Practical Zen Brain Hacks for Parents: How to Keep Your Cool So Your Kids Can, Too

Alan Brown

The parent-child relationship is a battlefield of personalities, talents, deficits, wills, egos and many other aspects of the humble human’s inner being. The more mindful we are of all these inner forces, the less likely both parent and kids will get slogged down, if not outright whooped, on that battlefield.  

As Dr. Mark Bertin says, “When we’re not mindful, we’re not making choices.” It follows that when we’re not making conscious choices, we are not in control. And when we’re not in control, our kids don’t have a shot of being in control, either. Make sense?

Indeed, says Bertin, one of the best predictors of a child’s stress level is the parent’s stress level. And what is stress in this context? To paraphrase Elaine Taylor-Klaus, stress is caused by what’s going on inside our head (and in our body) in response to what’s happening on that battlefield. 

The Mindfulness Challenge

I like to call this the mindfulness challenge: You need to BE Zen to help your kids stay cool, which requires you to STAY Zen when the stress-inducing things your kids do start to stress you out! 

Now, mindfulness and unflappable-ness aren’t things that you whip out of your holster only when it’s crazy time. They are ways of being, day in and day out. And while there are plenty of tactical, situation-specific ways of Zen-parenting, the real opportunity for parents – especially ADHD parents – is to cultivate a more Zen way of being – ALL the time. 

How? I hear you ask. Hold on to your hats. Here are some practical Zen brain hacks that will help you keep your cool, so your kids can, too. 

1. Be the Witness of Your Thoughts

The simple act of naming your inner dialogue and witnessing it increases your awareness. The more conscious you are, the more present you are, and the more powerfully you can use these strategies. Indeed, witnessing your mind’s cacophony is STEP ONE in shutting it up…

We hear our inner voice all the time…

“I have no time for this right now!”

“My to-do list is a @#$%# bear…Oh my!”

“Eesh, look at that tacky dress!”

But it’s rare that we actually LISTEN to it. Which is really too bad. Because when we listen, we have the chance to step “outside ourselves,” to witness that chatterbox for what it is: a lot of ego-based hooey, pointless worry about past and future, negative self-talk, etc.

2. Shut-Up-A-You-Mind!

Quiet your mind and power it up in as little as 10 seconds. A refreshed mindset will help you push forward in demanding tasks and situations.

Use this trick when your mind’s fatigued, or just before sitting down in front of a tough engagement – a complicated email, or a difficult conversation with a child or teacher.

Just relax your mind. Which means:

Stop listening to the chatter flying around in your head and listen instead to your breathing…or visualize a lake…or just stare out the window.

Seriously, a minute or two of that and it’s almost like you’ve taken a power nap. I’m not talking about transcendental meditation here. Anyone can do this, though you do get better at it with practice. 

3. Meditation in Motion

Daily routines are opportunities for mental peace and/or creative problem-solving. You don’t have to be sitting in the lotus position to quiet your mind and reap huge benefits.

For instance, just be conscious when listening to music, taking a walk, while at the gym, or hanging with the kids — cuz these are times when you NEEDN’T BE STRESSING OVER PAST OR FUTURE. Make an effort to enjoy these things for what they are. THAT is a quieting of the mind just like formal meditative silence!

Bonus: As I was writing this piece, someone sent me an article* about recent research detailing the stress kids experience when competing for attention with their parents’ techno-gadgets (email, texts, social media, etc.).

Researchers interviewed over 1,000 kids (along with teachers and parents) and noted “the consistency with which children — whether they were 4 or 8 or 18 or 24 — talked about feeling exhausted and frustrated and sad or mad trying to get their parents’ attention, competing with computer screens or iPhone screens or any kind of technology, much like in therapy you hear kids talk about sibling rivalry.”

Think about the Zen-kill of this dynamic. Be mindful of it. Turn off your gadgets and unplug your wires more often when around those you love and who look to you for loving attention.

There are tons more of these hacks, but these three are foundational and critical to develop habits around.

So give these “practical Zen brain hacks” a try! And by the way, the more you practice Zen habits, the more they’ll rub off on your kids – cuz yes, kids CAN learn such mindfulness techniques…if they have a mindful teacher! 

[*Steve Henn, When Parents Are The Ones Too Distracted By Devices, NPR 4/16/14]

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