Have little ones at home? If you’re feeling a bit out of control and in need of some extra guidance, you’re not alone.

Yet between all the potty accidents, early morning wake-ups, sibling spats, and waiting in the preschool pick-up line, let’s be honest — you probably have little energy left to read chock-full-of-advice parenting books.

At the same time, mindfulness is all the buzz, and some folks are incorporating it into their parenting philosophy. This helpful strategy may not be such a bad idea — so we’ll give you a brief rundown on mindful parenting and why it may be worth taking an extra moment to breathe the next time you face a situation that’s beyond frustrating.

On its own, mindfulness is a practice of living in the moment. It means you’re aware of where you are in the world, what you’re thinking, and how you’re feeling on the inside and out.

Not only that, but mindfulness is also about looking at the world — your world — with less judgment and more acceptance. The idea of bringing awareness to the present moment is the core of Buddhist meditation, and it has been practiced and studied for centuries.

The idea of mindful parenting specifically has been around since 1997. In essence, it applies the principles of mindfulness to the many situations in your family that can feel a bit crazy at times.

The goal of bringing mindfulness to parenting is to respond thoughtfully to your child’s behaviors or actions versus simply reacting. You work to have acceptance for your child and, in turn, for yourself. Nurturing your relationship in this way may help strengthen your bond and lead to other benefits.

This isn’t to say that being a mindful parent always means thinking positively.

We’ll let you in on a little secret — parenting is never going to be all sunshine and smiles and kids eating what you fixed for dinner without complaint.

Instead, it’s about really engaging in the present moment and not letting emotions or trauma from the past or future color your experience or — more importantly — your reaction. You may still respond with anger or frustration, but it’s from a more informed place rather than one that’s purely automatic.

Much of what you might find written about mindful parenting focuses on three main qualities:

  • awareness and attention to the present moment
  • intentionality and understanding of behavior
  • attitude — nonjudgmental, compassionate, accepting — in response

This all sounds good, but what exactly does it mean?

To break it down even further, most ideas of mindful parenting involve these skills:

  • Listening. This means truly listening and observing with your full attention. This can take a tremendous amount of patience and practice. And listening extends to the environment. Take in everything — the sights, smells, sounds — surrounding you and your child.
  • Nonjudgmental acceptance. It’s approaching the situation without judgment for your feelings or your child’s feelings. What is simply is. Nonjudgment also involves letting go of unrealistic expectations of your child. And, in the end, it’s this acceptance of “what is” that’s the goal.
  • Emotional awareness. Bringing about awareness to parenting interactions extends from the parent to the child and back. Modeling emotional awareness is key to teaching your child to do the same. There are always emotions affecting situations, whether they were formed a long time ago or are more fleeting.
  • Self-regulation. This means not letting your emotions trigger immediate reactions, like yelling or other automatic behaviors. In short: It’s thinking before acting to avoid overreacting.
  • Compassion. Again, you may not agree with your child’s actions or thoughts, but mindful parenting encourages parents to have compassion. This involves being empathetic and understanding for the child’s position in the moment. Compassion extends to the parent as well, as there’s ultimately less self-blame if a situation doesn’t turn out as you’d hoped.

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There is a multitude of studies that have looked at possible benefits related to mindfulness and mindfulness parenting. For parents, these benefits may include reducing stress and mood disorders, like depression and anxiety.

One small 2008 study even explored these benefits for pregnant women in their third trimester. (Yes! You can benefit before the parenting truly begins!) The women who engaged in mindfulness had much less anxiety and reported fewer instances of negative moods.

Yet another study showed that this benefit may extend to the overall well-being of parents and family. How? Adding mindfulness training to an existing parenting program appeared to strengthen the parent-child relationship.

In this particular study, it was during adolescence, when things can be particularly turbulent. The researchers share that the improvements may be due to the parent’s ability to “respond constructively” to stressors as they arise versus reacting and potentially alienating their child.

For kids, mindful parenting may help with social decision-making. Researchers recently uncovered a link to decision-making and emotional regulation. So, the understanding and acceptance of emotions that this type of parenting promotes may help kids work on this important life skill from a very young age.

Mindful parenting may even reduce potential mistreatment, like physical abuse. A 2007 study showed some reductions in child abuse among parents who employed different mindfulness strategies. Not only that, but parenting attitudes also improved. So did child behavior issues. It’s a win-win-win.

Other potential benefits:

  • improves parent-child communication
  • reduces symptoms of hyperactivity
  • improves parenting satisfaction
  • lessens aggression
  • lowers feelings of depression
  • lessens stress and anxiety
  • promotes more parental involvement overall
  • makes parenting feel as if it takes less effort

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So what does mindful parenting look like in action? Check out these examples of how it can influence your approach to parenting challenges.

