"It’s not unusual to hear Nicholas Brahm singing a song for all the woods to hear when he’s hiking. He’s not picky with his song repertoire. It could be Jingle Bells (in July), or a car commercial jingle he’s heard on TV or a heavy metal Kiss song. Whatever pops into his eleven-year-old head. He memorizes every jingle and song he hears and feels moved to express himself when he hikes. Yet he has no other functioning speech.
Perhaps this is Nicholas’s way of expressing the joy that he feels while on the Trail, in the woods. Singing is sure-fire proof that one is a happy soul, for he has no other way to express himself verbally. Singing makes Nicholas’s father, Rick, thrilled because Nicholas is autistic, and out here, on the Trail, Nicholas shines the brightest. And so, the New Jersey Sussex County family returns to the A.T. again and again."
The concept of "mindful parenting," may seem out of reach in our fast-paced, technology driven society, however, there are particular elements that are crucial to our children’s emotional development which can help to strengthen our ability to co-regulate and connect with our children. Mindfulness is not another task that we make time for in our already busy, hectic schedules, rather it’s a way of being and connecting with our children.
As Daniel Siegel explains in his book Parenting from the Inside Out,
"Mindfulness is at the heart of nurturing relationships. When we are mindful, we live in the present moment and are aware of our own thoughts and feelings and also are open to those of our children. The ability to stay present with clarity within ourselves allows us to be fully present with others and to respect each person’s individual experience. No two people see things in exactly the same way. Mindfulness gives respect to the sovereignty of each person’s unique mind. When we are being fully present as parents, when we are mindful, it enables our children to fully experience themselves in the moment. Children learn about themselves by the way that we communicate with them. When we are preoccupied with the past or worried about the future, we are physically present with our children but we are mentally absent. Children don’t need us to be connected all of the time, but they do need our presence during connecting interactions. Being mindful as a parent means having intention in your own actions. With intention, you purposefully choose your behavior with your child’s emotional well-being in mind. Children can readily detect intention and thrive when there is purposeful interaction with their parents. It is within our children’s emotional connections with us that they develop a deeper sense of themselves and capacity for relating."
A question that we often hear from parents is, "How do I teach emotional regulation to my child?” This starts with us as parents. It's important to be in tune with our own emotions because our children learn emotional regulation from us. It is also important to take it easy on ourselves, we can be our own worst enemies. With the concept of mindful parenting, comes a lot of controversy. Mindful parenting is sometimes viewed as another stressor or unattainable expectation that can lead to parents striving for perfectionism. However, being mindful doesn’t mean being perfect. It is accepting all of our emotions within ourselves so that we are able to recognize and accept any negative or challenging thoughts we may be experiencing and reframe them accordingly. We are going to be stressed from time to time, but it's crucial that we are cognizant of what we are experiencing and consider how we need to reframe our emotions. Focusing on self-care is key because we want to model healthy coping skills. As we become more aware of our own needs through the practice of mindfulness, we become better at understanding and addressing the needs of our children, as opposed to becoming reactive to surface behaviors. Parents who are supportive and validating of their child’s emotional experiences, and do not match their child’s negative affect with their own negative affect promote healthier emotional development. As we are all on our own personal journey of life, adding mindfulness practices will enhance our quality of interactions with ourselves and our children.
Siegel, D.J. & Hartzell, M. (2003). Parenting from the inside out. New York: Putnam.
SFSS Department, Celebrate the Children
Contributions to this blog are made by Celebrate the Children's highly talented, interdisciplinary team and wonderful families.