What does your stress look like?
Our bodies and brains are wired to react to high stress situations as a safety net. If our brain perceives a threat, it signals the amygdala, body’s “alarm” system, which tells our body to act without thinking. The amygdala responds to situations with the fight, flight, freeze response. This is to protect us, but our stress receptors cannot distinguish between real dangers or false dangers. In everyday parenting, our stress response often gets triggered unnecessarily by events that are not actually life threatening. Our bodies are reacting to our kid spilling cereal all over the floor in the same way we would react if we were being chased by a bear.
Depending on your childhood experiences and memories, your stress response may be triggered more easily than another person. When our stress receptions are triggered, we have difficulty thinking clearly and being attentive to people around us. We are unable to be thoughtful in our responses, and have trouble staying focused, and our ability to solve problems is diminished.
Dr. Dan Siegel, a clinical psychologist who studies the brain explains that during stressful parenting moments we may “lose control” or “flip our lid” and let our emotions control our reactions. When we “fly off the handle,” it happens so quickly and we aren’t thinking about how our children are perceiving us. Our reactions can be very scary to kids. Also, we are modeling that this is how grown ups react to stress. If we choose to be more mindful by pausing before responding, we can teach kids they too can pause and choose to respond instead of react.
What does mindfulness mean in parenting?
Managing our own emotions and behaviors is the key to teaching kids how to manage theirs. It is the reason airlines tell us to put our oxygen masks on before you can put on your child’s mask. You need to be regulated before you can model regulation for your child. Unfortunately, when you’re stressed out, exhausted, and overwhelmed, you can’t be available for your child.
Mindful parenting does not mean being a “perfect parent” and is not something you can fail at. It is not easy and it takes practice, but like many aspects of parenting, some days are good and some are bad and you can always try again. You may forget to be mindful, but the second you realize you are distracted, it is an opportunity to make a…