Baby won’t sleep?

Take a moment to breathe. You may find your thoughts wandering to all the previous nights when your little one resisted sleep. You may worry they’ll never sleep again — or that you’ll never have adult time to yourself. Your emotions may snowball. But, again, breathe. You’re in this. And you’ve got this.

Pause to understand your emotions, all of which are normal. Do you feel mad or frustrated? Acknowledge this without judging yourself. Pause again to understand and accept that many babies have trouble sleeping through the night and that this night doesn’t mean every night for the rest of life.

Toddler throwing a tantrum at the store?

Take a look around. While their behavior may feel embarrassing or trigger some other negative emotions, be in the moment.

If you look around, you’ll likely see that along with the strangers whose stares may be making you stressed (ignore them!), there are many temptations for your child at the store. Maybe they want a certain toy or candy. Maybe they’re tired from a day of shopping or missing a nap.

Before grabbing your little one and storming out of the store, try to observe the root of what’s going on. Accept that children can get out of control when there are goodies involved or when they’re overtired. Accept that they’re likely dealing with some pretty big emotions of their own. And accept that while the strangers may stare, your child isn’t trying to embarrass you. (But, no. This doesn’t mean you need to buy that $100 talking doll.)

Child refusing to eat?

Newborns tend to eagerly gulp down breastmilk or formula like it’s going out of style. But at some point — and it happens to everyone eventually — your child is going to refuse to eat that delicious home-cooked meal you made. And your temptation will be to take it personally and, well, react.

Instead, take a deep breath, remind yourself that you’re a good cook, and consider what your child may be feeling. Maybe they’re feeling some apprehension over a new taste or texture. Maybe they’re remembering a time a food of a certain color made them sick and now associate all foods of that color with sickness. Ridiculous? Not to a new eater.

After you’ve stepped into their shoes and thought about the situation empathetically, have a conversation with them about what they’re feeling and why they need to eat. Set a routine where they have food choices (between healthy options — because let’s be honest, between spinach and cake, who wouldn’t choose cake?) and model trying new things so they see you eating mindfully — rather than reacting before thinking.

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So, what sets mindful parenting apart from other styles of parenting? Well, it’s not so much about doing something in particular as it is about taking time to simply be. If that sounds a little strange to you, don’t worry. It’s definitely a mind shift that may take some time to understand.

Other parenting styles tend to focus on how to approach this or that, or strategies to deal with certain behaviors or actions. Mindful parenting at its core is about stepping back and slowing down.

It’s about filling up the parent’s cup and recognizing internal emotions or outside stimuli that may be impacting the moment. And it’s about accepting positive and negative emotions as they come versus going against the current to accomplish a certain result.

At the heart, mindful parenting honors the experience of childhood and takes time to see the world through your child’s eyes. Kids, especially younger ones, naturally live in the moment.

Whereas other parenting styles may be more about teaching children structure and routine or right and wrong, being mindful speaks to their innate ability to be present. The end goal is giving your child the tools to deal with their own stressors in a more mindful way.

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You don’t need to change your entire lifestyle to start practicing mindfulness strategies today.

  • Open your eyes, literally and figuratively. Pay attention to your surroundings and how you feel on the inside and out. Take in things with all your senses — touch, hearing, sight, smell, and taste.
  • Be in the moment. Resist living in the past or planning too intently for the future. Find the good in what’s happening right now, right in front of you.
  • Practice acceptance. Try your best to accept your child’s emotions and actions, even when they frustrate you. (And extend this acceptance to yourself.)
  • Breathe. Having a crisis moment? Focus on your breath. Take a deep breath in, filling your lungs with air and keeping your mind on your breath. Exhale and feel your breath as it enters and exits your body. Encourage your child to breathe during tough times, too.
  • Meditate. Focusing on the breath is a big part of meditation. You only need to carve out a few minutes each day to truly connect with yourself. Check out YouTube for free mindfulness exercises. This 10-minute guided meditation from The Honest Guys has more than 7.5 million views and tons of positive comments. You can even find practices for kids. New Horizon offers hundreds of mindfulness and relaxation exercises for children of all ages.

The next time you’re in a parenting situation where you feel you may blow your top, take a moment to pause. Take a deep breath in and then exhale fully. Soak in your feelings, your surroundings, and your child’s experience as well. And then work toward acceptance in this moment without wandering to thoughts of the past or future.

You may not succeed in being blissfully mindful the first few times you try this new method of parenting. And it’s OK to be skeptical. But, after a while, you may find that taking a moment to pause before reacting lessens your own stress and positively impacts your child.