Mindful parenting choices

I once had to choose on the spur of the moment whether or not to fly over live volcanoes in an open door helicopter – I chose to do it, even though I was a bit scared because I valued the adventure more than avoiding the fear

As a parent, I notice myself continually making both small and more major choices about how to negotiate the opportunities and challenges that come up daily when looking after children. For example, today my daughter and I were mindfully watching the garden from the kitchen window when we noticed a cat chasing and then tormenting a mouse. When I’m making choices about how to respond to parenting situations, I try to consider my values as a parent to inform my choices. So with this example I considered that as a family we value education and particularly science. My daughter has been very interested in learning about the circle of life recently, and we have talked about how in our garden we need to look after the plants to feed the insects, which we in turn need for pollination as otherwise there would be no food for us humans. So I considered the narrative of allowing nature to take its course as in line with that value. However, we also value social justice and I’m perhaps a bit fused with the idea of always siding with and helping the underdog (the mouse). So, we gave my daughter the choice of what to do and she chose to save the mouse (since learning about where meat comes from she has also expressed interest in vegetarianism). So, my husband went out into the garden and pointedly stared at the cat which had the effect of distracting the cat enough for the mouse to run away (the hope is we caught it early enough for it to have a fighting chance).

My reflection from this example is that there are tons of opportunities to make parenting choices every day, but if we parent on autopilot it’s too easy to miss the opportunity to choose. I find doing some form of mindful activity with my children every day increases the amount of time I spend tuned in and aware of my choices. Connected to that, when we are aware of our own choices it is helpful to consider our own values as people in our own right, and also our parenting values (which might or might not be the same). Our values can help us decide between different courses of action. Often there will be more than one valid option, and the context is important. For example, if the mouse had already been dead when we noticed what was happening then the options and their pros and cons would be different. Different people might make different but equally valid choices in the same context, and the same person might make different decisions about similar scenarios on different occasions. Having some psychological flexibility with using values to inform choices is useful, and I find it helps to be aware of “old stories” I might be fused with, even if for the most part I still buy into them – like saving the underdog. In this example we did save the mouse underdog, but if I clung rigidly to that it might get in the way in other situations – for example, if one of my children turns out to be the fastest runner at sports day in the future, am I going to insist they stop before the finish line to let a naturally slower child win? Probably not, both my children are competitive and the fall out would not be pretty. So, its helpful to have some idea of what your values and parenting priorities are, and to be aware of when you have opportunities to act on them during day to day parenting – I find the more I do this in ordinary every day ways, the more clarity I have about the bigger decisions – things like, what childcare setting do I want to use when I go back to work from maternity leave? My daughter is a February birthday, do I defer her school start or not? I’m aware other parents face big decisions too, and these are a big responsibility which can feel stressful but ACT offers us great tools to empower us to make our own choices.

ACT based tips for making mindful parenting choices

  1. Do something mindful every day, either by yourself or with your children. It doesn’t really matter what – today we made Tiramisu mindfully, and enjoyed dancing around on the dewy grass mindfully in the fog. As long as you keep bringing your focus back to the activity if and when your mind or theirs wanders (which will happen), and be open to noticing what you can see, hear, touch, smell and taste as well as noticing how your body feels and any feelings and thoughts that pop up while you’re at it.

2. If you do mindful activities with your children, encourage them to share with you what they notice about their experience too, and particularly any feelings and thoughts. It’s amazing how much even young children can share about their experiences if they think you’re interested and taking them seriously, and if you listen to the small stuff now you’ll have a better shot at hearing about the big stuff when they’re older. The more you know about what’s going on with them, the more empowered you’ll be to make the right parenting choices. And if you’re on the fence and it’s appropriate in the context, you could ask your child what they’d like to happen – my daughter is only 3 but always has her own opinion, which is often surprisingly articulate and logical (well, for a 3 year old!).

3. You might already have a clear idea of your parenting values and priorities. Sometimes though we can all benefit from reviewing them for clarity. My Values page has several clarification exercises you can use if you feel you want to, or here’s a quick link to a free app you can download to help you – https://valuescardsort.flycricket.io/?fbclid=IwAR0e7wXmhlIUq-B3Jy7nAV_kV8bOjKtyX4ugM5ORxw8tCilSSCdwMIi7_7w The clearer you feel about your values, the easier it will be when you’re in the moment when you need to choose.

