Mindful Parenting Can Help to Repair Difficult Moments With Our Children

It is a myth to think that parenting is a “no brainer”.  Actually, research demonstrates that it takes a huge amount of brain power to be a good parent.   When our parent brain is “hijacked by stress”, it is very difficult to sustain a caring state of mind and remain a sensitive, emotionally responsive, and protective parent. Neuroscience helps explain what happens when a parental brain is overwhelmed by stress and reacts in ways that threaten to rupture their nurturing and empathetic relationship with their child.  Perhaps this scenario will sound familiar: It is way after your four year old son’s bedtime, you have read him a few stories, and fetched many glasses of water for him.  Now he begins to whine and say he is too scared to go to sleep.  You still have some work to finish that you brought home and feel totally exhausted and overwhelmed.  You just want him to go to sleep and you yell loudly that “you can’t stand this for another minute, he does this every night, and you are sick and tired of him being so bad”.  If he doesn’t go to sleep right now, he won’t be able to watch cartoons when he gets home from school tomorrow.  Your son starts crying and you feel awful.

It is a myth to think that parenting is a “no brainer”.  Actually, research demonstrates that it takes a huge amount of brain power to be a good parent.   When our parent brain is “hijacked by stress”, it is very difficult to sustain a caring state of mind and remain a sensitive, emotionally responsive, and protective parent. Neuroscience helps explain what happens when a parental brain is overwhelmed by stress and reacts in ways that threaten to rupture their nurturing and empathetic relationship with their child.  Perhaps this scenario will sound familiar: It is way after your four year old son’s bedtime, you have read him a few stories, and fetched many glasses of water for him.  Now he begins to whine and say he is too scared to go to sleep.  You still have some work to finish that you brought home and feel totally exhausted and overwhelmed.  You just want him to go to sleep and you yell loudly that “you can’t stand this for another minute, he does this every night, and you are sick and tired of him being so bad”.  If he doesn’t go to sleep right now, he won’t be able to watch cartoons when he gets home from school tomorrow.  Your son starts crying and you feel awful.

Though we love our children, it is inevitable that sometimes we won’t like our children or feel positively towards them, especially when they are acting in ways that make parenting more difficult. If these feelings are combined with our own stressful personal issues, our higher cognitive capacity to calm ourselves down and be in control of our emotions may be briefly suppressed.  If this happens, as it does to all of us, we may find ourselves yelling at our children and saying things that we wish we could take back.   At these times, our brains go “limbic”, putting us and our children at the mercy of our more primitive, poorly regulated emotions and actions.  The good news is that many of us are able to recover quickly from these ruptures with our children, get back into our thinking brain, reconnect with our emotions, and repair connections with them. When we are able to mindfully feel our emotions and not act them out in inappropriate ways, or “feel and deal”, we regain the connection with our children.  However, ruptures without repairs can lead to a deepening and more enduring disconnection between us and our children, and can create shame and humiliation that is toxic for a child’s growing sense of self.

Stop, Drop and Roll is an effective mindful technique that helps parents turn their attention to the present moment.  It gives the parent’s brain the opportunity to slow down and take a more thoughtful look at how to repair an interaction with a child which may have inadvertently been seen or felt by their child as unfair, scary and/or shaming. The first step is for the parent to stop and create some distance mentally and perhaps physically so that he/she can gain perspective on the interaction.  Then, the parent can drop inside him/herself, breathe deeply and relax the mind. This will help the parent get out of their limbic system and back in the more rational part of their brain so that they can mindfully be aware of the rupture they may have inadvertently caused with their child.  Once a calmer state of mind and clarity has been achieved, a parent’s thinking brain will be “back on line” and he/she will be able to be roll out an effective repair strategy to re- reconnect with their child.    

Erica Moltz, MA, NCC, Clinical Director

If you are interested in learning more about mindful parenting, Erica Moltz is available for personalized phone coaching sessions.                                                                                                                              

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