My nephew is going through the “terrible twos” (or is it actually terrible threes?), if you could call them that — so far, it’s not so bad. Sometimes I’ll get sweet, unprompted kisses and declarations of love, and mere minutes later he’ll be calling me a farty-head. A semi-universal experience.
How are parents dealing with these tumultuous years in the modern era? According to Pinterest’s wellness trends for the year, they’re turning to mindfulness. Not meditation, art therapy or journalling — specifically, they’re turning to mindful parenting.
And yes, there’s a reason why these toddler years are universal. Kathrine Peereboom, founder and CEO of Spectrum Support, believes it’s because they’re starting to get some independence. “They may not have the expressive language to communicate their needs properly, or they’re not allowed. They’re pushing the boundaries because they want to learn.”
Krissy Regan, founder of Mindful Mums Queensland, agrees with the point on independence — and on communication. “They want to do everything themselves but can’t, and get frustrated easily. They also want to experience the world in their own way and don’t always want to relate to others, on their terms.”
With the help of these two mums, The Latch has got your guide on all things mindful parenting.
What is mindful parenting?
Peereboom is the mum to three autistic boys, and for her, “My world revolves around their development; ensuring they’re provided the skills they need in life to become a functioning member of society.”
One thing she specifies when it comes to mindful parenting is, “Don’t be too hard on yourself — we’re all learning as we go.”
She also pointed out that as children continue to grow and develop, they – and their needs — change. One thing parents can do is, “Follow their needs and adapt with them.”
“There’s no such thing as a perfect parent,” declared Peereboom.
Regan echoes this sentiment, saying “Mindful parenting isn’t about being the perfect parent, or having everything figured out. It’s being aware of your thoughts, observing your feelings and behaviours, and noticing your response to situations.”
Another thing that it means to her? “Practising compassion, for ourselves and our children.”
Advice for parents struggling with mindfulness
“We live in such a fantastic age where we do have the resources at our fingertips,” says Peereboom. She suggests reaching out to communities and groups through social media, along with talking to other parents. “Get some advice on strategies and techniques that you may be able to implement at home.”
Regan says the most important thing is to check in with yourself through the day, asking simple questions like: “How am I feeling? What does my body need right now? Are my thoughts helpful?”
Another thing to do if you’re struggling with mindfulness? “One thing I’ll stress is to make some time for yourself,” says Peereboom. “Whether it’s 15 minutes in the shower, a nice walk, or even a night or two in a hotel.”
And if you have a partner, “Make sure you always schedule some time for you and your partner.”
How can parents be more mindful with raising their children?
When it comes to her three boys, Peereboom looks and researches fine motor activities and gross motor activities. “Creative play — life skills such as picking up cutlery, using pencils, things like that.”
Tiring them out is another suggestion: “If you have a toddler really high on energy, go and bounce on a trampoline for an hour and they’ll be much more balanced for the rest of the day.”
Some other activities? “Those moments at home you can share with your little one,” she says. “Some cooking, encouraging curiousity with cracking on egg or putting things into cupcakes.” Dancing and singing to The Wiggles is a hit in her household as well.
Regan says in moments of difficulty with small children, “The best thing you can do is to get down to their level, be totally present with them, breathe deeply and remind yourself, this moment shall pass.”
One thing she does is practice breathing with her children. “We put our hand on our heart and take five big breaths into our heart space. It calms us all down quickly.” In addition to this, they practice yoga stretching together.
How can parents encourage mindfulness in their children?
For Peereboom, it’s all about communication. “The earlier you can create a dialogue and open communication with them, a lot of frustrations will be removed.” She suggests providing them with some responsibility and awarding them — whether with stars or special treats.
Parents deserve a reward system too, according to Regan. “When I’m faced with a difficult day or hours or night with my toddler, I tell myself if I can get through this time, I’ll reward myself with something just for me.” That could be anything from the last ice cream to some alone time to exercise.
…And what if they’re mid-tantrum?
In terms of keeping your own mindfulness, Regan says to start by taking very deep breaths to calm your nervous system. Follow this by reminding yourself to stay present, telling yourself “this too shall pass” and using a calming voice for yourself and your children.
Peereboom made sure to emphasise the difference between a tantrum and a meltdown.
“You can explain it if it’s a tantrum. It’s about empathising with them — ‘I understand you’re hurt, you need to explain to me while you feel that way’ — talk them down from the tantrum.”
Her boys do have what is medically termed as a ‘meltdown’ — “A really, really challenging time.” What strategy works one day, may just completely not work the next.
The long-term benefits of mindful parenting
“[Practising mindfulness with kids] will create that foundation,” says Peereboom. “There’s lots of happiness and fun in the home if there’s an open dialogue.
“If boundaries and expectations are set, then there’s that mutual understanding moving through.”