4. Try to notice which thoughts or beliefs you might be holding onto too tightly, as if you’re not aware these can keep tripping you up and trapping you into unhelpful patterns. Because in life our context keeps changing, it helps if we can remain flexible with how we act on our thoughts and beliefs so we can make the best choices for us. If you notice an unhelpful “old story” about who you are or what sort of parent you are and need to get some space from it, have a browse of my Defusion page for some ideas. For example, you might want to draw the “old story” as a cartoon strip, picture an unhelpful thought floating away on a cloud or repeat any unhelpful word over and over again until it becomes meaningless.

Rainy day mindfulness ideas

In my house, mindful activities are even more valuable on a rainy day to help me feel more grounded as a parent, to give some meaning and purpose and aid a calm atmosphere if it starts feeling restless or cabin fevered. Particularly during the covid 19 pandemic I find I’m always trying to be creative with new ideas or new twists on old ideas. So if anyone reading this has any of their own suggestions you could let me know in a comment here or on the Mummy ACT Facebook page.

Mindful garden gnome painting

For young children 3D painting might offer a new experience. When we tried this I let my daughter choose what colour to paint every part and also mix her own colours up on a plate. Due to the pandemic our paint supplies are running low, so we used this as an opportunity to get creative and learn about primary colours and what happens when you mix them. My daughter particularly enjoyed mixing blue and yellow to discover green. As we went I aimed to keep our focus on the painting, bringing our focus back to it whenever it wandered. All minds wander off, but this is particularly true for young children. It can be both frustrating and funny, but it is also an opportunity to help children notice their own mind at work. I also encouraged my daughter to notice details like the swish sound of the brush, the different marks made by a large Vs small brush and to notice the texture of the gnome before, during and after painting. We finished with a layer of glossy glue which I let her enjoy slapping on with the brush however she wanted – I usually try and finish mindful activities with some quiet free play to allow some experience with calm stillness with seeds of noticing recently planted.

Mindful Oobleck

I’d guess most young children would enjoy making Oobleck. In case you’re not familiar with it and want a practical guide, try this link https://www.eureka.org.uk/eureka-at-home/mix-and-play-with-ooblek/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwiYL3BRDVARIsAF9E4GeVio9rIeNuqjc4nMyFLkg2ykTGHBgBNn2nv6gFx2Z3JiJIH9kJG0QaAlONEALw_wcB As a mum of two, I found this particularly worked well for both my baby (9 months) and my 3 year old. My 3 year old enjoyed the process of mixing cornflour, water and food colouring and watching the shifts and changes between liquid and solid as she stirred. I let her choose the colour and she picked red, and was also interested that it turned out bright pink. Once stirred, she then enjoyed experimenting with touching it, making finger prints and hand prints that left no marks. My baby enjoyed the messy play of picking it up with his fingers and peering at it, cooing to it, painting my dress in it (luckily an old one!) and squishing it. From a parent perspective, I feel my children can often teach me a lot about how to just be in a moment, and to find wonder in ordinary every day experiences. Particularly now in the Covid-19 outbreak, being at home has given me a great opportunity to tune in more often with them to our mindful activities with less distractions and less of our busy “normal” life. I hope we can keep some sense of what we’ve built up now even once we can build more of a new normal.

