Our Rowan symbol this month is the sea turtle, which suggests the ideals of patience and intention. As we steer our girls in this frenetic world, it’s helpful to consider ways that we ourselves can practice slowing down, so that we might teach our girls these same tactics.
Most of us have heard of mindfulness by now, but what is it, and why is it relevant to this conversation? Being mindful means allowing an emotion to take hold and pass by without acting on it. Your first responsibility as a parent is to be mindful of your own inner state. What does this look like? It looks like pausing to notice a feeling, and saying to yourself, “Wow. I’m feeling angry right now.” Imagine that feeling as a thought bubble that you can pluck out of your head and hold at arm’s length to examine and observe quietly. Then you simply deposit that thought bubble back inside your head, thereby allowing it to pass by without acting on it. Just because you feel a feeling, does not mean that you must act on it. Instead, you can choose to notice it and that’s it. End of story.
Set an intention to practice this skill of mindfulness. Tell your daughter (and maybe even your whole family) that you are learning this new skill. Announcing an intent like this fosters accountability. Ask them to remind you gently when they notice you have forgotten to be mindful, and you tumble into an angry outburst or action unknowingly. As you model the acquisition of this new skill, you can motivate others in the family to practice the same thing. For more tips on understanding and implementing mindfulness, try reading 10 Mindful Minutes: Giving Our Children-and Ourselves- the Social and Emotional Skills to Reduce Stress and Anxiety for Healthier, Happier Lives by Goldie Hawn.
Usually, in parenting, the best response to upsetting emotions is to reflect, not react. Most of what we call “parenting” doesn’t take place between parent and child, but within the parent. How do we build this skill of self reflection so that we can be more thoughtful and less reactive? A daily ritual of writing, especially about what we are most grateful for can be grounding and clarifying. As we put pen to paper, we slow our thought processes and demand that our brains move from reaction to reflection. Perhaps you and your daughter could build a gratitude practice together? Using something like The Five Minute Journal for just a few minutes in the morning or at bedtime can provide the structure and routine to build this new practice.
What about meditation as a way to build patience and to set clear intentions? Again, we’ve all seen the craze around meditation lately, but why so much excitement about this age-old technique? Well, because it works. Regular meditation has been linked to progress in every area imaginable, including improving health conditions dramatically. Isn’t meditation just for yogis on a mountain retreat somewhere? you ask. Not anymore. Meditation is so accessible and user-friendly now that I can recommend multiple apps you can purchase on your phone so that you can simply dabble in meditation for five minutes a day or you can sink into a thirty minute practice twice a day--whatever works for you. Again, you and your daughter can explore apps like: 10% Happier, Calm, Headspace, and Smiling Minds. Friendly, calming gurus will guide you and literally tell you what to think so there’s no guesswork involved.
The important thing to remember is that there’s no right or wrong to meditate. I think of meditating as a mini-vacation for my brain, a chance to rest, a few minutes to take a break from ruminating or worrying about the same old things. What I find most motivating is that building a meditation practice is like buffing out a new muscle in your brain. The more time you spend doing it, the stronger that muscle becomes. Then, in a pinch, when you are particularly agitated or stressed, that nicely honed muscle is readily available to you. You can tap into it anywhere to get a quick salve from the chaos in your life. Want to read a simple, fun book on learning to meditate from a guy who is just one of us, not a guru or a monk? Try 10% Happier by Dan Abrams.
Finally, let’s discuss the importance of routines in our lives because they, too, provide us with a sense of calm and order, which promote patience. Routines give us something to lean on so that we don’t have to do too much thinking about tedious, repetitive tasks. Doing the same thing again and again, in the same way, frees up our brain to proceed more calmly, with more predictability. Children crave routine and predictability--it makes them feel safe and well cared for in their home.
What if you, as the parent, are not a terribly organized person with clearly defined routines? That’s okay. Start small. Choose one thing to ritualize with your daughter. Scan the terrain at home together to assess one thing that feels chaotic and is adding stress. After you identify that one thing, see if you can find a predictable sequencing of events that usually happen when the family tries to do that one thing. Is morning time chaotic? Or is it homework time? Can you and your daughter use your phone to take photos of each thing that is supposed to happen, in order, to achieve the desired results? You can print each photo and paste them on a poster board or a cork board as a visual guide for all to follow so that a ritual can be established. One of our visual reminder posters in our house included a sequence of photos that went like this:
- A photo of my daughter’s bed, nicely made
- A photo of my daughter, all dressed in her uniform for school
- A photo of her toothbrush and toothpaste to remind her to brush before she came down for breakfast
- A photo of her bottle of Allegra medicine because her allergies were so bad
- A photo of her backpack
- A photo of the dog’s dish and water bowl, to remind her of her daily chore
- A photo of her shoes
The photos ritualized a tedious process that my daughter tended to forget. They gave me independence as the parent, meaning I would just point to the chart and I didn’t have to hear the sound of my own, nagging voice. Finally, they allowed her to build independence from me so that she could just follow the visual routine instead of relying on me for reminders. Remember, once we build a routine, we free up our mind, and that lends us a calmer, more patient outlook.