you add a frame around it?

How Positive Reframing Can Help Parents

If you are a parent who would add a frame around your child’s masterpiece, even though they drew it directly on the wall, you have already been putting positive reframing to work. To reframe something is to offer a new perspective, to give yourself a different view of a situation. This is essential when taking an approach that embodies mindful, strengths-based parenting. When you are stressed in your parenting (which will happen a lot!), you can ask yourself: Is there another way I might look at this situation? How might I look at it through the lens of character strengths? Sometimes reframing simply involves replacing one word in your thought process. Consider these examples, each of which uses character strengths as the reframing system:

  • Your “stubborn child” becomes your “perseverant child.”
  • Your “distractible son” becomes your “highly curious son.”
  • Your “wild and hyperactive daughter” becomes your “zestful daughter.”
  • Your “clingy, dependent son” becomes “your warm and loving son.”
  • Your “slowly progressing daughter” becomes “your prudent and cautious daughter.”

Get the idea? Pick any behavior you are witnessing in your child, or any issue or struggle you are having with them. This is the easy part, because it has probably been occupying your mind–maybe even worrying or frustrating you. Next, put on a pair of “strengths glasses” and take a fresh look at the situation. What character strengths is your child using (albeit imperfectly)? When we get upset or anxious, our attention narrows and we therefore miss a substantial portion of reality. What is the “strengths reality” you have been missing?

I’m not offering a replacement for a diagnosis here, nor am I suggesting that you never use the negative-oriented words. Instead I’m encouraging a more balanced approach to parenting–one that does not fall into a deficit-only, problem-focused approach.

From Mindset to Mindful Speech

Your reframing can move beyond this mental approach and become something that you share aloud with others. When reframing is offered as verbal feedback to someone, it gives the person an empowering insight into themselves, and it presents them with encouragement they can use to handle their issue.

This can be a powerful alternative to the “culture of no” operating in our families. If you were to get a transcript of your parenting lingo throughout a given week, you might be surprised to learn that your language is filled with multiple versions of “no.” For example, you’ll hear yourself say: “Don’t do that!” “No, you can’t.” “That’s not a good idea.” “You shouldn’t be over there.”

Say “Yes” to Saying Yes

What would it be like to add more “yes” responses to your parenting? Here are a few tips to get started: - Be mindful. Consider how you react when your child does something you don’t like. Bring mindful awareness to your thoughts, feelings and actions. - Pause and reframe. When you get upset with your child for their behavior, pause and consider a positive reframe. What character strengths might they be using? - Know your culture. Be mindful of whether or not you are perpetuating a “culture of no” in your family.

Don’t condone inappropriate or dangerous behavior, but do observe yourself and see if you sometimes go too far with your “no” responses.

You just might find yourself saying some new words to your child.

Resources

Niemiec, R. M. (2014). Mindfulness and character strengths: A practical guide to flourishing. Boston, MA: Hogrefe.

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