Mindful Baking

Who doesn’t love baking? In my house Thursdays are baking day during the pandemic. We’ve become a lot more accomplished with the extra practice we’re getting, but I still like to keep the recipes simple and forgiving, with plenty opportunity for my 3 year old to get involved. Some favourites of ours are apple and carrot muffins, gingerbread biscuits and oat and prune cookies. To take the gingerbread biscuits as an example, my daughter helps measure out dry ingredients with a spoon, and enjoys watching the powder fall into the bowl. She also loves mixing the dry and wet ingredients together with a wooden spoon, watching the texture change and feeling it stiffen. As we add cinnamon and vanilla as well as ginger, there’s also a good opportunity to notice different scents. Kneading the dough is also a good chance to notice the feeling of softness, stickiness and smoothness on our skin. Rolling it out lets us watch it flatten from thick to thin. My daughter particularly enjoys the cookie cutter part – we have an expanding collection, the most recent being unicorns which are great from a mindfulness perspective as to get all the details like the horn right, we really need to concentrate only on that for a moment and be quiet for it to work out. There’s then the part where we watch them grow and change to golden brown in colour in the oven, and notice the sweet spicy smell filling the kitchen. During that part, we enjoy sharing the task of licking the bowl, noticing the flavours and texture of the dough. Arguably the best part though is choosing which still warm cookie to eat from the baking tray once they are done, and mindfully appreciating all the details – how does it look once it’s ready to eat? What colour is it? What shape? What size? How heavy? How does it smell? How does it taste – can we taste the golden syrup? the vanilla? the cinnamon? the ginger? Is it soft, crumbly or crunchy? Is it possible to stop at just one, or do we each want another one (or two, or three)? My husband’s test of a good batch of baking is if he wants more than three in a row. Unsurprisingly, baking does not last long in our house.

Summer Garden Mindfulness Ideas

I’ve been really enjoying outdoor mindfulness activities in the garden with my children during the coronavirus lockdown. I thought I’d share some of what we’ve been up to –

Mindful bubble blowing

  1. You could either make your own bubble mix together as a sensory play and learning experience or use ready made mix. Notice the scent.
  2. Try blowing bubbles with a range of equipment like an ordinary small bubble wand, a large wand your child can wave around or even a hula hoop. If you tip a large amount of mix into a big long and flat container like a sledge that works well.
  3. Experiment with bubble making with your child and observe different bubble shapes, sizes and colours. Notice how blowing your breath fast, slow, hard and soft has different impacts on the bubbles.
  4. Count how many bubbles you make each turn.
  5. Notice what the bubbles pop on – your child’s hand, your baby’s foot, the grass, a fence?
  6. Notice how high bubbles go before they pop
  7. Notice the colour change before bubbles pop

Mindful plant watering

If you have plants, encourage your child to help water them. Let them try using a small watering can and – if you’re feeling brave – a hose. Can they notice differences in how the water flows? Do they notice the sound of fast running water from the hose and the drip drip sound of water drops from the can? Can they move the hose in a semi circle shape over grass to make a rainbow and notice all the colours? Can they notice the difference in colour between dry and wet soil? If they water plant pots, can they manage to spread the water all round the pot, or do they only notice the part of the plant near to them?

Mindful plant watch

We have a daily mindful tour of our garden and aim to notice changes – there are always some to spot. For example, new buds on roses, buds opening up into flowers, plants moving from a few flowers to full bloom. Dew on the grass in the early morning, whether or not birds have eaten the food we put out in the bird feeder, and if they have, what they have taken. We also grow fruit and vegetables and notice the first potato shoots popping up, the first flowers on our strawberry plants and the early signs of beetroot growing. When we do this, I always encourage my daughter to take the lead and tell me what she sees in her own words. Sometimes though it becomes a learning opportunity when she has questions and wants to know what a new plant is called, or what a part of a plant is for. I’m flexible with this, as quiet, meditative mindfulness of this exercise may be more helpful for an adult, but my daughter talks in a constant stream on consciousness and is used to thinking aloud at home, so allowing some talking is more practical.

Mindful bug hotel

If you don’t already have one, the first step is to collect objects from your garden or local wood or park to make one – anything goes. You could make it a mindful process by tuning in to what your child is drawn to and encouraging them to notice sights, sounds, scents, sensations of what they can touch and anything they can taste while collecting – in a wood, maybe the smell of wild garlic, in a park, the sound of dogs barking or in a garden the sound of birds in trees. Objects they might like to include are pine cones, acorns, leaves, branches, twigs, moss and pebbles (and really anything else they fancy).

Then, you can make a bug hotel using whatever you have in your recycling bin – ours is a cardboard box with various toilet roll holders stuffed with acorns, moss and pinecones, with various branches and twigs at different angles for bugs to crawl in and out and some pebbles for them to hide under (my daughter is a fan of collecting stones).

