I recently caught myself saying “I suck at this!” aloud while my toddler was within earshot. She was reading her books in the other room and seemingly didn’t react. But, we parents know that children are often aware of us, especially when we think they aren’t paying attention. Why did I feel the need to criticize myself? I burnt the blueberry pancakes. We recently got a new stove, and I’m still adjusting to the burners. As I scraped burnt bits of pancake mix from the pan, I started thinking about how I would react if my daughter expressed frustration with herself over ruining a meal. I would likely suggest she make a few minor adjustments and try again. I certainly wouldn’t berate her; nor would I accept her use of hostile words with herself. So, why do I think it is okay to use such harsh language with myself?
After the pancake incident, I decided to become more aware of my self-talk--I don’t want my daughter to grow up thinking that it is normal to belittle herself. After mindfully observing my inner and external voices for a few days, I was shocked by how often I criticized myself. I’m embarrassed to say that on any given day, I’m likely to call myself stupid several times over very minor mistakes or inadequacies. I would never let my daughter speak to herself the way I do. However, when I put myself down in front of my daughter, I am subconsciously giving her permission to speak negatively about herself. Whether I notice it or not, she is learning to be an adult by observing me. I need to demonstrate compassion for myself so that my daughter learns to do the same.
Why is this so important? Our inner voice often becomes our truth. If I repeatedly tell myself, I suck at this or I’m so stupid; I will begin to believe it. My choices will begin to reflect these beliefs and I may limit my options based on these false presumptions about myself. I know that I limited my career options by constantly affirming I’m not good at math throughout my teenage and young adult years. Truthfully, I was pretty great at what I now know is coding, and I loved geometry. It was just algebra perplexed me. Instead of working harder to understand it, I told myself I wasn’t good at algebra and accepted that as my truth.
Do we want our children to give up when faced with challenges and (wrongfully) assume they just aren’t good enough? Of course not--we want our children to be confident and demonstrate persistence. They will never fully believe that things like intelligence or talent aren’t fixed if they hear us minimize ourselves each time we encounter a barrier to success.
First, we must mindfully listen to the way we talk to ourselves. Then, we can make simple language adjustments that demonstrate we believe our talents can be developed through hard work and perseverance. I’ve started using these phrases in front of my daughter: This is a little tricky for me, but I bet I can do it! and, I need to practice this a bit more. I’ve noticed that she announces when things are tricky and celebrates when she tries to do something challenging. When we are mindful about our language, we can use our words to rejoice our efforts and communicate that determination is an admirable trait. Even a simple, good enough, demonstrates self-compassion and acceptance of imperfect results.
Mindful self-talk shows that we respect ourselves and that we understand that we are still learning and growing. More importantly, it communicates the same lesson to our children, who are easily influenced by our words and actions. When you are about to criticize yourself--stop, notice the thought, picture your child, and imagine saying those words to them. If the words are too harsh for your child, then they are too harsh for you. After all, your child is learning how to treat themselves by observing you. Teach them that they are worthy of self-love.
Last week I caught myself thinking, Ugh, I have to go through the whole bedtime routine tonight. I was tired and envisioning the delay of my own bedtime. My daughter’s pre-nap and bedtime routine has become quite the production. Besides books, affirmations, and lullabies, I now have to kiss various stuffed animals goodnight, perform a series of tickles, and shower my daughter with kisses from another set of stuffed animals. The whole routine is probably 15-20 minutes from start to finish. It helps my daughter feel safe and secure, and most of the time is ensures that we all get a restful night of sleep.
This pre-sleep routine isn’t going to change, my daughter loves her rituals. However, I can change the way I think about it. I recalled learning years ago that happier people replace the term I have to with I get to. This simple language change kindles feelings of gratitude, which in turn prompt an overall feeling of contentment. Imagine how much happier we would all be if each day we thought, I get to work today rather than I have to work today.
I cherished the idea of motherhood and dreamed of the joys of parenting for years before my daughter was born. When I became a mother, the bliss I felt was better than I ever imagined. It isn’t normal or even healthy to live in a constant state of bliss; however, I shouldn’t feel hassled by my child’s needs. So, I started looking at our pre-sleep routine with a fresh perspective. I began thinking, How lucky am I? I get to spend this precious time with my child before she sleeps. I trained my thoughts to reflect on how much I longed for this child, to notice her little quirks, and to treasure this time with her while it lasts. And guess what? My frustrated feelings about our extended routine dissipated after only two days of replacing my thoughts!
