Thoughtful Parenting: In-the-moment parenting

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As parents, we spend a lot of time trying to get through a stage, a week or a day when our kids are young. A whiny afternoon can seem to last forever when you have a 2-year-old, yet how many times have you heard someone say, “It goes by so quickly. Enjoy every moment”?

It isn’t easy to be an in-the-moment parent, but embracing the practice of mindfulness can help. Mindfulness is defined as paying attention to the present moment without judgment. It is cultivated by purposefully paying attention to those things we ordinarily never give a moment’s thought.

The practice of mindfulness began as an attempt to bring Buddhist meditation (minus the Buddhism) into the mainstream of medicine but has grown into a genuine social movement with variations of mindfulness developing everywhere from schools to hospitals to the halls of Congress.

At the same time, a significant body of research has documented the physical and psychological health benefits of practicing mindfulness. For parents, the practice of mindfulness not only helps us create meaningful moments with our kids, it also fosters patience, increases positive emotions, reduces stress and helps us model healthy emotional regulation for our kids.

So what does it mean to be a mindful parent? For starters, it is parenting with intention. Perhaps intentionally creating meaningful moments with your kids. Here are a few ideas:

■ Walk or ride: Walking, riding or taking the city bus can create priceless moments that are easily sacrificed to the convenience of our cars. Take your time; smell the flowers; look your children in the eye. It is as good for you as it is for them.

■ Star gaze: As the weather gets warmer, we can take advantage of the fresh air in the evenings. Get your kids ready for bed, then head outside with a blanket and spend 10 minutes gazing at the sky.

■ Cook together: Be willing to sacrifice the cleanliness of the kitchen for some meaningful moments with your kids. Dinner needs to be made, so why not turn the task into quality time spent together. Children also are more likely to eat what they make.

■ Plant a garden: So many great lessons here, and the moments keep coming as the veggies and flowers start growing.

■ Divide and conquer: When you can spend one-on-one time with a child, you can create conversations that don’t occur when he or she is battling a sister or brother for your attention. Whether it is a trip to the store or a weekend away, spending time with just one of your children is incredibly rewarding.

■ Play catch: With so many forms of entertainment, it seems the classic parent-child experience of playing catch has gone by the wayside. Playing catch is not just about learning to throw and catch, it also is about the conversations that occur during the process.

■ Three-breath hug: The next time you find yourself or your child at wits’ end, embrace him or her and take three deep breaths together. Our breath is an incredible tool for managing stress, and a three-breath hug makes us all feel better.

Kristen Race, Ph.D., is the founder of Mindful Life, an organization that works to provide solutions to help families become more resilient to the stress in their lives. She has been a member of the First Impressions executive committee for the past five years.

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