Imagine being able to teach your child a skill that gave them confidence, stability and peace from their first day on earth, and it could cost you nothing. Professional performers in all disciplines from singing and public speaking to Olympic athletes and football players understand the value of taking mental space before acting, even if it’s just for a split second. The difference is responding instead of reacting and it dictates how happy we are with how we deal with a situations, people and, ultimately, ourselves. People with genuine authority, peace and confidence in who they are respond, not react. So that is the difference and how do you acquire this skill, let alone teach it?
Mindfulness is a discipline that enables us to have the head space to respond, thoughtfully, calmly and with dignity. Firstly let’s clear up a few misunderstandings. Mindfulness is not concentrating, but it does help you concentrate. Nor is it meditation, but a meditation practice can integrate with and help build a mindfulness practice. The key word being practice. Mindfulness is a skill of being self-aware and present in the moment that needs to be honed and the more that you practice it the better you will become at it, and the more naturally you may default to a mindful response than a reaction.
With reacting there is little or no thought process. It is knee-jerk automatic, driven by feelings or ego. Responding on the other hand is thoughtful and deliberate. Many people struggle with learning how to respond. Instead, when under pressure they react, feeling that they have don’t have the time or head space to choose a response. This pressure to react is internal and learned from birth, if not before. So how do we give our children the gift of the calm and head space needed to respond instead of reacting on emotion? Enabling them to feel empowered to say no, express themselves well and speak up when they have something to contribute?
Depending on how practiced you are on being responsive, it can happen in the same amount of time as reacting but comes from a more empowered place. Responding is a practiced skill that is approached in many types of training and disciplines. In Alexander Technique it is called Inhibiting. In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, it is ‘Catching the Thought.’ In Mindfulness, it is called ironically, Mindfulness.
Alexander Technique teaches that when you inhibit you give yourself options that you would not have otherwise had. Once you Inhibit (or stop) you can:
1) Do nothing
2) Make your habitual response but now it is a choice
3) Do something different to your habitual response
So how do we integrate the practice of mindfulness into our daily lives and teach it to our children?
Here are my top 5 tips to practice mindfulness, or responding, in your daily life.
1) Delay gratification. We started this from 12 weeks onward, even if it’s just for a few moments. Research has shown over and over again that children that have the ability to delay gratification are happier and more successful as adults (check out the The Stanford marshmallow experiment.)
2) Modulate your voice, to being calm. We have all had those moments when the crying really gets to you or you feel on the verge of panic. My chest used to ache from being tight when my daughter had a week of screaming and I didn’t know what to do. The low, measured tone of my voice calmed not only her, but me. Sometimes you need to hear a reassuring calm voice, even if it’s your own.
3) Practice being present and tuning in to all your senses, in all you do; from taking a shower and making a cup of tea to eating mindfully. Enjoy those precious moments of feeding, looking into each other’s eyes and exploring the wonder of nourishing that little being together.
4) Use apps like Headspace or Calm app to support you. Have the bub do it with you. Some of the apps like calm have white noise in them that completely chill out little one out. They can help you keep track of your progress and we have a rule no tech until we have meditated, you rarely miss a session that way.
5) Leave reminders around the house to help you pause and be present. Some of the messages that we have on our walls in visible places (right by the main door, you will see this on my Instagram) are “Be here now” and “One thing at a time”. Prior to baby, I had ambitious driven messages around to keep me motivated and focused but the reality is when the baby comes all your resources, mental, physical and emotional, are stretched and challenged in ways that you could never have imagined. Some days giving yourself the permission and space to do one thing at a time is the kindest things you can do.
Most important of all, develop a mindfulness practice of your own. Make it a priority.
You can’t give your children what you don’t have nor teach your children what you don’t yourself know. It is easier to establish habits before birth and integrate these established habits into your new life when the ‘baby hurricane’ hits.
Emmanuella Grace is a Voice and Performance expert, entrepreneur and mother. She has helped thousands of people worldwide to find their voice and flourish. She is the founder of Melbourne based Voice and Performance coaching studio, Find Your Voice. Qualifications include a Masters in Music Performance Teaching (Melbourne University), Postgraduate Diploma in Psychology (UNE), Honors Bachelor of Music (Kingston University, London), advanced training in Alexander Technique, Estill Voice Training Level I, II and Advanced Certificate as well as previously serving on the board of the Australian Society of Performing Arts Healthcare (ASPAH).
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