Mindfulness to help parents cope with home schooling
Parents with children of all ages have taken my mindfulness courses. We're living in an exceptionally difficult time for parents, particularly if you're juggling your own job with home schooling, living in a small home with no garden, or facing major health and money concerns. As a parent to two sons, I've greatly appreciated my mindfulness practice when navigating the choppy waters of family life, particularly over the last year. I'd like to share some mindfulness meditation techniques to support parents which can be included in a busy day.
I've worked as a teacher in a variety of schools for many years, and have learned that when facing difficult lessons I need to manage my thoughts and emotions, and do my best to stay calm. So this post will focus on how you can manage your own well-being in stressful days. Remember the airline instruction: in an emergency, we need to put our own oxygen masks on first before attending to our children.
I teach mindfulness to children and will include mindfulness activities for teenagers and younger children in my next blog post, with specific techniques to help you support your children with their learning and wellbeing. But for now, let's focus on the lead teacher in your home - you!
1. Focus on your breathing
If you're limited on time, just take one deep breath. If you have more time, you could try the following:
- Close your eyes or lower your gaze, and focus on your breathing.
- Where in your body are you feeling stress or tension? Perhaps place a hand there
- Imagine you can breathe into the stress, as if you’re sending a kindly breath towards it. Then imagine breathing out from the stress. You're not trying to change it but simply sending it recognition and warmth, as you might to a small child or puppy that has hurt themselves. Think: what is this sensation in my body I call stress or tension?
- Try counting the breaths
- Or inhaling to a count of five and exhaling to a count of eight. Continue this for as long as you can, inhaling and exhaling fully.
Deep, belly breathing is a great way to restore calm when we are feeling stressed.
Take a deep breath down into your belly and a full exhale through the mouth.
Breathe in through your nose for a count of four.
Hold your breath for a count of five.
Breathe out for a count of six.
Repeat this deep breathing three times.
Notice how you feel — physically and emotionally — after breathing deeply.
It's completely normal to have lots of thoughts during mindfulness practice, and to get distracted – noticing the way our mind automatically goes off on its own is what the practice is all about. As best you can, try to let your thoughts come and go, and keep coming back to the present moment. Patience and kindness are so important, especially at a time when we have so many concerns for our families.
2. Physical movement
Clenching and tensing certain parts of the body can be helpful. Here's what to do:
- Hold this position for a few seconds, then release, maybe letting out a big sigh as you do so. Focus on shoulders, fists, feet, face, then the whole body.
- Do a few stretches – what does your body need to do right now? This is especially important if you’re spending many hours a day sitting at a computer. Do the movements slowly, paying attention to the changing physical sensations in the body as you move. You can do any of these movements with your children, or see them as time to yourself.
3. Accept your child (and yourself) without judgment
Parenthood is exhausting. There are possibly many moments when we judge our child (or ourselves) harshly. ‘Why can’t he/she… get on with schoolwork on their own, do something other than play on screens, play amicably with a sibling?’. Or ‘Why did I shout when I know that does no good?' It's not always easy, but acceptance of all feelings, even the negative ones, is important. If you can acknowledge a feeling without being overwhelmed by it, you can respond with patience, rather than react out of frustration and anger.
4. Connect with other parents
During lockdown, not being able to meet other parents outside the school gates is a real loss. Knowing that what I experience as a parent is common makes it easier to bear. We all have times when we experience guilt, fears for our children, frustration, overwhelm, confusion and loss. One of the great things about the MBSR mindfulness course is it focuses on our common humanity. We’re not alone. If you’re suffering right now, it can help to know that parents all around the world are struggling with the same issues. Treat yourself to a few deep breaths and see if you can find time to reach out to someone in a similar position.
5. Practise self-compassion
Take a moment to actively be kind to yourself. Doing this is especially useful in a moment of stress, or when you’re judging yourself. Try this:
Take a deep breath and a long slow exhale.
Acknowledge and name the emotion you’re feeling
Notice how your body feels — is there any tightness or discomfort? Where?
Place one or both hands on your heart or chest area, or where you most feel the discomfort.
Take a deep breath and a long slow exhale
Show kindness to yourself, as you might comfort a small child who’s suffering.
Take a few deep breaths with your hand on your heart
6. Let go of ‘To Do’ lists
Parents say their number one challenge is being overwhelmed by having too much to do. They feel like they never finish what needs to be done and are exhausted from trying. As a mother and school-teacher, I can certainly relate to this. Our culture values achievement and “doing” so highly that this feeds our compulsion to be busy. When we don’t meet our unrealistic expectations, we're often left feeling frustrated and disappointed.
One of my favourite mindfulness teachers is Tara Brach - she’s my go-to person for those 5am catastrophising moments and I recommend her Pandemic package of mindfulness meditations. She says we are at war with ourselves, and living in a “trance of unworthiness.” She calls it a trance because we don’t recognise how many moments in our day there’s a feeling of “I’m not enough, I’m falling short, I’m doing it wrong” that impacts everything. We try to regain control and push ourselves harder to do more – just to feel that we’re OK.
When you notice harsh thoughts, or a feeling of overwhelm, remind yourself how well you’re doing in extraordinary circumstances. Take a few deep breaths with your hand on your heart, and switch some things from today's ‘To do’ list onto tomorrow’s.
Finally, be forgiving with yourself if you don't have the time or energy to do any of the above!
Do please share any of your own tips for staying calm with your children and how you're looking after yourself in the comments below.