5 mindful parenting myths debunked
I am a huge fan of mindful parenting and have been practicing it for a little over 8 years now – since my oldest daughter was just a toddler. I talk about mindful parenting here on this blog frequently, as well as on social media and inside of my Facebook Group. I’ve done a range of training, and professional development, reading and research, and teaching on this topic. I’ve been working therapeutically with children and their families to help them with these skills for over a decade. Before I even knew what mindful parenting was.
And I can tell you, without a doubt, that awareness and understanding of this style of parenting, of the principles of mindful parenting, and of the need to treat children with respect and kindness, is growing. Which of course, absolutely thrills me.
But I can also tell you, without a doubt, that despite a growing body of research and evidence, that there are still far too many misconceptions and mindful parenting myths around. That there is still not enough awareness. That many people are still focused on antiquated and outdated ideas and beliefs that are not supported by any research into the developing brains of our young people and what they need from their caregivers.
So it’s time to get rid of these mindful parenting myths once and for all. Here are he 5 most common misconceptions I hear from people about mindful parenting. There are others of course (it’s just a fad; it’s just for buddhists), but these are the most prominent, and also the most harmful misconceptions I encounter in my professional and personal life.
5 mindful parenting myths:
1.Mindful Parenting = practicing mindfulness
This is one that I hear a lot. People often assume that being a mindful parent simply means that you practice mindfulness yourself, or that you teach your children how to practice mindfulness. But that’s simply not true. Of course, mindfulness is a part of mindful parenting. A significant part. But mindful parenting is about so much more than just meditation or mindfulness practice.
Mindful parenting is about bringing the principles of mindfulness into your every day interactions with your child. Awareness, compassion, acceptance, and empathy. Why? So you can build a warm, connected, and secure relationship with your child that will help them thrive and allow them to be authentically them.
Which means, you can be practicing mindfulness yourself multiple times day, but if you’re not being mindful in your interactions with your child – tuning in to their needs, allowing space for their emotions, offering up compassion, responding to them with empathy, accepting them just as they are – then you’re not practicing mindful parenting.
2. Mindful parenting is about always being present in the moment with your children
Nope. No one is in present the moment all the time. Nor should they be.
Mindfulness itself is not about being present in the moment ALL of the time. The goal is not to be eternally in the moment. The goal of mindfulness is to notice when you’re no longer in the moment and to bring yourself back to the present. The mindfulness is in the noticing, and the goal is awareness, not perfection.
It’s the same with mindful parenting. The goal is presence, not perfection. Sometimes we need a break. Sometimes we want to zone out and NOT be in the present. Sometimes we need to zone out in order to take care of us. And that’s ok. With time and with practice, mindful parents will learn how to be more authentically present for those times when it matters most.
3. Mindful parents don’t get angry with their kids
Mindful parents still get angry. Mindful parents are humans with wants and needs and emotions.
And believing – or expecting – that a parent will never get angry, or frustrated by a situation, is not only unrealistic, it’s harmful. It sets us up to fail.
Mindful parents experience the entire range of human emotions including anger, frustration, disappointment, guilt, fear and anxiety. And sometimes they will yell, or lash out, or express their emotions in a big way. The difference here is that mindful parents, with lots of time and repeated practice will get better at expressing those emotions in healthy ways. They’ll learn to manage their emotions in a thoughtful, intentional way so they can respond and not react to stressful situations.
4. Mindful parents don’t discipline their children
And this misconception stems from a misunderstanding of what discipline actually is. So often, people use punishment and discipline interchangeably. But discipline is simply teaching. And we do not need to harm children or make them fear us in order to teach them. In fact, children cannot learn when they feel fear, so this is not an optimal time or method for teaching anyway.
Mindful parents understand very well that kids need boundaries, and we set them with empathy and respect. Mindful parents don’t punish or reward children in order to shape or change behaviour, and we don’t rely on threats or fear either. Mindful parents set limits with kindness and empathy as well as an understanding of healthy and normal childhood development. We understand that behaviour is a communication of a need and we strive to meet that need first and foremost.
5. Mindful parenting doesn’t work in the real world
The last misconception I’ve heard before is that mindful parenting simply doesn’t work in the real world. And this one really depends on your definition of “working”. It depends on your goals for parenting.
If “good behaviour” and children who are always compliant and obedient are your goals, then no, mindful parenting doesn’t work. To meet those goals you’ll need to rely upon threats and punishments and fear.
But if your goal is to raise emotionally intelligent, resilient, and authentic children, then setting kind and respectful boundaries, accepting all emotions as valid, and focusing on connection over coercion and control, will certainly work. That’s how you raise emotionally healthy children. That’s how you build healthy relationships. And that’s how you raise secure, well adjusted human beings.
Sarah is a psychologist, mama of 4 and the creator of Mindful Little Minds. She has over 10 years of experience working with children, adolescents and families experiencing mental health problems and has a special interest in anxiety disorders in children. In her spare time she enjoys hugging her kids, drinking coffee, and telling anyone who’ll listen how tired she is.