Mindfulness for parents and teens can be an act of self-care and it can be a way to strengthen your relationship. As a continuation of our Summer of Self Care blog series, which began with starting early with your young child, we wanted to discuss ways in which you, can practice mindfulness, why it is important, and how you can help encourage and support this healthy habit in your teen.
Caring for Yourself
Before you can take care of someone else, you must first take care of yourself. This is not selfish. In fact, the practice will help you to demonstrate to your teen that self-care is important. In other words, practice what you preach. Studies have shown that parents who create time for self-care are better able to handle their own stress and have happier teens. Why? Because making time for self-care, enables you to be compassionate to yourself and thus, more compassionate towards your teen.
What is mindfulness and why is it important?
Mindfulness is defined as being present, aware, paying attention, seeing clearly, being openhearted, being non-judgmental, and being curious. It can decrease your stress and help you be happier. Stress has been show to decrease your empathy and narrow your perspective, each of these things can hinder communication with a stressed out teen.
How do you as a parent practice mindfulness as self-care?
- Practice mindful breathing – this is the foundation of being mindful and it is a good place to start. Simply be more aware of when you breathe, especially when you feel tense or stress. Stop and take a moment to feel, hear, and experience your own breath. Simply by taking a few deep breaths, you can slow your heart and lower your blood pressure.
- Meditate – meditation has many benefits for your health. Meditation improves your emotional stability, happiness, and creativity. Further, it helps you decrease stress and anxiety while helping you to get a sharper mind.
- Practice informal mindfulness – this is simply becoming presently aware of where you are and what you are doing. You can do this in any setting. Try it on your walk home or on the bus or sitting at your desk at work. You can stop, feel your breath, and just take a moment to be aware of what is around you.
Now that you have taken care of yourself, you can help your teen practice mindfulness and self- care.
Mindfulness for Teens
First, you must model mindfulness, which, if you follow any of the practices above, you’ve done! Once you practice what you preach then you can move on to the next step: show the value of mindfulness.
Answering the question of “why” helps with performance because it helps people understand the importance of what you are asking them. Share with your teen that mindfulness can help them not only reduce their stress but also improve their exam performance and standardized tests! That’s right! Practicing mindfulness can help a teen do better in school. If the teen practices meditation, it helps improve their concentration, and reduce anxiety and depression.
Next, teach teens about their brains. Knowledge is power after all and the more teens know about their bodies the more they can understand why they might be feeling the way they do or why the react to certain things. Below is a great video from Dan Siegel who shows you how to easily explain the brain by using just your hand! Siegel focuses on three structures of the brain: the “reptilian brain” which is the brainstem (it regulates breathing, heart-rate, etc.), the “mammalian brain” which is the amygdala (this involves memories and emotions), and the “human brain” which is the cortex (this is where we self-regulate and think). The hand model shows that the amygdala is very close to the pre-frontal cortex, and mindfulness helps the part of the brain that thinks, process raw emotions. This, Siegel says, leads to making better decisions and allows your teen to pause and give a thoughtful response rather than just reacting. Teaching teens about their brains also goes hand-in-hand with teaching them about their minds.
Minds can wander, easily, especially if you are a teenager. Studies have shown that a wandering mind, is an unhappy mind. Focus and mindfulness are good ways of balancing out that tendency not to be present. Discuss with your teen about how the mind can wander and cause them to worry and stress. Often they may find themselves thinking about something someone said at school, or a test, or a grade, or who will be at the next big event, or who likes them. There are so many things on a teen’s mind, it is easy for them to get wrapped up in unproductive worry. Help them see that mindfulness practices can relieve them of that worry and if they need a little help, there are Apps that can help them through guided meditation like Stop, Think, Breathe, and Insight Meditation Timer.
Now, how do you get your teen to listen to you about mindfulness? Again, practice what you preach: listen to them.
Start the Conversation, Then Listen!
To start the conversation about mindfulness, it helps to make it relevant to them. Ask your teen about what is going on in their lives. What is happening? What are they worried about? What upsets them? What do they think about? What scares them? During these conversations, it is important to be non-judgmental, to listen, and to treat them with respect, to be genuine and encourage them to talk. Once you get the conversation going, once you open up those channels for communication you can take those mindfulness practices you have started and share them with your teen.