We all know it takes a village to raise a child. More specifically, I believe it takes a mindful village to raise our children with clear minds, calm emotions and compassionate actions. Why? Because our children’s lives have become too complicated. Too stressful. Too tiring. Our children struggle with emotional overwhelm on a daily basis. And so do we, their crazy-busy parents and teachers.
Modern life pressures are causing too many stress-related breakdowns in our children’s lives. What can we do about it? While we can’t stop the waves of stress from continually arising in our lives, we can learn to surf them. Here are five steps you and your kids can take right now to begin transforming your relationship with stress.
1. Recognize toxic stress. Is your mind racing endlessly? Does this sound familiar: “I can’t turn my mind off, even at night.” When was the last time you felt like you had extra energy leftover at the end of the day? Are you running on empty, batteries low, or are you feeling fully charged?
2. Empathetically understand your child’s difficulties. Your child doesn’t wake up in the morning thinking, “How can I really screw up today?” When they are struggling with distraction or distressed emotions or disruptive behaviors, there is a reason behind it. Pause to understand what the underlying need is, and you can join with your child — rather than butting heads against each other — to find more acceptable ways to meet that need.
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3. Practice mindfulness. With our scattered minds come impulsive reactions. We rarely give anything our full, or best, attention. This is a recipe for keeping the downward spiral of stress going full throttle. The antidote? Learn how to pay attention, on purpose, to what is happening in the present moment, non-judgmentally. It can be done.
4. Build resilience. Resilience is the ability to adapt to adversity, and it is strengthened when we strengthen these three core skills: self-awareness, self-acceptance and self-control. To do that, you’ll need to bring a spirit of “curiosity, kindness and cooperation” toward yourself and others.
5. Cultivate well-being. As Rick Hanson points out in “Hardwiring Happiness,” our brains are like Velcro for the bad and Teflon for the good. Yet you can offset this negativity bias by learning to “savor the good.” A good place to start is to keep a gratitude journal. No matter how challenging a day, always end it by purposely reflecting on three things you felt grateful for today.
You can learn to ride the waves of stress in your life with more ease (rather than disease). And so can your kids. All it takes is a combination of practice and support.
Let’s all come together, as a mindful village, to support our children in developing these healthy stress management skills.
Peter Montminy is a child psychologist, mindfulness teacher and father of four who is passionate about the well-being of kids and families. Learn more about his wellness classes and private consultations at www.AMindfulVillage.com.