This Might Be The Most Important Step Toward Raising A Mindful Child

Photo: Eddie Pearson

Helping your child develop healthy skills, habits, and perspectives from a young age may be one of a parent's most important responsibilities. And for those of us who care deeply about the nourishment of the soul in conjunction with that of the body, no practice could be more meaningful to bestow upon our offspring than that of mindfulness. That ability to be present in one's actions and aware of one's emotions helps kids reduce stress, increase focus, be more empathetic, and stay calm—just like it does for adults.

Now, actually teaching mindfulness to your children? Well, with diapers to change and PTA meetings to get to and bowls of cereal flying about seemingly from out of nowhere, that can be a little more tricky. Fortunately, research tells us "mindful parenting" can be one effective way to help children develop that naturally mindful disposition. Mindful parenting is an approach to parenting that prioritizes compassion toward your child, actively listening and paying attention to them, being aware of their emotions, and accepting the inherent challenges that come with the responsibility. It also means being aware and in control of your own emotions and behavior while parenting. This mindful approach to raising kids has been shown to produce more mindful children, as well.

But a new study published in the Journal of Adolescence puts an important asterisk on the relationship between exercising mindful parenting and having more mindful children: The parents, as individuals, need to be at peace with themselves first.

Researchers surveyed 685 pairs of mothers and their children, giving each person a separate questionnaire to complete about their family relationship, individual mindfulness habits, and (for the moms only) symptoms of anxiety and depression. In the kids, whose ages ranged from 10 to 18, dispositional mindfulness dealt with being able to accept their own negative emotions without self-judgment, being able to focus on the present without too much preoccupation with the past, and being aware of oneself during normal daily activities.

The study results confirmed that parents who used a mindful parenting approach tended to have kids who are more innately mindful—but importantly, this association was mediated by the parent's own levels of anxiety and depression. In other words, practicing mindfulness when raising offspring only translated into fostering more mindfulness in their children when the parents themselves had their own sense of inner peace.

"Stress is contagious," writes psychotherapist Katie Hurley, LSCW, at mbg. "When parents care for themselves and keep their own stress levels in check, the whole family benefits."

Let's be clear: The take-away isn't that if you struggle with your mental health, you're going to fail as a parent. Not at all! The point is simply to make sure that, as you're lovingly taking care of your children and their emotions, don't forget to be taking care of yourself, as well. Beyond just being an important facet of self-care, being attentive to your own needs as a parent carries a ripple effect into how your child sees you and your interactions together. As these findings show, mindful parenting is really only effective if you're also working on your own inner healing and personal journey.

So set up that self-love routine, parents. The benefits trickle down to everyone.

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