Mindful attention is very important and not easy to sustain.
While states of mindfulness of attention and awareness may appear easy to attain for brief periods of time, it is often quite challenging to develop a sustained practice of continually reorienting one’s mind to being in the present moment and being open to experience (a more dispositional tendency toward mindfulness).
Our natural tendency is to be molded by habitual responses of appraising almost everything we encounter with little or no conscious awareness.
Our natural attention processes typically hold an object or experience in focused attention only for a short period before other affective and cognitive processes “respond” to it. Moreover, our history of life experiences frequently condition these responses such that we automatically appraise and judge almost everything we encounter with little or no conscious awareness (Bargh and Chartrand 1999).
Usually are responses are basic judgement of "good" or "bad."
Usually these primary appraisals are basic judgments of an object or experience as “good” or “bad” and these automatic judgments, along with cognitive biases created by our beliefs, opinions, and expectations, may lead us to distort the reality of what is currently taking place.
Mindful attention allows for a freedom from these basic judgments so that we can exercise choice in how we respond.
Mindful attention and awareness are intended to overcome these distortions and provide a clearer awareness of one’s immediate experience. From this perspective, maintaining a mindful awareness allows for exercising choice in responding to experience and provides an alternative to engaging in habitual, or “automatic,” cognitive and behavioral reactions to internal and external experience.
The idea that we can choose responses calls into quesstion models of human behavior that focus on pre-determined causes for what we feel.
Concordantly, halting automaticity through mindful processing of experience is thought to allow for self-regulation in goal pursuit (Brown et al. 2007a). This theory is in clear juxtaposition to operant models of human behavior that identify learning history and reinforcement as determined precursors of behavior (Skinner 1974).
- excerpts from A Model of Mindful Parenting: Implications for Parent–Child Relationships and Prevention Research. Larissa G. Duncan,1 J. Douglas Coatsworth,2 and Mark T. Greenberg2. In Clinical Child and Family Review
The Mindful Parenting Program consists of 10 sessions and two weekend camps for parents and children, to not put the burden of finding child care on parents. With the goal of cultivating self-awareness, volunteerism, and open dialogue between parents, children, and their teachers, each session included a quiet moment of reflection or meditation, sharing personal experiences within the group, and lessons from an expert. One of the most successful segments of the program was the 21-day kindness challenge facilitated through WhatsApp, in which participants engaged in a series of activities and discussed their experiences with other parents in the group. Some of the activities included giving away something dear to you, making a thank you card for someone in the family, and teaching someone something new.
Learning these skills translated into more positive interactions between parents, teachers, and children. And being involved in the program led parents to be more involved in the schools, said Kumta.
“Not only did more parents volunteer to substitute classes when a teacher was absent, but communication between parents and teachers improved, as both were better able to extend empathy to each other.”
Surveys at the end of the program showed that more than half of the parents had a better relationship with the school and saw a positive change in their relationship with their children.
Both programs were hopeful that their methods would lend to creating more sound relationships between parents and children. This is especially useful during a time when current events have become so polarizing and pandemic stress is high.
Lessons for parentsResearch suggests that there are many ways for parents to get involved in their children’s character development, and one of the most important things we can do is to model behavior. This not only inspires our kids but can also deepen our relationships with them and improve our well-being even beyond our role as parents.
For example, research suggests that self-compassion goes hand and hand with balanced and calmer parenting. When parents practice self-compassion, they’re better able to be gentle with themselves and feel more connected with others, as opposed to feeling isolated. This enables them to better handle difficult situations, such as divorce and other traumas, and feel less stress. That ability to be mindful and kind to themselves is then extended to the children, as they learn by example and get the benefit of a more relaxed and engaged parent.
When self-compassion is coupled with mindfulness, parents have the unique ability to manage their emotions even chaotic situations. A study that examined the thoughts and behaviors of 62 mothers found those who were able to recognize their less-than-ideal parenting experiences as challenges and not failures were more likely to have a healthy mindset and better relationship with their children.
- Raising Caring, Courageous Kids
The GGSC’s coverage of community-based organizations that provide services to families is supported by the John Templeton Foundation as part of our Raising Caring, Courageous Kids initiative.
Another resource for difficult parenting situations is having a sense of purpose. Research suggests that fathers who have a sense of purpose make healthier decisions for themselves, practice better daily habits, and are happier. While determining your purpose as a parent is a deep question, it’s beneficial for the entire family. Children can see that you are working for something bigger than yourself, and see the strength that stems from using your voice for a purpose.
Finally, grateful people tend to have greater life satisfaction and better social interactions—and research suggests that grateful parents raise more grateful kids. While there are many different ways for parents to foster gratitude in children, it’s clear that the more children are exposed to it, the more they are able to improve their outlook on life.
Making a lasting impactOne year later, the programs at the United Schools of Indianapolis and the Kaveri Group of Institutes have had lasting effects on their participants. According to Marsh, Kalmaldi, and Kumta, parents have reported the continued effort to practice active listening, mindfulness, and open communication to strengthen connections with their children. Some have even sought out therapy for themselves to further extend their ability to understand and focus on their personal growth.
If more schools employ mindfulness workshops and social-emotional learning programs that highlight character strengths for parents as well as students, the compassionate and open relationships that these parents, children, and teachers cultivated could become more common. But it must be done in a way that doesn’t blame, shame, or isolate parents in the process, suggests Roeser.
“We have to feel safe and then we can venture out into learning new things, but if we’re not feeling seen or heard, we may not feel very confident to do that or receptive to the idea,” says Roeser.
“This kind of programming acts as self-development for the parents, as well as something meaningful to do with their children,” says Melinda Bier, codirector for the Center for Character & Citizenship at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and advisor for the parenting program at the United Schools of Indianapolis. “It gives the parents a chance to learn better skills in a non-threatening way, and that positive work spills over professionally and in other scenarios.”
“These programs are valuable and have positive outcomes. It definitely connects parents and schools in a meaningful way so that students and the community can thrive,” says Bier.