Once you’ve made it, it can become a daily mindfulness exercise to watch through binoculars to see what bugs are crawling around in there – we’ve got caterpillars, ladybirds and snails at the moment and my daughter is enjoying the increased number of butterflies we have fluttering around since we started the hotel. She’s also much more tolerant of insects generally through understanding them better in a calm way.

Mindful feather blowing

  1. Collect feathers and petals
  2. Notice the different sizes, shapes, colours and textures. The feathers we found were furry on the inside and sleek on the outside. I reflected out loud to my daughter that people could be a bit the same – I noticed she paused thoughtfully in turn. She then had various “why” questions about birds “Why do birds need feathers?” “Did the furry feathers come from a baby bird?”
  3. I then showed her how to blow the feathers and petals up in the air with deep breaths, and encouraged her to practice. She particularly enjoyed that part.
  4. We then collected them all up to use for a craft project the next day.

#Mindfulness with kids #Mindful Gardening #Children’s Wellbeing

Mental health awareness week 2020 – Launch D day

A Defusion exercise with my daughter to detach from the idea that my blog had to be perfect before launch

When I started writing this blog two weeks ago I gave myself until the end of mental health awareness week to get it to the point it would be good enough to launch into the public domain. I don’t want to delay launching because it’s not perfect yet, even though my mind is offering a ton of reasonable points as to why I should. It’s part of the ethos of ACT to accept that as human beings we are not perfect. So I am not perfect and neither is my blog, and neither of us ever will be. What I can find satisfaction in though is aiming to live my life according to my values of authenticity, social justice, lifelong learning, compassion, creativity and family among others. Writing this blog aligns perfectly with my values at this point in my life, so the time to do this is now.

I feel exhilarated and terrified about launching my blog into the public domain. I believe in the ACT model and the benefits of connecting with it for families and children. I believe there is not enough about ACT with families out there already in the public domain. I understand there are millions of families around the world suffering with mental health difficulties in isolation who might benefit from learning of ACT. I understand that public services will struggle to cope with that burden of need unless those of us who can do something now about boosting general family wellbeing for everyone to reduce the volume of those who need professional help. I believe in being the change you want to see in the world, and this blog is part of my effort to increase mental health awareness, the awareness of the mental health need of women who miscarry and ideas about how to meet those needs, and the everyday mental health needs of children and families everywhere and ideas on how to help those needs using ACT.

For anyone who knows me professionally who reads this and thinks I could do better – my mind wants you to know I completely agree. However this is the best I’ve been able to pull together while giving up the hour I usually would have watched Netflix during mental health awareness week 2020 to write this blog instead. Im still on maternity leave and get up around ten times a night to soothe a teething baby, so am constantly surviving on caffeine and a bit baby brained. The thing is though as a mum, there will always be reasons I’m not at my best and ways I could do better. So my mind also agrees with the decision that I should still launch this into the public domain anyway, with openness to any feedback and constructive criticism anyone might offer – that in turn would aid me in my goal to continually improve my knowledge if the ACT model and continue to apply it personally with my family and professionally at work too.

#clinical psychology #ACT #miscarriage #parenting #mental health

Mindfulness and emotional literacy

Mindfulness practice with young children can be valuable in improving their emotional literacy, just as it can with anyone else. Regularly noticing your own thoughts and feelings in mindfulness practice can help with verbalising them through increased awareness. Because my way of using mindfulness with my children is to make it activity based, for example gardening or art projects, then there is usually reciprocal commenting on our experience throughout interspersed with more introspective pauses.

I try when I notice my own emotions to verbalise them to my daughter to model the conenction between the feeling, the word and the experience that goes with them. I aim to share a mix of positive and negatively valenced emotions, and to avoid blame. A positive emotion example might be “I love baking apple muffins, I’m really proud of our teamwork today and of how well this recipe has turned out”. A more negative example might be “I’m really tired tonight, do you think we could try to brush your teeth quickly then snuggle up to do your bedtime stories?”

