Why Mindful Little Minds? My Mindful Parenting Journey
Today’s post is a different post to those you’re used to seeing from me now. And to be honest, I feel a little nervous hitting the publish button and sending it out into the world. And that’s because I want to get a bit personal with you all, if you’ll allow me. I want to tell you a bit about me, about what I believe, and about my vision for Mindful Little Minds. How Mindful Little Minds came to be, and why. I want to introduce myself. Properly.
So who am I?
And why Mindful Little Minds? Well, most of you know the basics. I’m a wife. A mum of 4. And a psychologist. I’ve always wanted to be a psychologist, except for the brief period where I wanted to be a vet (until I went on work experience and saw exactly what that entailed! Yikes!). I completed a Bachelor of Psychology followed by a Masters in Clinical Psychology. I’m trained to identify, diagnose and treat mental illness. I’ve worked in the field of child and adolescent mental health, with kids and their families for the past 10 years.
Prior to that, while finishing university, I worked on a mental health triage line. I was the first point of contact for people needing a mental health referral. This meant I would assess them over the phone and determine which service they should go to for treatment. Even when I did this job, all the calls to children, or from children, were generally put through to me. I’ve always wanted to work with children. I’ve always felt drawn to protect children, and I’ve always been passionate about advocating for them in a world that so frequently undervalues them.
I’ve also always wanted to be a mum. I dreamed of having lots of babies. That’s worked out pretty well for me.
When I was studying psychology, we learned about working with children and families. And while I was studying I can remember thinking that the information I was learning would one day help me with my own children. I took notes about positive reinforcement, and consequences, and consistency, and how to manage behaviour. I knew exactly the type of parent I would be. The no-nonsense, setter of rules, giver of consequences. If my child had a tantrum, I would ignore them and they would stop. If they did the wrong thing, I would put them in time out and they would learn their lesson. I would not ask them if they would do something for me, I would tell them to do something and they would do it.
And then my daughter was born.
And it turns out, I’m not that kind of parent at all. I tried a time out with my daughter once. I don’t remember why now. The reason is irrelevant, really. But I had set a limit with her and she wasn’t happy about it. She was hysterical in fact, and I tried to put her in a timeout, as a consequence for her behaviour. She just became confused. She was used to being comforted when she was distressed. She reached out for a cuddle, and I tried to put her back in the time out spot. You know the drill: don’t engage, don’t talk to her, just keep putting her back there until she stays. But she just looked up and me and said, “mama” with her arms outstretched, tears rolling down her chubby little cheeks. And my heart broke in two.
Trusting my instincts.
I knew then that time outs were not for us. It just felt wrong. It went against every instinct I had. My child was upset and I needed to comfort her. And so, I stopped doing what I thought I “should” be doing, and I did what I felt was right. I discovered positive discipline and delved into the world of mindful parenting, and I have never looked back.
That’s not to say I haven’t made mistakes along the way. I lose my temper. I yell at my kids sometimes. I have a hard time staying calm when they are not calm, and sometimes I say things I regret. I’m a human being. And I have my own family of origin. I bring learned parenting patterns and behaviours from my childhood into my relationships wth my children. As we all do. I’m not a perfect mother, and I do not expect this of myself. But what I do have, is the knowledge to make decisions about the kind of parent I want to be, and the support to implement it. And that helps. A lot.
Returning to work.
Having my daughter didn’t just change my views on parenting. It also made me a different therapist. I always cared about children of course, and I’ve always been passionate about their mental health. That’s why I was doing the job I was doing. But my focus shifted when I returned to work. I was a different therapist, because I saw my daughter in each of the kids I spoke to. And I saw myself in the eyes of those exhausted parents who didn’t know how to help their children, but desperately wanted to. My focus shifted from treating symptoms, and improving behaviour, to repairing relationships and reconnecting families. Which is of course what it should have been all along.
I can remember after a particularly difficult day, thinking about how incredibly unfair it all was. I had been at the hospital, and on the phone with emergency services, child protection, and school staff, supporting a very unwell young person. Because of this, I was going to be late getting home. I would miss dinner and bed time with my daughter. But I knew she was at home safe with my husband, who was very competently managing it all without me.
And while my daughter was being tucked into her warm bed, and cuddled to sleep by her daddy, this young person was at the hospital, traumatised, afraid and alone. Her only support was a health professional she barely knew. One of many health professionals who had come and gone from her life over the years. And it just all seemed so damn unfair. My daughter was no more deserving of a safe, loving home than this child. What was the difference between this child and my daughter? Nothing but circumstance. And it is this understanding that drives my passion and my beliefs. What do I believe?
I believe in children.
I believe that all children deserve to be loved unconditionally. They deserve to be raised in an environment that accepts them, flaws and all. I believe that all children should have the opportunity to grow up in an environment free from shame, free from harsh punishment, free from humiliation, free from abuse. Free from fear. They all deserve the opportunity to be themselves. The opportunity to discover who they are in an environment that will nourish and encourage their uniqueness.
I believe that all children deserve the opportunity to freely express how they feel, without fearing the consequences. They all deserve to know how it feels to belong. To have someone on their side. Someone who shows up, and will continue to show up, time and time again no matter what.
I believe that all children deserve respect. That it is not something they should have to earn. I believe that it is ok for them to make mistakes. We are all learning. I believe in setting limits with empathy. I believe that the way we speak to children matters. I believe in being kind to children, even when I need to say no. I believe that all children deserve empathy and understanding. They are human beings too, and they deserve to have adults in their lives who understand their needs and how to meet them, so they can reach their full potential.
I believe in parents.
I believe too, that all parents deserve support. They deserve the opportunity to take care of themselves, and their own mental and physical health. They deserve the opportunity to break free from their own family history. Support to change the patterns they find themselves stuck in. The assistance to make educated, and informed decisions about their parenting. The opportunity to change, if they wish to, without being shamed for their past or present choices.
They deserve to have access to knowledge, so that they are not parenting from a place of fear, or because it’s how they were parented, or because they think it’s what they “should” be doing. I believe that all parents should feel empowered to be the kind of parent they want to be and the kind of parent their child needs. To use all the information and knowledge available to them to make the choice for themselves.
I believe in teachers.
I believe that teachers have an enormous impact on the lives of the children they teach. That they, along with parents are some of the most influential people in a child’s life. In fact, for some children, their relationship with a teacher may be the only positive adult relationship they have. I believe that teachers can change the course of a child’s life.
I also believe that teachers need more support to manage mental health problems in the classroom. That the demands placed upon them when it comes to these children is high and resources are often stretched. I also believe that teachers have the power to build a child up, and help a child grow and bloom, if they have the right tools, knowledge and support.
I believe in Mindful Little Minds.
Mindful Little Minds aims to do just that. To empower parents and teachers by arming them with the knowledge and skills they need to support their children. And to empower children by providing them with the tools and skills they need to understand and manage their big emotions, so they can grow into their best selves. My dream is for Mindful Little Minds to grow and bloom into a thriving hub for parents, teachers and children to access all the resources and information they need to raise emotionally healthy children. Because I also believe that it takes a community to raise a child, and mental health is everyone’s business. Together, I hope we can raise a generation of children who are resilient, confident and emotionally healthy. And I hope Mindful Little Minds can be a part of that.
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.