Bringing up children can be emotionally-charged, with parents sometimes losing their temper or simply feeling overwhelmed.
The ideal reaction to family flashpoints would be to take a step back and calm yourself, before acting in a positive manner. And though that may sound unrealistic, believe it or not, it’s possible – through mindfulness.
Mindfulness is simply about present moment awareness, focusing on the now rather than on everything that’s careering through your mind.
Together with former Radio 1 DJ and TV presenter Edith Bowman, mindfulness expert Tessa Watt has just launched an app for parents, Quility, to talk them through how to be mindful.
Watt explains: “A lot of the time, we’re not in this moment – the mind is tied up in knots worrying about something else we need to do, going through our to-do lists, or replaying things from the past.
“There’s often a sense of rushing to get to the next thing, and mindfulness is simply training ourselves to stop and be here.
“That’s really helpful with children, because if their parents aren’t there for them, then who is?”
Watt, who teaches mindfulness to staff at the Houses of Parliament, says mindful parenting trials have shown the process can reduce parents’ destructive behaviour, increase their ability to disengage from emotionally-charged stimuli, and reduce stress.
In addition, mindfulness has been shown to enhance parents’ ’emotional availability’, and improve children’s behaviour.
She says we can train ourselves to be mindful, and it’s helpful to take five or 10 minutes a day to “recharge your batteries” by pausing as often as possible, consciously breathing, connecting to your senses, and being there for your children.
“Even if you’re standing in the kitchen and there’s chaos all around you, you can just take a few minutes to breathe deeply and so on. It’s something you can do on your own, but it’s helpful to be guided through it at first,” she says.
Watt insists there’s nothing alternative or ‘way-out’ about mindfulness, pointing out that plenty of ordinary people use it every day. The comedienne Ruby Wax swears by the technique, and has even written a book about it.
“There’s nothing mystical about it, we’re just paying attention to our body and our breath. Anyone can do it,” stresses Watt, who says studies have shown mindfulness reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, thus helping to reduce stress.
“It’s about learning healthy habits for our minds. But don’t expect to have a blank mind – it’s absolutely fine that your mind jumps all over the place, you’re just giving it a chance to slow down for a few minutes.
“We’re pausing,” she says, “so that, for example, when the kids wind us up, we’re able to just stop and not react to our own emotions so much.
“It’s not reacting in a knee-jerk way, but pausing and thinking, ‘What’s the wisest way to handle this – is it really going to help if I start screaming at my screaming toddler, or can I find another way to handle this?'”
Bowman, 42, admits that being a working mum of two young boys puts stress on her mind and wellbeing, and says: “Something that focuses positively on being a mum and works towards helping you be the best you can be is a breath of fresh air.
“Finding time to do all the things you need to do can itself stress you out – a project that promotes a calm state of mind and encourages you to discover the best way of achieving that has been a long time coming for me personally.”
She says mindful parenting exercises can help mums stay balanced and respond to challenges in a positive way, and explains: “I find mindfulness clears my head and reminds me to take a breath before I react to a stressful situation.
“If you look after yourself first then you’re in the best possible position to deal with situations that crop up when you’re a parent, because you’re in the right frame of mind.”
Quility demonstrates simple mindfulness exercises such as breathing, and mindful parenting. General mindfulness techniques include:
Take five or 10 minutes a day to connect with yourself and pay attention to the body and breath rather than your thoughts.
Notice your breathing – sense the flow of your breath, and the rise and fall of your belly.
Notice body sensations such as the air moving past your body as you walk and the world around you.
Be aware of what you’re doing and tune into your senses. When you’re eating, for example, notice the colour, texture and taste of food.
You can’t make your mind go blank, but try not to let your thoughts overwhelm you – you don’t have to believe your thoughts or react to them.
The Quility app is available on the App Store or Google Play