How Meditation and Mindfulness Can Make You a Less Crazed Parent

10% Happier has partnered with Babble to provide parents with clear, simple meditation techniques that will help you through even the most stressful situations. 


Dear fellow parents,

I fully understand if you approach this subject with a large dose of skepticism. I certainly did. I’m a paid skeptic, in fact — a news anchor.

For most of my life, I put meditation in the same bucket as aura readings, soul retrieval, Ultimate Frisbee, and Enya. But then I had a panic attack, live on Good Morning America. (You can watch it here.) That on-air freak-out ultimately led me to embrace a practice that I always assumed was ridiculous. Meditation has helped me to boost my focus and become less yanked around by my emotions. I even wrote a whole book, designed to make meditation palatable for my fellow skeptics, called 10% Happier.

As that title suggests, I am not proposing that meditation can solve all of your parenting dilemmas. When our toddler/barbarian, Alexander, is putting his hands on the electrical sockets or trying to rip the faces off our cats, it’s not like I can hurl myself into the lotus position and meditate my way out of the situation.

Instead what I’m proposing here are some quick meditative hacks that will allow you to harness the power of mindfulness so that tough parenting situations might be, say, 10% easier to manage.

Before I jump into specifics, three quick points:

  • Mindfulness has many definitions, but here’s a simple, serviceable one: It’s the ability to recognize what’s happening in your mind and body at any given moment, without getting carried away by it. Why is this useful? So that you don’t, for example, eat when you’re not hungry, lose your temper when it’s strategically unwise, or check your email in the middle of a conversation with your kid.
  • In order to exercise this skill — which is an innate human capacity, by the way — you need to keep your head in the here-and-now, instead of succumbing to the habit of getting lost in thinking about the past or future.
  • The most common way to practice and develop mindfulness is through formal meditation. However, there are also ways to do it while on the go in everyday life. That’s what we are proposing in this article.

Ok, so here are three quick mindfulness hacks for parents that I ginned up in conjunction with Diana Winston from UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center.

How not to die from boredom while reading Goodnight Moon for the 87,000th time

  1. Notice when your mind is wandering (to your to-do list, your hair, the latest celebrity divorce, your boredom, your resentment at having to read this book over and over and over … )
  2. Bring your attention back to your body: the feeling of your butt on the bed, the heft of the book in your hands, the weight of your child leaning against you.
  3. Feel your breath going in and out.
  4. Now that you’re back … notice how effortlessly present your child is. Look at his/her uncontrived joy. Take pleasure in that.
  5. Sure, your mind will wander again and again. But all you have to do is just keep coming back. Over and over. Possibly 87,000 times.

How not to lose your temper when your kid is having a tantrum

  1. Your kid is losing his/her mind. (Over, say, your insistence that he/she brush his/her teeth.)
  2. Employ the acronym S.T.O.P.
  3. Stop. Just pause for a moment. Even if it’s just a few seconds.
  4. Take a breath. It’s a cliche, but for a good reason. Breathing calms the nervous system. You don’t have to fix the situation immediately. It’s ok, you will get through this.
  5. Observe. Are your fists clenched? Your shoulders raised? Your face red? Is anger flowing through your veins? Have you hopped on a train of anxious thinking? (She won’t brush her teeth -> she will never brush her teeth -> her teeth will rot and she will look like she has meth mouth.)
  6. Proceed. Once you’ve come back to your senses and had a good look on what is actually going on in your mind, you are much less likely to be yanked around by your emotions. You can respond wisely to the situation rather than reacting blindly.

* Repeat, as needed.

How to resist the urge to check your phone when spending time with your kid

  1. You’re bored or distracted while spending time with your kid.
  2. An irresistible urge to pull out your phone roll overs you.
  3. Use the acronym: S.U.R.F to “surf the urge.”
  4. See what’s happening: you’re overcome by this desire to get a hit of dopamine from an email, text, or tweet.
  5.  Understand: Can you feel your body vibrate with the urge? Where do you feel it? Do you know where the urge is going to take you? Do you have to follow it?
  6. Relax. Watch the urge come and go. It will pass. It always does. It won’t kill you. Nothing lasts forever.
  7. Free. Once you watch the wave crest and recede, you realize: I don’t have to obey my urges!

Try these out. Don’t expect to ace them right away. You will get better with time.

A quick plug: in order to supercharge your ability to bring mindfulness to bear in moments of acute parental stress, it really helps to have a formal meditation practice. Don’t worry: it doesn’t involve joining a group, sitting in a funny position, or wearing special outfits. 10 minutes a day can help. And my team and I have designed a whole app that can really help. It’s called 10% Happier: Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics. You can get started for free.

As I said earlier, it ain’t going to solve all your problems, but it can make a game-changing difference. And trust me, if it can work for a fidgety, skeptical newsman, it can work for you.

Dan Harris is an ABC News Anchor and Cofounder of the app, 10% Happier: Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics.

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