As a parent, I often find myself running on autopilot. When things get hectic, as they often are, I’ll catch myself responding to situations with my child in ways that I end up regretting later.
To help get me and other parents off of autopilot, I invited my colleague Dr. Deniz Ahmadinia, Psy.D. to talk about mindful parenting, a strategy for bringing mindful awareness–a moment-to-moment non-judgmental awareness–into your interactions as a parent with your child.
Here’s our conversation:
Koorosh: What is mindful parenting?
Dr. Deniz: That’s a great question, especially because I think the term mindful and mindfulness is such a hot word these days. Often times, it’s not defined the same way every time. So, what mindful parenting is–it’s really about bringing mindful awareness, which is a moment-to-moment non-judgmental awareness, into your interactions as a parent with your child.
I think something that comes up often when we talk about mindful parenting is that it’s about being a perfect, available, present parent who’s patient at all times. And that is not the goal. right? Because we are not wired to be present at all moments. So, mindful parenting isn’t about, “You need to be a perfect parent.” It’s about recognizing if there is a rupture in that connection and how do we repair it, right? How do we repair it so that we maintain that bond with the child so that they know that when they screw up, they’re still lovable, they can still come to us, that their emotions are important, and we can help them regulate it.
Koorosh: That sounds both really cool and a little bit daunting.
Dr. Deniz: Yeah.
Koorosh: So, can you explain how it works, give us an example?
Dr. Deniz: Absolutely. So, what I recommend for parents is choosing one particular situation with your child that maybe didn’t go over so great–something you would have liked to do differently.
What did you notice going through your mind at that moment, right? When your kid did whatever they did, what were your thoughts? What were you telling yourself? What was happening in your body?Are you tense? Are you clenching your jaw? Did you feel hot? What were those stress signals? And what were your emotions? What was coming up? Were you feeling angry, frustrated, sad, disappointed, right?
Taking that information, and then next looking at what did you feel like doing in that moment? We call this the action urge, okay. So, what was the urge? Did you want to yell something at your kid, do all sorts of things, right? With expletives.
Koorosh: I’ve had some thoughts.
Dr. Deniz: Right, absolutely. And the next step is, once we’ve noticed that, right, we spend some time just starting to notice our patterns and then we work towards pausing. All right, so once you’ve had that moment where you’re catching it happening in the moment what do we do to break that cycle so that the action urge is just an urge, not necessarily the outcome of the situation?
So, noticing what our experience is, is step one. Step two is pausing. And there’s so many different ways we can do this. The easiest–because it’s always with you–is your breath. It’s just slowing down and zeroing your focus right in on your breath, even just for a moment. I’m feeling angry right now, right? For some people, if that doesn’t feel comfortable for you in your body, just noticing where your body is, right? Feeling your feet on the ground, your hands on the seat wherever you are, just to ground yourself right here and now. And sometimes it’s just enough of that space–almost like a 3-minute breathing space that we can reset and just take down the intensity of the emotional tone so that we can have a little bit more of an opportunity to choose what we want to do moving forward in that moment.
It doesn’t mean that we don’t feel any less angry or disappointed, that we don’t feel any less tense or hurt, or that those thoughts go away, right? We’re not trying to change those, we’re trying to change the interaction. So, with mindfulness we’re practicing just observing and letting it be, because all that’s good information for us but we don’t want to necessarily act based on those things.
Koorosh: So, this is a practice you can do while you’re making breakfast, right? Sort of, okay when this happened yesterday or whatever–this morning, this is what happened, this was the trigger, these are my thoughts, this is how I responded, and then to allow yourself to feel the emotions of what was happening and then to breathe into that. Oh, that’s really cool because it doesn’t require you to do anything with your kid or your partner or anything. It’s just you in that moment. What if you do this breathing thing and you sort of come up with, “Yeah, I still want to whatever?”
Dr. Deniz: That’s fine, right? The idea here is to have choice, right? When we’re being led by our experience, it’s sort of like getting fish hooked, right? Just pulls us along. That’s different than unhooking and saying, “I still want to do this.” So, again it’s not that this is the particular response you need to have, that we’re telling you how to–you know–interact with your child, but the idea is really just that you’re being led by with full awareness, right? To parent with open eyes in a way.
Dr. Deniz Ahmadinia is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Beverly Hills where she specializes in trauma/PTSD, anxiety, women’s health and mindfulness-based approaches. She has worked as a staff psychologist at the esteemed West Los Angeles VA Medical Center following completion of an Advanced Post-Doctoral Fellowship in integrative health, and specialty training in mindfulness, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, trauma, and anxiety. Dr. Deniz had the privilege of training in and facilitating Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Kristen Neff & Chris Germer’s Mindful Self-Compassion with renowned psychologists and certified meditation teachers. During her time at the VA, she also implemented a Mindful Parenting program for Veterans, based on her clinical research.
Dr. Deniz completed an APA accredited internship at Sepulveda VA Ambulatory Care Center, where she received specialty training in PTSD, anxiety, women’s health, and substance abuse. She has also worked at the Long Beach VA, at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior conducting neuropsychological assessment of degenerative conditions, and at the Pepperdine Community Counseling Center as a therapist and supervisor. Prior to pursuing her doctorate, Dr. Deniz trained at the Southern California Counseling Center in the Family Therapy and School-Based programs, as well as at the Dangerfield Institute for Urban Problems.
Learn more about Dr. Deniz.
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