I’ve recently noticed a big increase in her emotional vocabulary when describing her own experiences, such as “I’m frustrated that this hat won’t go on my doll”, “Babies crying are annoying”, “I’m more enjoying the pasta than the meatballs”. I’m aiming to particularly encourage her to voice negatively valenced emotions at the moment so she feels able to be open about her feelings during the coronavirus lockdown at home, and so that generally she learns that I’m open to hearing about all feelings, not just the positive ones – since all are part of life, and however much I might want her to experience more of the happy than sad times, it’s not realistic. I want her to lead a satisfying life following her own values, so I want her to learn to tolerate and later manage all her feelings in a way that facilitates her development and character growth. I’ve noticed that the more she can vocalise her feelings and I can attune my parenting responses to what she needs, the fewer instances of toddler meltdowns and tantrums we see. I’ve also noticed that where I empathise with her feelings and make an effort to attune, she seems to try with mine, and asks more questions now about my experiences – particularly what I was like at her age, as I’ve been identifying a lot of similarities. I’ve found sharing my memories of being her age with her helps me connect more with where she’s at and strengthens our bond. It helps reduce the times I make adult assumptions about her feelings and behaviour which are appealing short cuts sometimes – eg that she is seeking attention – but often inaccurate.

#mindfulness #emotional literacy #parenting

Mindfulness and Spotting Traps

To set the theme for this post, I’d like to start by sharing a poem by Portia Nelson:

Autobiography in 5 Short Chapters by Portia Nelson

I love how this poem captures the cycle of growing awareness of a problem, and how this builds over experiencing it a few times before being able to contemplate change, then trying to make change, before finally achieving the change you need.

For anyone, parent or otherwise, we all have traps with our thoughts, feelings and behaviour which we are susceptible to fall into on repeat. Mindfulness can offer all of us an opportunity to notice our thoughts in action, and reflect on our observations. For parents, spotting your own traps as a person can be as useful as spotting those you might succumb to as a parent. Both can be insightful when trying to understand the traps your child might fall into. It’s helpful to be compassionate with yourself, your partner if you have one, your child and anyone else playing a part in traps as being human its a universal experience to have. It’s also often upsetting, agravating and exhausting to repeat unhelpful cycles that get you further from your values and goals.

Typical traps as as adult

excessive self criticism

excessive work

lack of self care or self compassion

unfavourable comparisons with other people’s lives on social media

Typical traps as a parent

Shouting and swearing at a child who won’t do as they are told, then feeling sad when this doesn’t work and you haven’t enjoyed your day with them

Battling with a child in a fussy eating phase to eat their meals, then giving them sugary snacks when this doesn’t work

Typical traps as a child

Having regular toiletting accidents due to delaying going to finish a game first

Pushing boundaries to clarify what the rules are, then getting stuck in time out still confused

Typical traps as a baby

Wanting to walk but falling over on your face

Wanting milk but not having words to ask

In family life, every family member will both have their own traps and their own role in the other family members traps. This can of course become both complicated and stressful. For example, a child may be trapped in not getting to the toilet in time due to getting absorbed in a favourite game, while a parent may be feeling anxious that the child should have got the hang of going on time by now and be self-critical of their parenting skills, denting their confidence in supporting their child to beat the trap. In turn, the child may pick up on the parents anxiety, feel anxious in turn themselves about upsetting the parent, and consequently actually be more likely to have accidents, and even try to hide the accidents from the parent thus compounding the problem.

I’ve noticed recently that my daughter and I share some bad habits for the same reasons. Neither of us drink enough water. For both of us, the reason is we’re too busy. I am instead guilty of making cups of tea and coffee, and my daughter has picked up on this by developing a liking for chai, and requesting this too rather than the water I’d like her to drink more of. I’ve previously used a reward chart to increase her drinks consumption which was effective, but her drinking tends to reduce if mine does, even if I offer her drinks. What helped increase my awareness of my own contribution to her drinking trap was my husband working from home during the coronavirus lockdown. He continually pointed out that I, rather than her, was not drinking enough and kept croaking. My initial response was to feel indignant that I didn’t have enough chance to drink, which led me to consider that my daugher might also experience me nagging her to drink more as irritating when she too perceives herself to be busy. So rather than set up a new reward chart for us both, my solution is simpler – I model drinking lots of glasses of water, and she happily copies. Therefore, improving both of our wellbeing and reducing frustration for both of us.

So, how to spot traps?

Regularly practicing mindfulness can help you notice your thoughts, memories and other cognitive processes without getting as emotionally involved with them. With that distance, it can be easier to see what to do.