I reflected on other areas that could be improved from this simple swap—daycare drop off, baths, meal prep, etc. and I realized that parenting offers countless opportunities to exhibit gratefulness. When I drop my daughter off at daycare in the morning I get to sing with her in the car and give her a big squeeze before sending her off with her friends. When she wakes up from a nightmare in the middle of the night, I get to hold her close and rock her back to sleep. There are still moments when I think I have to—it’s natural to be beleaguered by the perpetual demands of parenting, but now I catch myself and say, How can I show gratitude for this present moment? By allowing more space for gratitude, I am finding more room for joy. After all, these small moments are the ones that we will miss most when our children are grown.
Where can you find space for the phrase, I get to in your day to day life as a parent?
I still remember my first conversation about race at home. I was about three years old and I attended a diverse preschool. I admired a little Black girl in my class, Tiffany, because she was beautiful and she wore her hair in the coolest little braids, each with a bright barrette on the end. Like most little girls, when I saw something I thought was beautiful, I sought to imitate it. I begged my mom to braid my hair and use all my colorful barrettes so that I could look like Tiffany. Through my tears and screaming, my mother stood her ground and told me no. I didn’t understand why until my mom patiently explained that Tiffany had hair different from mine and that she could style her hair in ways I couldn’t. My mother explained race, diversity, and culture in an age-appropriate way for me and although I still admired Tiffany’s hair, I never asked my mother to copy Tiffany’s style again. My mother’s explanation was simple and helped me acknowledge and appreciate another culture without feeling the need to imitate it.
Now, I am the mother of a very verbal 2.5-year-old and who attends a diverse preschool. She started noticing and discussing skin tones about six months ago. She makes observational comments when we watch movies, “Moana is brown.” My reply is usually something like, “Yes, she is Polynesian; she sure is beautiful and brave, isn’t she?” This often leads to further comments from my daughter about who has white skin and who has brown skin at her school. She will list her friends and teachers and talk about their skin tone. Clearly, my child does not want to adopt a “color-blind” attitude towards race. Frankly, neither do I.
Recent events have made me evaluate what I am doing at home to ensure that I raise an anti-racist child. Anti-racist is a fairly new term in my vocabulary, but my understanding is that it means to actively oppose racist beliefs, actions, and policies. It means having uncomfortable, but necessary conversations with others. It means that I can no longer be passive when something doesn’t feel right. Author Ijeoma Oluo explains, “The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.” If anti-racism is the only way forward, then we all need to take an honest look at what we are doing in our own homes to make sure that our children oppose racism in all forms.
Books and Toys
I am going to be more mindful about the books and toys I choose for my daughter. We have a rather large collection of books, which does include diverse titles, but there is still room for improvement. To make mindful choices about the children’s book I purchase, I am going to ask myself the following questions: How many of our diverse books are written by diverse authors? How many of our diverse books are struggle stories or feature a White savior? How many of our diverse books show People of Color in moments of joy? The own voices movement encourages people from historically marginalized groups to tell their own stories. It is important to include own voices books in our collections so that the narrative of marginalized people is not only controlled by White authors. Struggle stories have a place, but I want to make sure that those aren’t the only diverse stories I share with my child. Being more mindful means that I am thinking clearly about the message my daughter receives from the books I choose for her and that our collection includes a variety of perspectives and stories.
Our toys are somewhat diverse, but again, there is room for improvement. This week my daughter asked me why she doesn’t have a Princess Tiana for her Little People castle. The easy answer is: the castle is second-hand and it didn’t come with Tiana. The honest answer is: I didn’t think to look for or include a Tiana. It took a toddler to make me realize this mistake, but now I’m going to change the way I look at the toys I choose for her.
Movies, Television, and Music
We have come a long way in terms of the availability of diverse choices for movies and other media, but am I exposing my daughter to enough of those diverse choices? We don’t spend a lot of time watching movies and television yet. When we do, my daughter would be happy to just watch Moana and Frozen repeatedly. I love that she has chosen Moana as a role model, but what other diverse characters could I be exposing her to while I have control over what she sees? We mostly listen to children’s music stations together, but I recently discovered that my daughter loves Michael Franti! She dances wildly and jumps and shouts when she hears him sing. I didn’t know I had a little SoulRocker because I hadn’t exposed her to his music until this week. This made me think about all the other diverse musicians that we can discover together as I start to make mindful choices about the music we share.
Our children are always watching us. They learn just as much from our unintentional actions as our intentional ones. Part of becoming an anti-racist is to take an honest look at my interactions with People of Color. What message do my facial expressions and body language tell my child? Do I engage People of Color in conversations at the park or in the store? Do I spend time socially with people who are not White? Do I encourage friendships with non-White children? Does my family support Black-owned businesses?
That conversation with my mother over thirty years ago taught me to see beauty in our differences. My mother gave me a gift by talking to me about race and culture. Very young children can discuss and celebrate racial differences. For years, Black children have been having conversations about race because their safety has depended upon it. We must all have these conversations at home in order for positive change to happen. Tell your children about your experiences. Tell them about the time you should have stood up to a family member or a friend when they made an inappropriate remark or joke. Tell them how your perception has changed over time through experience and education. Educate yourself on the roots of racism in our country and share what you have learned with your family. When your child is ready to understand what privilege is, discuss specific examples of their privilege. Explain how skin color affects how others view us.
