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Formerly St. Louis Center for Family Development
A father holds the hand of his daughter as they skip down a road

How to Approach Mindful, Purposeful Parenting

Parenting is no easy feat. Everyday life can be difficult enough without young ones testing your patience. Whether it is the chaos that ensues from waking up 10 minutes late and derailing your routine, or an unpredictable toddler who throws a tantrum at 7 in the morning because they weren’t allowed to put their pacifier in the toilet, you may find yourself feeling overwhelmed before you’ve even enjoyed your morning coffee. As mentally-taxing as moments like these can be, a mindful, purposeful parenting approach can help bring out the best in your child and you.

What is Purposeful Parenting?

The core principle of purposeful parenting is that actions can be bad, but the child is not bad. Just because a meltdown at 7 a.m. is taxing and annoying for the parent, it does not make your child unkind or inconsiderate – it makes them a kid that is has not learned to effectively communicate their needs.

Challenging behavior in children offers two parenting opportunities to embrace: learning and teaching. What can we learn from the screaming toddler and how we responded? Perhaps the child is upset because a need has not been met. Is she still tired or hungry? Is he scared to leave mom or dad for the day? Were we able to validate the child’s frustration or worries, and help the child manage their uncomfortable experience? How can we turn this instance into a positive experience for both parties, whether it be through learning or teaching?

Keeping questions like these at the forefront during tough moments, and being mindful of both your child’s experience and your own emotional state, will provide you with the tools to understand and effectively respond to your child’s behavior. By investing in this kind of “purposeful parenting” and remaining mentally present during these difficult (yet significant) times, you can help nurture the skills your child requires to self-soothe, and eventually meet their own needs.

It Starts with You.

Purposeful parenting is not a rigid set of steps or one solid method of parenting. Rather, it is an approach that focuses on the parent’s ability to meet their personal needs first in order to be more responsive to the needs of their child.

When parents lack support or have financial worries, unstable relationships, problems at work, depression or illness, for example, they are more easily challenged, and more likely to become irritable or frustrated. With a little self-awareness, it becomes obvious just how impactful our emotional state is on our ability to care for our children.

As parents, we have all had the “bad parent of the day” experience when we did not live up to our own parenting standards. It can be hard to be intentional in our efforts to meet a child’s needs for positive growth and development. Children develop within the context of social interactions over time. For children ages 0 to 3, the primary relationship with their caregiver accounts for healthy secure attachments, which are critical for navigating future relationships, as well as responding to situations as they arise.

Begin by thinking about your overall parenting goals and the results you hope to achieve.

How do you see your actions and your behavior impacting your children? What can you do to make sure the impact you are creating is positive and effective? How can you communicate to your kids the importance of understanding others and establishing strong, healthy personal connections with the environments and people around them? How can you encourage them to make helpful decisions and engage in beneficial behaviors?

The Six P’s of Purposeful Parenting:

Not only can a stressful parent-child relationship inhibit healthy development in the child, if unchecked, the issues can escalate into more serious problems – up to and including a behavior disorder, or a depressive disorder for the parent. One resource that may help avoid more serious problems in the future is to practice the 6 P’s of Purposeful Parenting:

  • Protective: Meet your children’s basic needs and ensure they are getting enough food, shelter and sleep. While avoiding “helicopter parenting” and becoming too overprotective, make sure they feel safe and know they can come to you for trustworthy support.
  • Personal: Cultivate a strong personal relationship with your child and show him or her unconditional love and acceptance. Always be kind and gentle when communicating.
  • Progressive: Notice and support any new skills your child is practicing. Use empowering phrases such as “Thank you for helping me!” or “Good job sharing!”
  • Positive: Promote positivity in the way you regard and reward. Love your child, even if you are not in love with their behavior – we all have bad days every once in a while, and children are no exception. Avoid physical punishments that may send the wrong message about violence, and instead build confidence by offering encouraging comments or rewarding his or her efforts to improve.
  • Playful: Have an involved and creative attitude toward play time – after all, play time is a chance to practice new skills and it helps with learning! Give your child the opportunity to lead your play together to promote creativity and boost self-esteem.
  • Purposeful: Set your sights on the long-term goals of parenting, and be intentional in your attempts to nurture the skills your child needs to be successful in life. Language, social skills and self-control are three key capabilities of productive people, so ensure you are setting the best example you can regarding those skill areas.

Mindful Parenting

Approaching parenting with a purpose takes patience and understanding (remember the screaming toddler?) Practicing mindfulness can help you in the process, and also improve the well-being of your children. The following are a few ways to incorporate mindfulness:

  1. Be considerate to your children by being fully present. With all of the adult responsibilities parents juggle on a daily basis (scheduling, cooking meals, running errands, etc.) it can be easy to live on “autopilot,” mindlessly driven by mental patterns and preoccupations that sometimes result in us feeling anxious, depressed and exhausted. Taking some time out each day to practice mindful meditation and live in the moment alongside our children is the best way to connect with their deeper needs and understand them as individuals – rather than just extensions of ourselves.
  2. Listen when your kids communicate. Sometimes kids want nothing more than to feel seen and heard. Honor your child’s efforts and take an interest in what they have to say. Remember that what they choose to share with you is important to them, so grant them the respect they deserve by choosing to listen. Wait to speak instead of attempting to lead the direction of the conversation.
  3. Find a little time for you. Sometimes it is hard to find alone time with a little one running around – but making time for yourself is one of the most important things you can do for your child. If you are feeling high-strung or extra agitated from running on empty for too long, you may find yourself quick to yell or engage in some of the same bad behaviors that you are teaching your children are not okay. Mindfully manage your stress and remember that the best self is a rested self. Set aside some “me” time for hobbies that you love or that are guaranteed to relieve some of your extra stress.
  4. Make healthy choices that impact the whole family. Set a positive example for your kids by maintaining a heathy diet and sharing some of your favorite hobbies with those you love, such as exercising, reading or crafting. Cook and eat nutritious dinners together – pull up a stool so even your littlest can take a turn at stirring the pot. And include the whole family in unwinding exploits like meditating or going on walks!

When It’s Time to Get Help

Sometimes being mindful and leading by example means asking for help. Sparlin Mental Health offers supportive services for parents dealing with the stress and anxiety that may come along with being a parent. They can also help if your child is having a difficult time managing his or her own emotions. Contact our office today to set up a consultation.