What kinds of mindfulness practice can help? Listening to an app recording regularly, e.g. from Headspace or Smiling Mind could help. Alternatively, sitting with a notepad for five minutes a day writing down whatever comes up can help you tune in. Or, go for a walk and notice what comes up in your mind – after the walk, jot down any lightbulb moments you had and any actions that you need to take. For me, its often in the shower these days that I notice traps and emerge with inspiration. It doesn’t really matter what kind of practice you do, as long as it allows you to observe your thinking and have the chance after to note down any insights or actions needed.

An observant friend or partner may also be helpful provided they can impart the feedback with some compassion or even offer of assistance in beating the trap.

And how do I beat the trap?

As with the the poem, the first and biggest step is defining and understanding the problem and commiting to doing what it takes to address it. The next step from there is to set yourself a SMART goal – one that is Specific, Measurable, Achieveable, Realistic and Time bound. Then, decide one small step you could do today to get you nearer to that goal. Next? Do it.

Cultivating mindful curiosity

One of the wonderful things about young children is their natural curiosity about themselves, others and the world. Mindfulness perhaps like learning a language is a skill that is easy to absorb young and then carry forward as an asset into adult life. Perhaps one of the most useful aspects of mindfulness is the socratic process of self discovery, building self awareness and being at ease in your own skin.

So, how do we encourage curiosity through mindfulness?

When aiming to do an activity mindfully, ask questions about what they can see, hear, touch, taste and feel and aim to show genuine interest in their answers and also share your own perceptions. You can also draw their attention to details they might not otherwise have noticed like birds nests, squirrels darting up trees, crabs scuttling in rock pools, salmon jumping in streams and the smell of pollen in the meadow. I’ve found the effect of this on my daughter is that she has learned to ask lots of questions herself and express genuine reciprocal interest in the answers. She’s currently showing a strong interest in science and amassing facts about animals, plants and the human body.

Some recent questions from my 3 year old

Why does the sun rise?

Why do the planets spin?

Why can’t humans fly?

Why does time pass?

What do elephants eat? Is their mouth on the trunk?

How do plants have babies?

Why do people die?

Why are there viruses?

Mindfully tuning in to what your child asks about most may help to cue you into new areas of interest to explore together or offer new hooks to engage them in parenting goals you have. For example, we’re currently home educating our 3 year old due to coronavirus lockdown in the UK, so have created a weekly Science day to nurture her budding scientific curiosity. She’s got involved in making a magic wand of sodium borate crystals, making rainbows in glass jars, growing plants and making a bug hotel to peer at through her binoculars among other projects. Her dad works in science, so an added bonus of this is it gives them bonding time through shared enjoyment of science, aligns well with our parenting value of education and gives me some time to spend 1:1 with our baby son.

another facet of mindfulness as a parent is choosing to attend to what is actually happening in the present moment rather than what our minds may suggest is happening based on old stories we carry around with us, generalisations that may offer shortcuts to answers that are attractive but don’t quite fit. For example today I went out for ten minutes to collect hanging baskets from our local garden centre. I came back to find my husband annoyed that my daughter had ‘spread the food recycling round the kitchen floor’ and he’d had to clean it. She meanwhile was laughing. My mind offered the suggestion that she had been fed up of her dad working from home and had knocked over the recycling to get his attention. However I have learned that my assumptions are not always right so resisted expressing frustration at the potential attention seeking and asked her what happened. I had given her a plum to eat while I was gone and she explained she had gone to put it the food recycling but the recycling box had been moved by her dad to the top of our guinea pig cage, and she wasn’t able to reach – to avoid bothering her dad she tried anyway and knocked it over by mistake. Her dad then identified another positive in that she had been honest about the mistake straight away which gave him a chance to clear up rather than it fester. So I have learned it’s better to ask than assume, and also to consider adult mistakes contributing rather than jump to blaming a child. For example, it it possible to manage adult emotions more if we want to reduce tantrum frequency or intensity? Is the environment safe and suitable for what we expect of a child? Does the child understand what is expected of them and do they have the skills and resources to do it with the amount of help and attention we’re offering? If the same situation arose, what could be done differently?

