Mindful parenting – discuss… by Emily Smart

I’ve never really been one for self-help in any capacity. What you can’t get solved over a pint or two and a chat with a good mate is not worth sorting really. And as for self-help books, I’d prefer a Lynda La Plante any day of the week.

And so, in this cynical, sceptical and slightly resistant mindset, I found myself signed up for a six week mindful parenting course. Not for a full six weeks you understand, who would be minding my children while I was mindfully not minding them? No, once a week for an hour and a half in a draughty old church hall in St Heliers.

I did wonder if, with children at the ages of 12 and 10 and 10, I might have left it a bit late to start being mindful in my parenting; after all, that’s a lot of years of parenting already gone. However, a friend of mine suggested the course because he was amazed at the transformation it had brought about in his household of three kids, with no more shouting and a sense of calmness that I could only dream of.

Seeing red

The course is run by the lovely Shirley and, whenever you say or write her name, you need to precede it with the word ‘lovely’. She’s one of those people who you can’t imagine ever shouting or getting flustered. A mother to five children, she has twinkly eyes and boundless energy. I thought I would hate her for being smug and exuding niceness from every pore (I don’t tend to do nice people), but she has spent most sessions drinking red wine and being delightful, informative and funny, which rather altered my expectations.

The core concept of mindful parenting is based on a set of traffic lights. The most simplified explanation of this is that if you’re in a red mindset you’re in fight or flight mode – there is a lot of anger here and your adrenaline goes through the roof. Orange denotes a task-oriented brain, where you’re not really listening to your kids and are busy getting chores done, while green is calming and the optimum place to live in. In our household, red and orange have been our dominant colours, which is not great for either parents or children.

Through a series of techniques and explanations, lovely Shirley has been teaching us to develop empathy with our children and to steer clear of the shouting and aggression that is usually associated with red brain. After all,  this creates red-brained angry little people.

I am, of course, over-simplifying something that has been investigated by clever therapists for years, but, I have to say, it’s been a resounding hit for my partner and me.  It’s been beneficial outside of the home for me too, and I think for the first time ever, I am dealing with difficult work situations in a more mature and constructive way than I ever did before the course.

Stop, look and listen

Why am I sharing this with you? Well, I suppose it comes down to that old adage ‘don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it’. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t gone all Mother Theresa, I’m still shouting at my kids and they still drive me to distraction (and booze). However, it’s sometimes worth getting a little introspective and looking at why and how you behave, and in turn how this effects those around you – whether you’re being angry, kind, selfless or all the other emotions you go through daily.

Lovely Shirley said on day one of the course that we shouldn’t expect our children to change after our sessions. She suggested that they will still be annoying, loud and a handful, but how we react and deal with their behaviour will change, for the better.

So thanks lovely Shirley, and all the other parents who were kind enough to share their experiences with the group. Here’s a link if you want more information http://renewyourmind.co.nz/

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