It is no secret: parenting a child with ADHD can be very stressful at times. The toll of disorganization, impulsivity or conflict can make life very hectic. And while getting appropriate help for the child can turn things around, many parents continue to experience periodic stress or feel challenged by their child’s special needs.
So what’s the solution? We can’t always change what’s coming at us, but we do have the ability to change how we meet the challenge. Our inner resources or coping skills often determine how stressed we feel. Mindfulness practice—an approach derived from meditation—can help strengthen our inner resources and offer new ways to take care of ourselves in the midst of a storm.
At its core,mindfulness is about turning attention to the present moment with awareness and curiosity. In the process, we introduce moments of relaxation into our lives and train our minds to be more aware and flexible, less caught in negative reactions. Research studies suggest that mindfulness can help parents become less stressed, which in turn can improve your child’s behavior. In other words, by taking care of yourself, you can take care of your children.
“But who has time to meditate?”you may ask. Here’s some good news: you can practice mindfulness in the midst of your regular daily activities.
- In the morning, set the intention to be more aware throughout the day. Remember that you can turn your attention to the present moment anywhere, anytime. Start by noting, with expanded awareness, the glimmers of morning light outside or how it feels to stretch your limbs before getting out of bed.
- Use elements of your morning routine to train mindfulness. For example, in the shower, notice the tendency to quickly become lost in thinking. Use the shower time as a practice of connecting with your senses—smelling the soap, feeling the sensation of the water on your body, listening to the sounds of water. Similarly, you can practice as eat your breakfast, noting the smell, warmth, and taste of coffee or your food. Observe how you feel when you do that. (Yes, this assumes that you eat breakfast!)
- As you interact with your children, practice bringing full attention, presence, and a non-judgmental attitude to your interaction. Be curious about their unique way of seeing the world and their struggles. Be curious about the ways you respond to them. Appreciate all the loving things you do for them. Also be open to notice and change any unhelpful patterns in your relationship.
- When something goes awry (e.g. getting your children ready for school is especially difficult, or the teacher doesn’t understand your child’s needs), bring mindful observing to your emotions. Bring attention to your body and notice any areas of muscle tension. See if you recognize any feelings that are present, and label them, such as “frustration”, “anger,” or “helplessness.” Accept that you are having the reaction, and spend some time feeling what needs to be felt. Then practice stepping back from the reaction. See if you can soften the areas of muscle tension, breathe a bit deeper, and remind yourself that you don’t have to fully identify with the feeling. You can be mindfully aware of it without reacting. Practice responding with calmness.
- Throughout the day, periodically check-in with yourself: Are you’re feeling overwhelmed, or empowered and on top of things? Is there sense of tiredness, letting you know you need some self-care or additional help? If you’re feeling depleted, schedule time to nourish yourself (e.g. plan to take a walk or get a massage).
- Appreciate with more awareness the moments of joy, ease, beauty or humor in your life. Remember that even a stressful situation often teaches us something or has some silver lining in it. Practice self-compassion and gratitude.
To remember mindfulness, use whatever reminders work for you: a reminder scheduled on your phone (e.g. “eat lunch mindfully”), a sticky note by your computer or your fridge (e.g. “breathe” or “check-in”), a membership in an on-line mindfulness community (e.g. mindful, getsomeheadspace, or facebook), or read an ImpactADHD Self Care Tip. When you can, explore a mindfulness book or sign up for a mindfulness class or a retreat. With practice, turning on the mindful perspective will become a positive habit in your life.
Wishing you and your family more moments of presence, compassion and gratitude this year!