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Angry Mothers: Learn Mindfulness. Then Teach It To Your Children!

Posted Dec 23 2012 4:48pm

Copy of assertive-arm and hand movements angry woman

The Problem
“I can’t deal with my own children,” lamented a young mother in one of our anger management classes.“They won’t listen, they do exactly what they want, they constantly fight with each other, and they won’t do their chores without a major argument.”

This young mother was ashamed that she was constantly angry at her own children. In response to their behavior, she would yell at them, call them names, and make empty threats of horrible consequences for non-compliance.But these responses did not seem to work; in fact, it made things worse as the children developed resentment and increased defiance toward their screaming mother.

The Solution As in an airline emergency, first put the oxygen mask on yourself. Then, put the oxygen mask on your children. You can’t expect your children to show good coping skills. and to handle stress well if you are impaired yourself.

Start by learning and then teaching mindfulness. to your children. It is amazingly simple, yet very effective over time. It helps mothers first deal with their own stress and anger and then gives her tools to teach to their children so that they can generally cope better with life. The positive effects of mindfulness has much science behind it and has many applications for both children and adults.

Mindfulness can be many things, but at its core, it is the skill of learning to focus on our present thoughts, feelings and body sensations without judgement. Many people associate this with meditation, but meditation is only one path to achieve mindfulness. It is very useful for relaxation, but it is much more than that. For children, it helps them become more attentive, balanced, and aware. For some, it has the potential to help kids see their lives more clearly, to become more positive and less tired, and to chose appropriate life paths.

As a first step toward helping our stressed client deal with her own stress, we taught her various tools of anger control. As a starter, we introduced the concept of mindful meditation consisting of simple breathing exercises. Mindfulness helps both mother and child calm down, to re-focus on what is important, to become more reflective, and to perhaps teach both to respond in different ways to family stress. Research shows that mindful practices over time increase “emotional intelligence” in children as they better understand how their brain works and how to develop more self-control with that knowledge.

Following are some simple breathing meditations that mother and child can practice together, taken from a book called “The Mindful Child” by Susan Kaiser Greenland :

Counting 1-1-1-1-1-1. When you breath in, let your body relax. When you breath out, silently count one, one, one, until your lungs feel empty. Repeat by relaxing again as you inhale and silently counting two, two, two, two, two, as you exhale. Repeat once more by relaxing as you inhale again and silently counting three, three,three, three, for the entire out breath. Continue this exercise in sets of three breaths (counting 1 on the first exhale, 2 on the second, and 3 on the third), until your mind quiets and you can rest in the physical sensation of breathing without counting.

When teaching this to your child, be aware that it takes time for them to accept the idea. Don’t force the issue, or another power struggle may develop, making things worse. For younger children, you may have to start with a 1 minute exercise, then gradually expand the time as your child progresses and sees the benefit. Don’t force them to close their eyes; some people prefer to keep eyes open.

The actress Goldie Hawn has written a delightful book on mindfulness called “10 Mindful Minutes.” which I would recommend to all parents. Among the wise nuggets of information is the followng: “Mindful parenting involves recognizing and nurturing our children’s unique personalities and not seeing them as projections of ourselves. There’s simply no cookie-cutter standard for how to treat our children.”

In our anger management classes we teach parents to respond instead of react to the behavior of our children that is troublesome. Hawn, in her book, amplifies this approach by saying that “reactive parenting can be very detrimental for our children. Yelling at them for forgetting something or doing something we don’t like only frightens them – it doesn’t make them stop.” We can gain control over our anger by understanding that our higher thinking has been hijacked by our emotional state; hence, we’re no longer in control.”

Once parents learn to respond differently to their children – not just react in knee-jerk fashion- the next step is to teach their children the same. Children need to understand how their brain works and how to deal with anger and frustration that all people experience. Hawn explains this simply as follows: “The anger and frustration that we feel in such moments is simply our Guard Dog amygdala {section of the brain} responding to the perceived stressful situation and taking over our emotions. Once we understand this, we can learn to recognize when we’ve been hijacked and accept that the path back to clear thinking is mindful awareness. ….”

In summary, a mindful approach to parenting quiets the minds of both parent and child, reduces stress, and puts both of you more in control of your emotions. Doesn’t that sound better than living in a family with constant yelling, screaming, negativism, and fighting?

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