How meditation can help you become a calmer parent
It’s that time of year when the treadmills at the gym are full at 6 a.m, the blenders are buzzing with green smoothies and everyone has a little more spring in their step. Yes, most of us won’t keep our New Year’s resolutions but a little self-reflection and goal-setting surely never hurt anyone.
I recently interviewed parenting author and family therapist Alyson Schafer about what she might recommend as far as resolutions go for parents. What could we all do to be better in 2018?
Schafer laughed the moment the word left her lips, but she wasn’t kidding.
“Kids do things to trigger us all the time, so if you haven’t done your homework on how to be calm and centred and have that deep rudder around your values, you can’t really be present to a kid who is trying to figure out life. Don’t see it as being selfish. It’s self-care. It’s self-knowledge. Self-awareness.”
Laurel Gregory: I talked to Alyson Schafer, a parenting author with decades of experience, and I said, ‘What is the No. 1 piece of advice you would give parents going into 2018? What’s the best thing they can do for themselves?’ And she said, ‘Meditate.’ What do you think about that?”
Mandy Trapp: Oh my gosh. I think parents need to do that. First of all, because there’s so much research now to just really prove the energetic exchange that we have between ourselves and our kids. And just the way that even our neurons are firing.
If parents are stressed out, which – let’s face it – they are with the economy and politics, they come home and they bring all of that energy into the space and kids are feeding off of it. Then the kids start to act up and it stresses the parents out more and it’s this interesting spiral.
I think absolutely parents need to do [meditation] for themselves so they have the ability to step back and detach a little bit, knowing that it will help their children as well.
LG: What are the benefits?
MT: The benefits of meditation is really that it creates a greater sense of mindfulness and those are two words that, nowadays, get kind of mishmashed together. Meditation is just a practice that helps you to essentially just detach from all of the stress and triggers that we have so that when we step back into activity, we can do it with greater awareness and we get to be more responsive instead of reactive. Making better choices. Maybe even calculating ahead of time what might be the consequences or the benefits of making a certain choice… and not feeling so emotionally out of control or overdriven.
LG: Which I imagine would be great as a parent because you aren’t (snapping fingers) always responding.
MT: And how reactive are we? I think we are a product of how we were raised as well and then you put all of the stress that we have on top of that right now. I know myself as a parent, I think after I’ve reacted to something, ‘Why did I do that? Why did I do that? That’s not really what I wanted to do. But it’s just what I did.’ Then you have to go back and try to undo all of that.
How great would it be if we all kind of have, not just the skills and the tools in the moment to be able to take a deep breath and then respond, but it actually starts to shift physiologically in your body, that response, so that we aren’t overtaken by it as quickly anymore.
LG: There’s physical benefits too right? For sleep and stress?
MT: Absolutely. We can kind of lean into science, which I love to do. It’s now easily shown that we have somewhere between 50, 000 to 80,000 thoughts a day, in a 24-hour period, which is a lot of thinking. For every thought there is a reaction or an attachment to it, so the body is always like, ‘I like this’ or ‘I don’t like this.’ It’s like jumping on a trampoline. So the more stimulus that you put into it, even if you are trying to sleep at night, the body is still going through the actions. The thoughts are still travelling down those pathways in the brain. So we wake up exhausted. So [what] the meditation helps us to do is every time a thought comes in, we just consciously shoo it away. It’s like a dog that wants your attention, dropping its ball on your lap. You’re like, ‘No thank you.’ Eventually it curls up and it goes to sleep. So then when it goes to sleep, all of those primary functions in the body start to slow down so we can rest much more deeply and regenerate.
LG: And kids can benefit too?
MT: We usually say from around the age of five is when, developmentally, they are ready to start a bit of a meditation practice. You watch babies and as long as their diapers are dry, they’re fed and they are not overtired, naturally they kind of exist in that state of mindfulness. But the more their world gets closer and closer together or more cut off; ‘No don’t do this,’ or ‘That’s bad,’ or ‘Be afraid of that,’ the more fear that they have. So they start to get a little more high-strung and have a hard time sleeping. So usually around five is when they start to present with the most problems but it’s also the greatest opportunity.
Around the age of five we say they should be able to start to sit still… for the amount of minutes that they are years old.
So at five years old, we should be able to get them sitting still for five minutes – six, seven, eight, all the way up to 12. Then around 12, the brain is technically developed enough that they should be able to sit for 20 minutes.
LG: If every Canadian family took up that parenting expert’s advice and started a practice in 2018, what would that look like? What would that accomplish?
MT: Sigh. Honestly, I think it would almost shift the world. The Dalai Lama said if every eight-year-old right now took up meditation, within the next generation there wouldn’t be the amount of war and suffering that we have anymore because they see the world in different eyes. It’s very difficult to operate from fear and to be reactive with old, conditioned habits when you’re sitting in a state of – we just say – witnessing awareness or a state of mindfulness. We start to take responsibility. There’s no victimization anymore; ‘You did this’ and ‘I did that.’ We take responsibility. I think it would be huge.
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