Working parents know that it can sometimes be difficult to get out of work mode and into parenting mode once you get home. You want to make the most of your time with your kids, but there’s dinner to cook, homework questions to answer, and chores to be finished. How can you be present with your kids, and give them the attention and love that they need, when work pressures may still be on your mind?
Enter the practice of “mindful parenting.” Even if you have a loving, open relationship with your children (and we hope you do!), mindful parenting can improve your relationship, make you feel like a better parent, and help your children be more present with you, as well.
Mindful Parenting Differs from Mindfulness
With all the buzz about mindfulness, it’s important to remember that it’s not about meditation. The practice is about having a non-judgmental sense of awareness about sensations, feelings, and those around you. Mindful parenting, as described by mindfulness pioneers Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn, involves focusing attention on the parent-child interactions rather than just on the self.
Based on the Kabat-Zinns’ work, most experts say that mindful parenting encompasses five elements: 1) listening with full attention, 2) accepting yourself and your child without judgement, 3) emotional awareness of yourself and your child, 4) self-regulation in your parenting, and 5) compassion for both yourself and your child.
Other researchers and advocates, such as Jean E. Dumas, describe mindful parenting as a way of breaking out of our habits and getting out of automatic pilot when we interact with our children. When parents are fully present with their children, they can also integrate a sense of acceptance, compassion, and kindness.
The First Step is Learning How to Listen
Listening, rather than just hearing, is a significant element of mindful parenting. Paying attention not only to words, but also facial expressions, body language, and vocal tone can help parents interpret better what their children are trying to communicate. And instead of interrupting, parents who listen allow their children to express their feelings and needs without superimposing their own.
Larissa G. Duncan and her colleagues posit that parents who are aware and accepting of their child’s needs are more likely to be more satisfied with their relationship with their child. They’re also more likely to avoid cycles of maladaptive parenting behavior.
Less Conflict, More Compassion
Mindful parenting has been shown to be extremely effective in reducing conflict between parents and children, particularly adolescents.
Tension between parents and their adolescent children is common, because the relationship dynamic is constantly in flux. Adolescents are experimenting with asserting their independence and personal agency, and that tests parents’ boundaries and sense of control.
Mindful parents are better able to interpret their adolescent’s words and actions, helping them to pause, listen, and reflect on what their adolescent children are telling them. And adolescents who feel as though their parents listen to them are far more likely to communicate and disclose information about sensitive subjects.
J. Douglas Coatsworth and his colleagues found that parents trained in mindfulness are better at managing their own anger and calming themselves down before reacting to their children. And in a study involving 901 parents, Naline Geurtzen and her colleagues at the Radboud University in the Netherlands found that mindful parenting reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression in their adolescent children.
When parents are mindful in their interactions with their child—adolescent or not—they can empower themselves to disrupt any cycles of negativity or disengagement that can become automatic in some parent-child relationships.
Accepting Your Child and Yourself
We know that parents feel a lot of pressure to be the best parents they can be. But we also know that being able to accept yourself and your children—perceived flaws and all—will help you and your children be happier, healthier, and feel more connected, even if your time together seems limited.
In addition, when you’re mindful, you’re modeling mindfulness for your child... and your child learns how to be mindful, too. And that means that even if your family time is limited, you can get the most out of your time together, helping to foster a loving, compassionate relationship that will endure for years to come.
To dive deeper into the practice of mindful parenting, check out the work of Wisdom Labs’ Faculty Member, Michelle Gale.
 Smith, Justin D., and Thomas J. Dishion. "Mindful parenting in the development and maintenance of youth psychopathology." Transdiagnostic mechanisms and treatment for youth psychopathology (2013): 138-160. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/JD_Smith/publication/216141660_Mindful_parenting_as_a_transdiagnostic_family_process_in_the_development_and_maintenance_of_youth_psychopathology/links/00b4952cc286c85ccb000000.pdf
 Duncan, Larissa G., J. Douglas Coatsworth, and Mark T. Greenberg. “A model of mindful parenting: Implications for parent–child relationships and prevention research.” Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review 12:3 (2009): 255-270. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10567-009-0046-3
 Dumas, Jean E. "Mindfulness-based parent training: Strategies to lessen the grip of automaticity in families with disruptive children." Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology 34, no. 4 (2005): 779-791. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1207/s15374424jccp3404_20 (Paywall)
 Lippold, Melissa A., Larissa G. Duncan, J. Douglas Coatsworth, Robert L. Nix, and Mark T. Greenberg. "Understanding how mindful parenting may be linked to mother–adolescent communication." Journal of youth and adolescence 44, no. 9 (2015): 1663-1673. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4563867/
 Coatsworth, J. Douglas, Larissa G. Duncan, Mark T. Greenberg, and Robert L. Nix. "Changing parent’s mindfulness, child management skills and relationship quality with their youth: Results from a randomized pilot intervention trial." Journal of Child and Family Studies 19:2 (2010): 203-217. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3765025/
 Geurtzen, Naline, Ron HJ Scholte, Rutger CME Engels, Yuli R. Tak, and Rinka MP van Zundert. "Association between mindful parenting and adolescents’ internalizing problems: non-judgmental acceptance of parenting as core element." Journal of Child and Family Studies 24, no. 4 (2015): 1117-1128. http://www.praktikon.nl/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/2014-Association-Between-Mindful-Parenting-and-Adolescents.pdf
 Goodman, Trudy A., and Susan Kaiser Greenland. "Mindfulness with children: Working with difficult emotions." In Clinical Handbook of Mindfulness, 417-429. Springer New York, 2009. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Dennis_Tirch/publication/225201225_Emotional_Memory_Mindfulness_and_Compassion/links/543c05250cf24a6ddb97d6d4.pdf#page=433