For far too long I’ve stayed quiet and passive about racism because I was worried about what others would think about me if I spoke up. Now, I am ready to make a change. I am going to mindfully raise an anti-racist daughter so that she does speak up. And hopefully, her words and actions will make others rethink their own.
What else can we be mindful of as we approach anti-racism with our children?
For many children, living in the immediate moment is innate. Kids just have a knack for leaning into the present moment and just being. However, there are circumstances that cause all children to worry about things that have already happened, or become anxious about what the future will bring. Mindfulness techniques can help children find peace during these moments of inner turmoil. Below are six calming techniques that may help your child cope with frustrating feelings.
1. Bunny Breath: Kids love this one! Tell your child to imagine that they are a bunny smelling a lovely flower. Instruct them to take three quick inhales through their bunny nose, then release their breath through their mouth with an audible sigh. They may repeat this series of three quick inhales and one relaxed exhale as many times as needed to feel calm.
2. Belly Breath: Your child can use a favorite stuffed animal or toy for this one! Have them lie down and then place the toy or stuffed animal on their belly. Instruct them to inhale and exhale slowly through their nose while observing the toy rise and fall. They may continue this breath for as long as needed to feel relaxed.
3. Horsey Breath: This one seems to work well when your child needs to let go of an emotion. Have your child take a deep inhale through their nose, hold it, then release it through their mouth with fluttery lips like a horse whinnying. Have your child repeat this until they feel unburdened.
Mindfulness Games or Toys
4. Calm Down Jar: Calm Down Jars are created with a mixture of water, glitter, food coloring, and glycerin (or other thickener). They can help a child calm down by bringing their focus back to the present moment. They work similarly to focusing on the flickering flames of a bonfire. Have your child shake or turn the jar, and then observe the glitter fluttering down. In our house, we added a random gold heart to one of our jars and it provides our daughter with something to focus on as she soothes herself.
5. Sense Walk: Go for a walk together, preferably in nature, and focus on one sense at a time. Stop for a moment and close your eyes. Notice all the sounds around you, notice the sounds within you. Next, focus on what you can smell. Open your eyes and continue your walk. Pay attention to everything you see, feel, and maybe even taste along the way!
6. Make a Nature Mandala: Have you ever felt incredibly present and focused when creating something? Introduce your child to that same feeling by creating a nature mandala together. Gather leaves, rocks, shells, sticks, flower petals, etc. Have your child select their favorite items and create a small circle out of these items, this will be the center. Instruct your child to keep arranging items in a pattern outside of the center to make the circle grow. They can change the pattern as many times as they would like as they work their way out from the center of the mandala.
When you practice these techniques together, you will start to make mindfulness part of your daily routine. Demonstrate mindful breathing and discuss how it makes you feel. Not only will you be giving our child valuable coping skills for the future, you will also strengthen your bond and have some fun together while practicing these activities.
What mindfulness games/activities do you like to practice with your child?
Is anyone feeling like it is more difficult to be fully present for your children lately? No? It’s just me? Come on, admit it…you’ve been a little distracted lately, right? Doesn’t it seem harder than ever to focus on one thing at a time? I have never worked in conditions like these. I don’t usually bring my husband and toddler to work with me--the latter often singing Disney songs at the top of her lungs or requiring urgent help because one of her stuffed animals isn’t sitting correctly. And being home together means that there are more household tasks than ever before—who knew a family of three could use so many dishes each day? Many of us are struggling to balance several roles at once, which means it is difficult to be fully present for any of those roles. With our attention being pulled in so many different directions, we cannot expect ourselves to parent the same way we did before.
Before we started social distancing, I loved taking my daughter swimming at our local YMCA. It was the perfect way to reconnect at the end of the week –I have no choice but to be fully present when swimming with a toddler. I miss this special bonding time. Now, I’m searching for ways to get that same connection while working from home.
I could probably start by check my phone less frequently. Lately, it feels like my phone is another member of our family. I will admit to you that even pre-COVID19, I usually had my phone nearby. I am the type of mom who cannot miss a photo opportunity, so I am always prepared. However, I was better at organizing my time so that I did not always feel the need to send “one quick email” while coloring. I feel a lot of pressure to be present for work, even when I am home. At times, I feel as though I am striving to get work done at the expense of spending quality time with my child. And my kid still naps, so I know some of you are tackling more!
