Welcoming a new baby into the home is an exciting occasion filled with joy and happiness. It’s also a time when parents can feel a bit overwhelmed and emotional. Although the intensity of the emotions experienced during the postpartum period gradually fades, normal day-to-day situations will occasionally be a trigger that leads to parental stress. Everyone’s ability to withstand and manage stress varies greatly.
From birth, the interactions you have with your baby help to shape the way he or she will think, feel, and behave later in life. These interactions also help to form important emotional bonds between you and your child. Good emotional health also helps to maintain positive relationships with your older children and other family members.
We’re all familiar with the negative effects of stress on our physical and mental health. But did you know that stress is contagious? Research shows that children (including newborns) pick up on parental stress, which, over time, can negatively impact your child’s health and wellbeing.
The lesson here is that our own moods matter. As parents, learning how to manage stress is one of the best gifts we can give our children. Children learn from parents and other adult caregivers in the home. In order to be good role models we have to learn healthy ways to control our emotions.
Meditation and breathing exercises allow us to calm down so we don’t react with a typical stress response — flight or fight. When we remain calm during stressful situations, we are teaching our children to do the same. Mindfulness allows us to regulate our own emotions and reactions. It allows us to be more attuned and sensitive to our children’s needs and, in turn, our children will learn healthy ways to regulate their emotions.
How to start a mindfulness practice
Practicing mindfulness is deceptively simple. But simple doesn’t mean easy. Just like starting an exercise routine is conceptually simple, remaining consistently committed can be difficult. In order for any exercise to be effective, it needs to be practiced consistently to yield results. Once we start to see the results, such as a thinner waistline, we’re more apt to continue the practice.
The same is true for meditation — once we start to feel the benefits (which can be immediate) we realize it is truly worthwhile. Just like we’re reshaping our bodies at the gym, we’re retraining our minds by meditation.
A few tips to get started.
- Pick a regular time for your practice.
- Start with realistic goals — for example, five minutes a day for week one, seven minutes a day for week two, etc. The goal is to get to 20 minutes once or twice per day. This is where the real benefits kick in.
- It takes about 21 days for something to become a habit, but many people get in the groove with seven days of practice.
- Choose a meditation app or look on YouTube and find a meditation that resonates with you.
- Before you start, make sure you are in a comfortable place where you won’t be disturbed.
- Start off by focusing your attention on your breath. Breathe in slowly for three or four seconds, hold for two, then breathe out slowly for three or four more seconds.
What are the sensations associated with air coming in through your nose, filling up your lungs, and then coming back out again through your mouth? Your only goal is to be aware of and notice how it feels to breathe. Your job is to feel, not think. Any time you find yourself drifting into thought, bring yourself back to the sensation of breathing.
The biggest obstacle you will encounter starting a mindfulness practice is your own mind. Remember that mindfulness is a practice — it’s not a competition or test. When you get distracted, gently shift your attention back to the sensation of breathing. This is completely normal and to be expected. In fact, getting distracted from simple awareness mode into thinking mode is a necessary part of the practice. It’s impossible to stop our thoughts; these come automatically, and we are not in control of them.
Cultivating mindfulness in children
Mindfulness isn’t only helpful in stressful situations — being mindful helps us better relate to our kids. Children need to know that we (caregivers) are making time for them. When we’re spending time with our children, we should be present. This means putting away our phones, iPads, and computers. When we do this we’re giving children the message that they matter to us.
We can cultivate mindfulness in our children starting at a very young age. Studies have shown that even newborns can sense when a parent or caregiver is truly present or just going through the motions. For example, when you’re changing a diaper or giving a baby a bath, ask yourself if you are truly present or just going through the motions.
There are many different styles of meditation throughout the world, stemming from different cultures, traditions, and schools of thought. Likewise, meditation can be taught and practiced in different ways. Overall, there is no single “best” type of meditation. Find a style that resonates with you and start to practice. There are no hard and fast rules.
The team at Boston Baby Nurse & Nanny understands that mindfulness has many benefits. Our team of experts provides families with mindful childcare. We’ve created several online classes to support parents and caregivers to be mindful of children and focus on their development and well-being. We also understand that mom needs “me time,” and we will provide mom and the entire family with the support that is needed throughout parenthood.