Mindful child development

All children develop differently and at their own pace. Probably like most mums of two my experience has been that my children have developed differently from each other, each with their own unique preferences for what they want to learn about when and how and their own personality shaping how they want to go about it and what they want from me. For example, my daughter at 8 months was a determined crawler whereas my son at the same age prefers to march round the living room dragging his dad around with him by the finger. He’s learning to crawl but seems less into it. My daughter at 8 months would sit for half an hour to listen to story books and very gently turned the pages herself. My son also likes books but only if they have flaps, touchy feely patches or finger puppets he can pull and move. And he will rip any paper he can touch so needs board books. I’ve done baby led weaning with both and my daughter at 8 months would have spent an hour playing with her food, probably having some nibbles of the tasty bits. My son at the same age wolfs down his portion before I finish mine and looks expectantly at me for a top up – from my own plate. Generally, it can be unhelpful to compare your children to each other or your friends children for the same reason – they are different and often both fine just the way they are. What counts as normal can vary so much when children are small because development spans a vast portfolio of skills – and the baby hasn’t read the book that says what they should do and in what order. So unless your child is very obviously behind typical developmental milestones it’s probably best to not get fused with unhelpful rules about whether they match average development timescales and attune instead to their own developmental journey.

Useful exercises

Try making a poem about the little things your child likes – what do they play with? What do they like to eat? What’s their favourite place to go? What’s their latest achievement? What early signs of their personality can you see – do they laugh a lot or make you laugh? Are they determined and serious? Curious? Clever? Cute?

Try spending ten minutes playing with them on the floor following their lead rather than trying to entertain them – if they roll, you roll. What do you notice?

Consider if there are any family stories about how you or your baby’s father were as babies and how this might impact your expectations of their development. Is it helpful to also consider defusing from any of this stuff?

Tuning into your baby as they are right now, what is one small step you could take to help them move on?

#mindfulness #baby development

Mama mindfulness

It’s important to look after your own wellbeing first – or taking a flying analogy, to fasten your own seat belt before assisting others. Mindfulness when practiced regularly offers a great opportunity to notice if, when and in what way your own wellbeing needs attention. When practicing mindfulness, the goal is not to relax or feel good all the time – if you do, that’s a bonus as with the rest of life, including parenting. Sometimes when practicing mindfulness, we might notice feelings of tiredness, pain, hunger, cold or excessive heat, thirst or strong emotions. We might notice thoughts or memories passing through that stir up strong emotions too. If you had a traumatic birth, are experiencing severely low mood or otherwise are aware your mental health is suffering a few things are helpful – you can access talking therapy via referral from your GP in the UK, and if you feel comfortable your health visitor can be a point if contact to facilitate that. You might also consider accessing counseling via a local provider in your area. If you’re feeling particularly vulnerable for any reason, my advice from my own experience would be to keep your practice short and activity based rather than long and meditative. Also, if something comes up for you that needs practical attention – eg hunger or thirst – you can choose to stop your practice to meet the need or note it to do straight after. I’ve often noticed I’m really thirsty while practicing mindfulness so have learned to keep a glass of water in every room of my house now to address that.

Some suggestions for mama mindfulness

Have a bath with candles and bubbles while someone else takes care of your baby for an hour. Take some deep breaths in and out, noticing the scent of the bubbles and the candles. If you’re someone who enjoys a glass of wine in the bath, notice the scent of that too. If you have a drink of any kind, notice the taste. If you like to listen to music in the bath, choose to notice one aspect particularly such as the melody or words and really focus in on that. If it’s quiet, notice what that sounds like in your home – can you hear any splash sounds? Watch the candle flame closely – see the colours and movement flow. Watch the bubbles move and pop on your toes. How does the water temperature change as you’re lying or sitting there? If you have a bath pillow or other comfort prop, how does that feel?

Have a drink and snack of your choice by yourself for half an hour – maybe a coffee and cake in a bookshop or cafe, a mocktail in your garden in the evening or an ice cream watching the waves by the beach. Whatever helps connect you with your sense of who you were before children. Notice the smells, tastes, sights and sounds of your drink, snack and environment. Maybe try mixing up the combinations over a few practices to get different experiences.

