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What is mindful parenting? How mindfulness benefits parents and teens

Parenting teens can be stressful.

When balancing workplace responsibilities, your teens’ school and extracurricular schedules, keeping up with extended family and friends — and now the external pressures of a pandemic — it is natural to feel overwhelmed. However, it is harmful when the overwhelm triggers a stress response and hijacks the situation. This happens when we let our emotions control our reactions in stressful situations. Over time, this stress can place strain on the whole family.

Mindful parenting just might be the way to help you stop shouting and find more peace.

What is mindful parenting?

More broadly, mindfulness refers to the practice of being fully present in the current moment and letting go of judgment. Removing judgement means accepting something as it is and letting go of the mind’s tendency to feel the need to do something about it.

How often do you find yourself distracted by your mind racing with thoughts of the future? Do you jump to deciding whether something is good or bad and right or wrong? These are judgments that pull us away from the present.

In the context of parenting, being fully present with your children means turning your attention to your thoughts, breath, and emotions in a given context to be fully present when you’re having a conversation or you’re in the midst of a conflict. Consistent practice can help you feel grounded, which in turn enables you to identify and respond to your teens’ needs more effectively and better manage your own emotions and overwhelm.

A recent University of Vermont study found higher levels of parents’ mindfulness were related to positive behavior in their teens, including lower levels of youth internalizing and externalizing problems. Mindfulness not only helps parents manage their responses to stress, but the effects spill over to positive thinking and behavior from their teens to create a virtuous cycle.

Ready to give mindfulness practice a quick try right now?

  1. Notice the weight of your body sitting or standing as you read this. Where do you feel pressure? Where do you feel your body touching the ground or chair?

  2. Take a deep breath in. How does your breath feel today? Is it shallow or deep? Is the air cold or warm?

  3. Scan for any tension in your body. What does it feel like? What feelings come up when you notice how your body feels? Can you let go of the need to adjust and fix it?

These basic practices can be used at any point to help ground you in the present moment.

Parenting situations when mindfulness can be useful

  • When conflict arises with your teen. In these tense situations, parents can diffuse an explosive reaction by pausing to step back, assess their emotions, check in with their bodily sensations, and decide how they’d like to respond. A study found that during a parent-adolescent conflict, mindful parenting was associated with less parental negative emotion and greater shared positive emotion. Mindful parenting also had a significant indirect effect on youth’s substance use, further demonstrating the benefits of shared parent-adolescent positive emotion.

  • When you want to understand your teen. Just listen to your teen with your undivided attention. Resist offering your opinion, any judgements, or advice you think will solve their problem. Doing so helps teens to feel validated in their feelings and know you are there to just listen because when we jump in mindlessly, we’re often reacting to our own reactions of fear and anxiety about what our teen is sharing.

  • When you feel anxious or worried. As a parent, it’s so natural to worry. But sometimes, especially when things are out of our control, we worry ourselves into a downward spiral. Mindfulness can be a way to let go and return to the present moment. Next time you’re feeling lost in an anxious thought pattern, see if you can catch yourself and take a deep breath and practice acknowledging the stress of the moment.

Drawing on mindfulness is not about becoming the perfect parent—but fostering a positive environment for clarity, compassion, openness, and empathy between parents and your teens. While conflicts and stressors will still arise, what matters is how you respond.

Ready to incorporate more mindfulness into your day to day routine? Here are 5 ideas to get started today:

1. Try a breathing exercise.

Take a few minutes today to try the box breathing method: exhale slowly for 4 counts. Then inhale for 4 counts and hold your breath for 4 counts. Exhale again for 4 counts, rest for four counts, and repeat for 8 cycles. As you breathe, focus on the senses: what do you feel? What do you see? What sounds do you hear?

It may take some time for this exercise to feel helpful, but consistent breathing practice can dramatically improve mindfulness.If you enjoy the practice, try setting aside 10 minutes a day to be still and focus on your breath. For even more guided meditations, the Calm and Headspace apps offer daily meditations.

2. Go for a mindfulness walk with your teens

Go for a short walk together and focus on noticing how your body feels and observing the area around you. How do your legs, arms, and feet feel as you take a step? Do you feel the soles of your foot touching the ground on each step? Draw on your senses: what sights and sounds do you notice? What do you smell and taste in the fresh air? Is there wind on your face? This active meditation is a good way to unplug from devices and introduce teens to the practice of mindfulness.

3. Practice acceptance without judgement

Promote openness by removing judgement towards both yourself and your teen’s emotions and thoughts. Emotions and thoughts come and go so it’s important to remember we are not our emotions and thoughts. Today, practice noticing your feelings and thoughts by labelling an them as simply that. If you notice a spiraling train of thought, can you pause and simply say, “Oh, that’s a thought.” And if you’re feeling overwhelmed by a big emotion and want to shout, “I’m so angry”, can you leave enough space to acknowledge, “I’m feeling a big emotion right now.” Once you’ve labelled it, try to notice if you place any judgement on them: are there feelings and thoughts you deem good and bad? How automatic is that judgement?

When we’re able to label our thoughts and emotions and accept them without judgement, big emotions and difficult thoughts can come and go much more quickly. The paradox is that to work through them, we must accept them.

4. Scan your body in tense situations

Often, stress will induce a physical response which then fuels your psychological response in a cyclical pattern. Next time, notice how your body feels during a tense situation. Do your shoulders tense up? Do you furrow your brows? Take a moment today to check in with your body and think about how your body usually demonstrates stress in a tense situation. This self awareness can help you next time you’re in a tense situation with your teen.

5. Check in about self care

All forms of self care are so important. Plan regularly to check in with yourself on how you’re feeling physically, emotionally and mentally. Is there anything you can do to quickly fill the tank? How does it feel when you’re running on empty? Knowing these boundaries can make sure you're constantly keeping your tank at least filled to the point where you have capacity to react as you’d like in a tough moment. Read here for more ideas for ways you can practice self care today.

Want to get deeper into your mindful parenting practice? Reach out to a Cherish 1:1 coach to get personalized support and advice to help you find mindfulness in your parenting journey.


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