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The Power of Presence
Mindfulness Tips for Families

The 21st century has advanced beyond our wildest dreams. With these advances, our lives are more comfortable in many ways, and yet these advances add to the never-ending distractions that can pull us away from the importance of human connection.

Parents, particularly those of children with disabilities, juggle a variety of responsibilities and may experience stress that impacts their home life and ability to enjoy everyday moments with their families.

Children need a good pilot to navigate the present and future. A calm, relaxed parent can guide the child to be as independent as possible. Parents and other family members can cultivate these qualities by using self-care strategies such as a secular mindfulness practice.

Although secular mindfulness is the current buzzword, it has been around for 29 years in some of the best medical facilities to assist patients with stress reduction.

Mindfulness: What is It?

Mindfulness is the intentional use of attention. The father of modern mindfulness, Jon Kabat- Zinn, defines mindfulness as "Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally. Bringing one's complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis." To parent nonjudgmentally and give ourselves a break as we learn and grow with our children could be a stress reducer in and of itself.

Why Use It?

Research supports mindful activities to reduce stress in adults and children. The daily practice can reduce stress and increase presence and connection between the parent and child.

Most people have 50,000 thoughts in one day. That includes mostly repetitive thoughts that interfere with people’s ability to focus. This increases stress as we continually think of the past or the future, rarely being present. Mindfulness can offer a time in our day to give our overworked, overstressed brains a break.

The Basics of Mindfulness

Mindfulness helps us put some space between ourselves and our reactions, breaking down our conditioned responses.

Here are some tips on how to tune into mindfulness throughout the day.

  1. Set aside some time. You don’t need a meditation cushion or bench, or any sort of special equipment to access your mindfulness skills – but you do need to set aside some time and space.
  2. Observe the present moment as it is. The aim of mindfulness is not quieting the mind or attempting to achieve a state of eternal calm. The goal is simple: we’re aiming to pay attention to the present moment, without judgment. Easier said than done, we know.
  3. Let your judgments roll by. When we notice judgments arise during our practice, we can make a mental note of them, and let them pass.
  4. Return to observing the present moment as it is. Our minds often get carried away in thought. That’s why mindfulness is the practice of returning, again and again, to the present moment.
  5. Be kind to your wandering mind. Don’t judge yourself for whatever thoughts crop up. Just practice recognizing when your mind has wandered off, and gently bring it back.

That's the practice. It's often been said that it's very simple, but it's not necessarily easy. The work is just to keep doing it. Results will accrue.

Informal Mindfulness Practice

Mindfulness is not just quiet, still time. There are many ways to bring mindfulness to your daily life. It is called the ART of being present by bringing the intention to pay attention to daily life.

  • Activities — Bring moments of mindfulness to a favorite activity you already do such as running, walking, gardening, cooking, etc.
  • Routines — Choose one of your daily routines and bring mindfulness to it such as doing the dishes, folding laundry, vacuuming or eating.
  • Triggers — We all have incidents that can set us off: snarky remarks, annoying family members, ill-received emails, etc. Choose one and replace an annoyance or anger with a moment of mindful breathing and being present.

A Simple Meditation Practice

  1. Sit comfortably. Find a spot that gives you a stable, comfortable seat.
  2. Notice what your legs are doing. If on a cushion, cross your legs comfortably in front of you. If on a chair, rest the bottoms of your feet on the floor.
  3. Straighten your upper body – but don’t stiffen. Your spine has natural curvature. Let it be there.
  4. Notice what your arms are doing. Situate your upper arms parallel to your upper body. Rest the palms of your hands on your legs wherever it feels most natural.
  5. Soften your gaze. Drop your chin a little and let your gaze fall gently downward. It’s not necessary to close your eyes. You can simply let what appears before your eyes be there without focusing on it.
  6. Feel your breath. Bring your attention to the physical sensation of breathing: the air moving through your nose or mouth, the rising and falling of your belly, or your chest.
  7. Notice when your mind wanders from your breath. Inevitably, your attention will leave the breath and wander to other places. Don’t worry. There’s no need to block or eliminate thinking. When you notice your mind wander, gently return your attention to the breath.
  8. Be kind about your wandering mind. You may find your mind continually wandering—that’s normal, too. Instead of wrestling with your thoughts, practice observing them without reacting. Just sit and pay attention. As hard as it is to maintain, that’s all there is. Come back to your breath over and over again, without judgment or expectation.
  9. When you’re ready, gently lift your gaze (if your eyes are closed, open them). Take a moment and notice any sounds in the environment. Notice how your body feels right now. Notice your thoughts and emotions.

Information above includes excerpts from "Getting Started With Mindfulness" and "How to Practice the Art of Being Present" on Mindful.org.

Written by Melanie Fitzgerald, Ed.S.
SSD Effective Practice Specialist, Early Childhood Special Education

arrow icon This is the first article in a two-part series.
Click here to read about mindfulness activities for children.

Updated October 2018

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