You know that feeling where you've been wide awake, engaged in a task, but were completely lost in thought the whole time? It can be startling to realize you have driven from point A to point B without feeling fully aware of your actions.
While mind-wandering isn’t bad, it can lead to negative thinking patterns such as catastrophic thinking (e.g., “What if my partner is late because he's been in a terrible accident?!”) or other cognitive distortions that contribute to anxiety and depression. Parenting is hard enough without our minds playing tricks on us.
Especially lately, there have been far too many moments when I feel like I'm phoning it in as a parent, where a whole day has gone by and I feel like I’ve been on autopilot. My ever-insightful daughter shook me to my core last week when she demanded, “Let me see your eyes!” after I answered her “Are you listening?” plea with a fully distracted “Yes.”
It was a gracious wake-up call that I need to be more fully present with her. Meditation exercises can help refocus us back to the present moment and create space between our thoughts and ourselves. Meditation cultivates mindfulness, a state that helps us be fully present with our children and decreases feelings of anxiety and depression.
Here are four simple strategies to use on days you need to pause your mind and settle back into the moment:
Connecting our body and our mind by slowing both down.
How to do it: Think of a phrase or mantra (e.g., "I am at peace"). When you step with your left foot, say, "I am," and when you step with your right foot, say, "at peace." Repeat the mantra with each step. Welcome your child to join you and pick their own mantra!
Leaves on a Stream
How to do it: Visualize yourself sitting beside a stream with leaves floating along the surface of the water. For each thought that crosses your mind — whether pleasurable, painful, or neutral — visualize placing it onto a leaf, and let it float by.
Movement & Visualization Exercise
How to do it: Envision a bright red balloon with a string connected to your left leg (arms, hands, shoulders, chest, etc.). As you breathe, notice the balloon rise and see your leg rising with it. Notice that it falls as the balloon brings your leg to the ground. Now, do the same with your right leg. Invite your child to do this one with you!
The more we focus on what we're grateful for, the more our minds drift away from what we can't control.
How to do it: Find time each day (maybe during a period of winding down or relaxing) to say three things that you're grateful for. Of course, your child can do the same! Consider creating a gratitude jar or other helpful way to remember the positives in life.
Kamryn Hinkle and Julianne Neely teamed up on this article to combine their expertise on parenting, pediatric mental health, and counseling techniques. They work together at Individual and Family Connection where they dedicate their careers to help children, parents, and families thrive by giving them the tools and strategies they need.