The most challenging part of adopting this style of parenting is that in order to regulate your child’s emotions… you, as the parent, need to be able to regulate your own emotions (most of the time!) and be in the present moment. I like to think of it like this: Our frontal lobe (thinking, rational, logical part of the brain) isn’t fully developed until the age of about 25 years old (and of course, our brains continue to change throughout life).
So seemingly minor issues (like not being able to sit in the front seat of the car) can create a huge emotional reaction. So parents need to adopt the role of the frontal lobe, which will help their child’s development of this part of the brain.
This is where regularly practicing formal meditation comes in. Here are just some of the benefits of meditating regularly (for you and your children):
- Develop Awareness: Awareness is another form of intelligence. Don’t confuse awareness with ‘thinking’. We hold our thoughts in our awareness. It gives us a completely different perspective on our thoughts, we become less enmeshed with our thoughts and as a natural consequence, less reactive.
- Developing the ability to pay attention. Meditating is not a relaxation strategy (the relaxing effect is just a bonus). Meditating is about purposefully paying attention. Attending to the guiding voice, attending to your breath or attending to your thoughts and physical sensations in your body. Each time you ‘notice’ your mind wandering off, you gently refocus it to what you’re meant to be paying attention to. This practice builds the ‘attention muscle’… and happiness. An article published in a very prestigious journal concluded that “no matter what people are doing, they are much less happy when their minds are wandering than when their minds are focused”. This is why so many schools are adopting regular meditations throughout the school day. LOVE.
- After 8 weeks of daily formal meditation (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program), the amygdala (area in the brain that perceives and reacts to threat) becomes thinner in size, which is related to an improvement in perceived stress. Again, rather than ‘reacting’, you’ll be able to ‘respond’ to curly situations. In addition, brain regions associated with learning, memory, emotion regulation, sense of self and perspective taking thickens in size! (Get your kids onto it!)
- Increases emotional intelligence. For those that undertook a MBSR program, the electrical activity in the parts of the brain known to be involved in the expression of emotions shifted from the right side of the brain to the left side. This shift from right to left indicates a more effective way (a more emotionally intelligent way) of handling emotions like anxiety and frustration.
- Now this finding was from a team of Australian researchers led by a Nobel Prize winning researcher who discovered the anti-aging enzyme telomerase. It was found that our thoughts and emotions (especially highly stressful thoughts that involve worrying about the future or ruminating about the past) influence the rate at which we age. On all the tips of our chromosomes, we have these ‘telomeres’ which are repeat DNA sequences. These are essential for cell division and shorten as we age. These researchers found that chronic stress rapidly shortens these telomeres. In contrast, the evidence to date suggests that the longer telomeres are associated with how present you are in the moment (how much your mind wanders). It was also shown that it is how we perceive stress that makes all the difference. We can’t escape all sources of stress (and we don’t have to!), it’s about changing your attitude and your relationship with your circumstances. I personally love knowing that we can influence our genetic makeup by how we choose to live our life!
- Your ability to take on the world grows! One of my favourite books, Full Catastrophe Living, highlights this point. Over and over again, I hear my clients say that they can feel the difference on days they meditate, compared to days they don’t. The morning rush to get all the kids ready for school doesn’t seem so stressful… that meeting with the boss doesn’t feel so intimidating…when their kids get out of their bed for the 5th time claiming they’re hungry doesn’t feel like a personal attack on their downtime. Again, you’re ability to respond in ways that are most helpful for you and for the person you’re interacting with grows.
Not to mention other benefits such as increased immunity, better sleep quality, significant pain reduction and less impulsive behaviours.
OK so hopefully I’ve sold you on taking the time to nourish yourself. Wake up 30 minutes earlier if you have to. Meditating has just as a good effect (if not better) than sleep on your brain. Starting is the hardest step but once you start, you won’t want to stop. Make that commitment to yourself.
In term 2, I will be running a mindfulness-based cognitive therapy group for young adolescents who experience anxiety. Please call our clinic on 03 9741 5222 to indicate your interest.
Watch this space as in the near future, I will also be facilitating a mindfulness-based group for adults to reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety and/or depression.
Guided Meditations are available from:
smilingmind.com.au (also a free app)
Hassed, C. The health benefits of meditation and being mindful. Monash University
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2013). Full Catastrophe Living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain and illness. Second Edition, Random House LCC.
Killingsworth, M. A., & Gilbert, D.T. (2010). A wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Science. 330-932
Siegel, D. J., & Bryson, T. P. (2014). No-drama discipline: The whole-brain way to calm the chaos & nurture your child’s developing mind. First edition, Bantam.
Siegel, D. J., & Bryson, T. P. (2012). The whole-brain child: 12 revolutionary strategies to nurture your child’s developing mind. Brunswick, VIC: Scribe Publications.
Georgina is a Clinical Psychologist who sees children, teens and adults regarding a broad range of mental health concerns. She has a particular interest in supporting young people in creating an inner calm and confidence with their identity. Georgina considers the brain-body connection and incorporates mindfulness in her treatment. Call 9741 5222 to make an appointment with Georgina at Hopscotch & Harmony's Werribee practice.