WHAT IS THE SCIENCE BEHIND MINDFULNESS?
Negative emotions emerge from the parts of the brain called the amygdala and hippocampus, which are responsible for what’s known as “fight or flight” defenses. Fear and anger can cause us to act in ways that are erratic, frozen, hurtful or thoughtless. By avoiding a knee jerk response we allow the prefrontal cortex to rescue us, allowing for more thoughtful and reflective reactions. “Mindful practice,…, diminishes the reactivity from the amygdala and strengthens the prefrontal cortex (PFC). When the amygdala is calm, it gives the PFC what it needs.” – Blissful Kids
If we don’t respond to a stimulus automatically, the prefrontal cortex will provide us the opportunity to choose the best possible reaction.
This is your free will. Your chance to choose the best path forward when responding to negative input. Viktor Frankl (Holocaust Survivor) noted, in A MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING, “ Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
HOW CAN MINDFULNESS BENEFIT YOU AS A PARENT OF A CHILD WITH SPECIAL NEEDS?
According to headspace.com, “The key to mindful parenting is breaking down our day into manageable chunks, moving forward task by task…being more present, we experience more calm, clarity, and a renewed sense for perspective, which in turn, makes room for increased compassion and empathy.”
A 2017 study by Ridderinkhof, Bruin, Blom and Bogels on the impact of mindfulness for parents and their children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) was conducted in a side-by-side comparison. This study included children and adolescents, 8-19 years old. Findings showed an improvement in children and adolescents noting, “their social communication problems decreased, and their emotional and behavioral functioning improved.” The study followed up with the participants twice; 2-months and 1-year later, respectively. Parents reported that these improvements remained.
For parents themselves, they found, “improved emotional and behavioral functioning, improved parenting, and increased mindful awareness… “
Studies have shown that practicing mindfulness can decrease self judgment and increase awareness of what is. A parent is more attentive, aware, kind and understanding to themselves and when interacting with their children. This stems from an ongoing intention to be present in the moment. “Mindfulness techniques significantly reduce parental stress, improve parental well being and overall health after just a few weeks. This…has a reciprocal effect of reducing stress and anxiety among their kids.” – Keenan-Mount, Albrecht, and Waters, 2016
Mindful parenting allows a parent to see their child as a person. It gives them the space to ask questions as to why is my child upset? What is bothering him/her? By taking this space to consider and respond, a stronger bond can be formed. And what might follow? Trust, calm, a reduction in acting out, maturity, self-awareness and mutual respect. “ It works well alongside any parenting strategies that focus on respect, empathy and connection. “ – Mindful Little Minds
“Some of the benefits include:
- Optimization of mental health
- Positive impact on the brain and immune system
- Help with chronic pain
- Help overcome insomnia”
- Cleveland Clinic
Naturally there are varying results for every individual and again, this takes time and choosing to be present. Choosing to look at yourself. Choosing to breathe. Choosing to consider your feelings. Choosing to consider your child’s feelings.
After a period of consistent trial this practice can become second nature. Your amygdala will work in concert with your prefrontal cortex and the process will flow automatically to become the way you respond instead of the way you react.
FEELINGS ARE NOT ACTIONS
I have experienced many parents who (understandably) lose their cool over their child’s repeated meltdowns. The frustration builds as the constancy of each day carries with it the never ending, predictable and unpredictable, sameness. You might feel like you’re going to go mad! And who can blame you for feeling this way? If there is no relief or help in sight, then the flight-desire swells to overflow. But because you can’t ignore the repeated occurrences and with no other outlet, an eruption is foreseeable, if not, inevitable. It’s just a matter of time.
I personally know how this feels from the perspective of having been a special ed classroom teacher for 30 years. There are obvious differences from being a parent, but I know the flavor. I’ve consumed a fair share of sour behaviors, meltdowns, neediness, upset, physical assaults and pure anxiety and fear from my students that, when left to fester, would bite me (sometimes literally) in the end. At times I thought I might lose my mind. So I had to learn to deal with my feelings if I was to last. Does this sound familiar?
Understand that I am not unsympathetic to the energy it takes to transition to a mindful place. The simple thought of it can be exhausting. Tend to your feelings? What? Who has time? Who wants to be vulnerable? Who wants to look at themselves to change? Who wants to admit being wrong? It would be easier to just yell and command, expect and demand. But where does it get you?
Anger is not something I want you to avoid feeling or repress. I don’t ask that of any of your feelings. I want you to experience them all without judgement. I want you to feel them, listen to them and give them space. And I want you NOT to react to them. Rather, I want you to RESPOND to them. Feelings are ours, yet we are not responsible for how we feel. “They (feelings) happen to us. We do not create them.” – Flo Rosof PhD (SEEDS OF WISDOM)
*In my next post we will continue to explore feelings and suggest some mindful activities to practice on your own and with your child.
Peace and Keep Rising!