Ways for Parents to Encourage Children to Live Mindfully

Living as a Buddhist who also happens to be a mother is an interesting practice. Within the Buddhist community, the issue of how to best go about teaching children to live mindfully is often discussed amongst parents, sometimes even generating much angst when parents feel that their offspring are not behaving in ways that they consider in keeping with a mindful lifestyle. There are entire books written on the subject.

It isn’t a terribly popular stance, but the most effective way to encourage mindfulness is exactly the same as teaching your children anything else; by modeling the behavior. It isn’t popular because it is harder. It is always much easier to focus concentration on the actions of others and how to correct and redirect them than it is to be mindful of your own practice. Actually, it is a diversion from your own practice.

What this means is that you will need to center your focus on your own mindfulness. How do you go about your day? Are you focused on each task at hand, or are you constantly racing from one thing to the next, your mind on the future? Do you take the time to sit down in the early morning, even for five minutes, to center yourself in silence? When your children are vying for your attention, are you fully present and engaged? Do you really hear them when they speak, or do you blow them off, half listening, and your attention elsewhere?

The best parenting advice is usually in the form of life advice. How you live is, after all, how you parent. The strongest messages you send to your children are never verbal. If you are feeling lost in life or parenting, and feeling the need to bring more mindfulness to your daily routine, a most helpful guide is Zen Priest, Karen Maezen Miller. Her books, blog, and retreats are a breath of fresh air in what can feel like a suffocating and overwhelming onslaught of parenting how-to methods.

While Ms. Miller does offer advice, and very good advice at that, it is more her reassurances that make her an asset. If her stories and advice sound too simplistic, please consider that things generally are simple until we make them hard. Simple does not always mean easy. Mindfulness as a parent is not an easy thing. It is simple, though. Karen Maezen Miller’s gift is in bringing us back to what is already intrinsically known to be true, but sometimes forgotten in the demands of daily life.

The simple path to mindfulness in parenting is to be present. If your children are speaking, stop what you are doing and turn around to face them, eye to eye. Employ reflective listening to be sure that you are truly hearing them. If it isn’t possible right in that moment, rather than half listening, tell them the truth, let them know when you will be available to give them your full attention, and then keep your word. Set a timer to help both of you.

Pay attention to what you are doing, and do one thing at a time. Very few people (if any) can actually multi-task well. Multitasking is oftentimes code for doing a sloppy job on several things instead of doing one thing well and seeing it to fruition before moving on to the next. Do one thing at a time, and give it your full attention, whether it is playing soccer with your seven-year-old, working on a business proposal, or making soup.

Be where you are. Be mindful. Without lessons or lectures, children learn. Live the ideals you want them to embrace. Then step back and accept the fact that they are their own people, with their own feelings, thoughts, and opinions. You can guide their behaviors, but who they are, their own separate being, is completely independent of who you are. Children tend to be more present in what they are doing than adults, so perhaps they are the ones teaching us to be mindful, not the other way around.