After dealing with some serious mom guilt, I decided I would find time to practice mindful moments throughout our days. Unless I make time for these moments, they just aren’t going to happen. A simple idea I read about in a Facebook Group sparked some genuine present time together this week. When my daughter and I go for walks, she either sings the entire time, completely unaware of anyone around her, or she asks to listen to Disney songs—which still involves quite a bit of singing. It’s adorable to observe, but I’m looking for moments of greater connectivity. So, I introduced her to the concept of taking a Rainbow Walk. During these walks, we observe our surroundings and find objects for each color of the rainbow. It’s such a simple game, but boy, do we have fun! She shouts with enthusiasm each time she finds a color.
“The grass is green!”
“The sky is blue!”
“There are purple flowers over there!”
I’m glad she knows her colors, but more importantly, this game demands our focus. When we play, we are both completely in the moment and sharing goofy grins; no email is going to top that.
Another way we practice being present is by doing yoga together. We recently discovered Cosmic Kids Yoga on YouTube. I love how Jamie uses yoga poses to tell a story. (We like the Frozen and Moana themed classes!) We haven’t worked up to focusing for the entire 30 minutes yet. My daughter will often wander away to check out her toys, but this is developmentally appropriate for 2.5. What makes these moments meaningful is that I am not wandering away to check my computer. I am present for her when she decides she wants to strike a pose together.
There are so many other ways to sneak mindful moments into the day. Similar to the Rainbow Walk, we have gone on Sense Walks and used our five senses to notice our surroundings. (Well, usually just four because we don’t often taste much on these walks!) Focusing on making time to be present made me realize that naptime and bedtime rituals provide the ultimate opportunity to connect. We have a pretty set routine, but I like to add something silly each night so that we can share a special moment of laughter together. I may have been distracted by many obligations throughout the day, but I want my daughter to go to sleep remembering the moment that we just shared.
This time will eventually be behind us. I hope that when our children look back, they remember all the little ways we made our time together at home feel special.
How are you making sure that mindful moments are still part of your family life?
My husband and I are blessed with a strong-willed daughter. We know that her determination and persistence will be beneficial in the long run, but there are times when these traits drive me absolutely bonkers! We joke that until recently, her file was marked difficult patient at our pediatrician’s office. It can be difficult to keep my cool when she goes into full blown meltdown mode because she can’t wear her Anna dress to bed. It’s terrifying when she throws herself down in the street crying because I had the audacity to insist that she hold my hand when crossing the street. It’s baffling when she kicks and screams because I messed up the lyrics when singing “Into the Unknown” for the 15th time in a row. (Frozen is life!) So, how do I keep my cool when my patience is worn thin?
First, I tell myself that this is normal for a 2.5 year old, and that no stage of childhood development is permanent. (I don’t want to even think about how these arguments over clothes and safety will escalate as she gets older.) Knowing that these epic meltdowns are all part of the beautiful mess that motherhood is really helps me keep things in perspective. Second, I share these stories with my mom friends. We can’t support one another if we aren’t honest about how trying motherhood can be. No mom should ever feel guilty over expressing her feelings—kids can be stressful, right? We love them, we want them, but they really know how to push our buttons!
Most importantly, I come up with a plan to combat her undesirable behavior. I’m not saying my plan always works, but I make an attempt. My daughter responds really well to affirmations, or encouraging statements. We include a set of statements as part of her bedtime routine. So, when our daycare reported, for the third time, that my daughter was having trouble being quiet at naptime, I started teaching her to say, “I am quiet at naptime” or “I keep my head on my pillow”. Her teacher started using these affirmations and we stopped hearing about naptime struggles. After sleeping in the same room for over a week during a family vacation, I had to add, “I can go to sleep without crying” to her bedtime statements upon our return home to separate rooms. About a week after repeating this nightly, she settled back into falling asleep alone without a lot of fuss.
Now that we are home together all day, every day, these affirmative statements have become crucial to our sanity as parents. We have had some big struggles over using manners recently. We demonstrate proper courtesies over and over again, making sure to emphasize “please” and “thank you”, but when this child wants something, she demands it with force.
“Mommy sit on the floor!”
She wants what she wants and she isn't afraid to ask for it. Although my husband always exhibits great patience with our daughter, I know that her rudeness gets under his skin like nothing else! So, I started wondering, how can we use an affirmative statement to improve this situation? After a demand is barked at me, I simply reply “I am polite.” She may still make demands or whine, but I have found that if I am consistent and repetitive, most of the time she relents and uses the manners we know she has.
Of course there are times when these affirmations do not work at all. There are times when her will is just too strong, or she isn’t emotionally ready to move on from the issue. However, I am going to keep coming up with new ways to help her learn and grow because I am patient, I am persistent, and I am unstoppable. And, Mama, so are you!
Do you use affirmations or encouraging statements with your children? I'd love to hear about your experiences below!
Mom to one amazing and determined little girl.