What Does It Mean to Parent Mindfully?

What Does It Mean to Parent Mindfully?
By Deborah Groening, MFT, Founder, Well Baby Center

The subject of attachment relationships, which is a developmental theory, and Dr. Sear’s model of parenting he named “attachment parenting,” are two completely different constructs. Attachment parenting encourages “baby-wearing,” co-sleeping, and breast-feeding on demand for as long as the child desires. Attachment theory, on the other hand, is research conducted by developmental psychologists, which defines the different attachment styles – secure, anxious/ambivalent, dismissive/preoccupied, and disorganized.

Attachment parenting has no research basis — it is just a way of parenting that appears to create a secure attachment in the child – but it can go too far. Attachment theory states that it is just as important for a parent to be able to tolerate their child’s struggles as it is to providing a comforting connection. Struggle is a valuable and necessary condition to encourage resiliency and flexibility in your child. It is crucial for your child to be able to see that things can sometimes go awry, but no worries, they will be set right again. Without this experience, the capacity for self-regulation, through rupture and repair, will be hampered. In the attachment world, there is a saying: “whenever you can, follow your child’s lead, but when necessary, be bigger, wiser, and stronger.” Using your own mind, you determine when one response is required over another approach. It is a dynamic and flexible thinking and feeling or reflective function that determines your mindful response. There is no one hard and fast rule.

To parent mindfully requires an inner awareness and self-compassion. We must try to give our children the idea that they are loved both when they are needy and clingy and also when they push us away in their striving for autonomy and independence. The desire for safety and security and the desire to be independent are two equal aspects of a child’s development and both are necessary to develop a secure attachment to their parent. The parent must encourage and scaffold, but should not help their child to the degree that the child does not experience the exhilaration of first struggling to achieve a new skill and then achieving success.

Our children are different from us, with their own unique needs and wants, personalities and temperaments. Our own childhoods, and especially whether we have made meaning out of our disappointments and struggles are profoundly related to how we parent. In doing our own inner work we make space in our minds to be curious about who our children are, and what they need from us. We can help them feel “felt”, “validated” and strong by not solving their problems for them but rather by bearing their struggle with them. This is the true definition of mindful parenting.

Our hardest job in the world is being able to digest, think about, and bear witness to their sometimes-intense rages, without collapsing under the sheer weight of them. Parenting mindfully, then, regardless of whether you have a Caesarian or home birth, whether you breast or bottle feed, co-sleep, sleep train, carry, hold, or walk beside your child, is the key factor.

The awareness of your own intentions and the accurate reading of your child’s underlying needs and intentions (the skillfulness of parental reflective function) is the goal. By using reflective parenting in daily life with your child and partner, and by practicing loving kindness with yourself, your child, and your partner as you respect their dignity to try and fail, try and fail, and then finally, succeed, is, in my view, the key to family bliss.

For further tips and ideas about how to address your child’s feelings visit blog.wellbabycenter.org.

annabellesmallDeborah Groening is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Psy.D. Candidate and Certified Infant-Mental Health Specialist. She is also the Executive Director of Well Baby Center.

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“F” is for Forgiveness


Little curly blond boy and girl play in poppy flower field. Child picking red poppies. Toddler kid in summer meadow. Family vacation in the country. Children pick flowers hug and kiss. Siblings love.

When someone wrongs us, it is natural to allow negative emotions to flood our minds. We yearn for our offender to admit guilt and to provide relief with closure. But whether you receive the apology that you desire or not, it is crucial to first and foremost, forgive. Forgiveness is a skill, so teach it. When applied and practiced, forgiveness can create a pathway for a much more peaceful existence with others, and therefore a happier life. Set your children off on the right foot by equipping them with the tools to successfully forgive others right from the start.

With every hurt we experience, we develop a realistic and mature view of life and the people in it. By growing from each hurt, we are given the opportunity to turn a period of grief into a triumph. Teach your little one that we achieve the most growth by feeling emotions, versus acting like we don’t care.

Help your child to explore their wrongdoer, instead of focusing on their action. Perhaps this person is experiencing their own hurt that has caused them to commit the offense. Explain that when someone is feeling sad they are prone to say or do things that they don’t really mean. People don’t generally go around hurting others purposefully, but it is usually a symptom of an internal conflict or emotion they are experiencing. There are two healthy ways to react and forgive: with love and compassion, or acceptance and silence. Forgiving doesn’t necessarily mean returning the relationship to the status quo, but of accepting the transgression and realizing that life is greater than a single violation. Teach your child to recognize their emotion, but to let go of the hurt and find their happiness.

When kids have been hurt, they will seek validation for their feelings. Help them to let their emotions breathe and vent in a healthy way, and then to forget. Be an excellent role model, and handle your own relationships with the art of forgiveness. Most importantly, always show your little ones true forgiveness, even when they hurt you. Eventually, your child will catch on to the prime example you have set, and will develop into an emotionally mature, forgiving adult like yourself.

For further tips and ideas about how to address your child’s feelings visit blog.wellbabycenter.org .

annabellesmallAmanda Schmid graduated from California State University, Northridge and works at Well Baby Center.

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