“Compassionate Parenting” – our Head Teacher, Peter Murdock, offers some suggestions on how to bring mindfulness to parenting
This week our Head Teacher, Peter Murdock, begins a five-week evening course for parents (now fully booked) on “Compassionate Parenting”. At each weekly session, Peter will focus on a specific theme, including understanding and working with children’s feelings, sibling issues, encouraging self-esteem, dealing with conflict and setting limits, looking at children from different perspectives and appreciating each child’s unique spirit.
“The biggest learning for our children comes not from what we say, but from what we do and who we are,” he says. “It’s often the parent who needs to change first and we often need to change our own behaviour and emotions before trying to change our children’s.”
Peter suggests three key areas of focus for compassionate and mindful parenting. The first is to ‘step back’: “Take a moment to observe and step back from your impulsive, triggered response to your child’s behaviour before you intercede, so that you act with clarity and perspective rather than reacting in the heat of the moment. Think, what can I do to help resolve this situation, if anything? Is there a ‘middle way’ that means I can be responsible without being overly controlling? With squabbling and sibling rivalries again my suggestion is to first observe, rather than be immediately drawn in. Also, although it’s important to give children love and attention to help them thrive, there can be a tendency towards ‘over-parenting’ and to interfere and fuss when they’re playing, offering excessive commentary and praise which is unnecessary. Let go, step back.”
Another way of adopting a mindful approach is through ‘reflecting feeling’, helping children to identify and accept feelings and then work out how to manage them. “This is somewhere I was going wrong as a young parent,” admits Peter. “I was trying to blank out what I saw as negative feelings in my daughter such as anger, jealousy and hatred, as if somehow my child should never feel those things. I was giving her the message that it’s not ok to feel these emotions when of course a child, or even an adult, can’t stop feeling the way they’re feeling. What is important is taking responsibility for our feelings and finding appropriate strategies for managing them. We used to have a list of things on the fridge door that our daughters could do to express uncomfortable feelings – shout and run around the garden, punch a pillow, draw or paint with bright colours and so on. We need to explain to children that feelings are like the weather, constantly changing, and we need to learn how to accommodate these different conditions as part of human nature. Also, if we learn to ‘step back’ and reflect when faced with difficult situations and emotions, rather than blowing our tops, our children consciously and unconsciously begin to see this as a strategy for managing their own responses.”
Peter’s third suggestion for creating a mindful space at home is to ‘simplify’; to enable time and space for our families to just be together, rather than constantly rushing around doing all the time. “Family life can be incessantly busy with children needing to be ferried and fetched from one activity to another and a constant desire for stimulus. Excessive use of the internet, social media, TV and computer games feeds our culture of instant gratification and can fuel frustration in children when they strive to reach ever higher levels of games they can never win. Underlying this is the desire to keep our children happy and entertained. We need to counter this breathlessness and find time to be together as families, just sitting, eating, playing and talking and to teach our children that not doing is sometimes fine, it’s part of life. Being content in our own company and being fully present with our family (without artificial stimulus) with ‘relaxed attention’ is an important way to be and is also at the root of mindfulness practice.”