Leave your baby with someone else for half an hour to get some exercise – maybe a swim, walk or yoga. Notice how each part of your body feels as you move it – any aches or pains that need attention? What can you do to ease then through movement? What can you see, hear, feel, touch and taste? What thoughts or memories pass through? How are you feeling emotionally?

Paint, draw or craft while someone else looks after your baby. Notice what medium you are drawn to. What appeals about that to you? Notice your feelings and perceptions as well as the sensory feedback from your chosen activity.

#mindfulness #maternal wellbeing

Mother and Baby Mindfulness

spotted with my son in a mindful moment

I’ve possibly never enjoyed mindfulness more than I have with my children. One reason is that young children are naturally very present focussed, which I find life affirming. Another is their natural curiosity about their experience, which makes me notice loads I otherwise wouldn’t due to habitually taking it for granted as an adult. Another reason is that there’s so much of the baby stage with my children that has seemed so beautiful I’ve wanted to bottle it and save it forever – the softness of their skin, the contagious giggles when they splash in the bath like baby whales, the tiny fingers and toes, the defiant glare in their eyes at anyone who might DARE talk to me and distract me during their feed. I’ve co-slept with my children as young babies, and one of my favourite moments has been watching them sleep peacefully, noticing their tiny translucent eyelids, long eyelashes and hands splayed out dramatically above their heads. I particularly love the unique mannerisms they have in their sleep, like my son’s insistence on rolling to just the right highly awkward looking angle on his side before getting comfy for a deep sleep. I also love waking up to find him patiently watching and waiting, beaming and reaching out to touch my face when I open my eyes. There’s so much love to share, and it’s made extra precious by how short the time really is in a lifetime. Mindfulness is the best I’ve got as a way to soak up all the joy of those moments, so I’ve immersed myself.

So – some mother and baby mindfulness ideas:

In our garden, we have an apple tree. When my daughter was a baby, we spent a few minutes watching it from our living room window every day. I’d talk to her about what we could see, like whether there were leaves, what colours they were, the length of the branches, whether there were any birds – and whether they were singing. It tuned me into the seasons, to her language development and to her motor skill development. Now she’s 3, she has a keen interest in gardening, the seasons and that particular tree – which she pointed out today is the tallest tree in our garden.

How about a mindful buggy or baby carrier walk? What can you see – buildings, people, animals, plants, colours, shapes? What can you hear – birds singing, cars, talking, footsteps, the wind in the trees? What can you touch – the ground beneath your feet? leaves? what can your baby touch – do they reach out to touch any particular things in shops, fences on the way past, other people? What can you smell – the rain? chips? hot chocolate? wild garlic? pollen? what can you taste – take away coffee and cake? polo mints? diet coke? How does your body feel as you walk – warm or cold? comfortable or not? energetic or tired? What thoughts are passing through? Any memories or images, or things on your to do list? What feelings do you notice in yourself? how do you think your baby might be feeling?

How about some mindful music? Put on whatever you like that matches your mood, whether its classical, jazz, chidlren’s nursery rhymes, pop, electronic or heavy metal. My babies have been pretty open minded, even in the face of my husbands techno on full blast – my daughter less so these days though admittedly. Once you’ve chosen, choose something to really attend to – maybe the chord changes, the melody or the beat. If there are words and you enjoy singing, sing along really focussing on the words and the meaning behind them. If you like to dance, dance round the room with your baby. Notice any thoughts or feelings that led to your choice, and perhaps try this on a few different days in a few different moods to get a range of experiences.

And mindful water play – either in the bath or in a paddling pool in the garden. Depending on the baby’s age, grab some bath toys – maybe a watering can, a pouring cup, a sieve. If your baby is new to water play, join in and help your baby learn the joy of exploring what happens. Watch their face expressions and their hand movements. Watch the water move and flow with them. Listen to the splashes and sounds they make. Feel the temperature of the water and notice how much of your baby is in water.

Or try mindful bubble blowing – notice how deep or shallow your breaths are as you blow the bubbles for your baby. Is your breath warm or cold as you blow out? How big are the bubbles? How long do they last until they pop? What colours can you see in the bubbles – and what colour do they go right before they pop? Can you watch the bubbles float high in the sky until they pop? How does your baby respond if a bubble pops on their nose or hand? How do they respond as they watch the bubbles float away?

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