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Mindful parenting: How to respond instead of react

What does your stress look like?

Our bodies and brains are wired to react to high stress situations as a safety net. If our brain perceives a threat, it signals the amygdala, body's “alarm" system, which tells our body to act without thinking. The amygdala responds to situations with the fight, flight, freeze response. This is to protect us, but our stress receptors cannot distinguish between real dangers or false dangers. In everyday parenting, our stress response often gets triggered unnecessarily by events that are not actually life threatening. Our bodies are reacting to our kid spilling cereal all over the floor in the same way we would react if we were being chased by a bear.


Depending on your childhood experiences and memories, your stress response may be triggered more easily than another person. When our stress receptions are triggered, we have difficulty thinking clearly and being attentive to people around us. We are unable to be thoughtful in our responses, and have trouble staying focused, and our ability to solve problems is diminished.

Dr. Dan Siegel, a clinical psychologist who studies the brain explains that during stressful parenting moments we may “lose control" or “flip our lid" and let our emotions control our reactions. When we “fly off the handle," it happens so quickly and we aren't thinking about how our children are perceiving us. Our reactions can be very scary to kids. Also, we are modeling that this is how grown ups react to stress. If we choose to be more mindful by pausing before responding, we can teach kids they too can pause and choose to respond instead of react.

What does mindfulness mean in parenting?

Managing our own emotions and behaviors is the key to teaching kids how to manage theirs. It is the reason airlines tell us to put our oxygen masks on before you can put on your child's mask. You need to be regulated before you can model regulation for your child. Unfortunately, when you're stressed out, exhausted, and overwhelmed, you can't be available for your child.

Mindful parenting does not mean being a “perfect parent" and is not something you can fail at. It is not easy and it takes practice, but like many aspects of parenting, some days are good and some are bad and you can always try again. You may forget to be mindful, but the second you realize you are distracted, it is an opportunity to make a different choice—the choice to be present.

Mindful parenting means that you bring your conscious attention to what's happening, instead of getting hijacked by your emotions. Mindfulness is about letting go of guilt and shame about the past and focusing on right now. It's about accepting whatever is going on, rather than trying to change it or ignore it.

Being a mindful parent means that you pay attention to what you're feeling. It does not mean that you will not get angry or upset. Of course you will feel negative emotions, but acting on them mindlessly is what compromises our parenting.

Benefits of mindful parenting

  • You become more aware of your feelings and thoughts
  • You become more aware and responsive of your child's needs, thoughts and feelings
  • You become better at regulating your emotions
  • You become less critical of yourself and your child
  • You become better at standing back from situations and avoiding impulsive reactions
  • Your relationship with your child will improve

How to practice mindful parenting

Think about a situation where you got upset or angry at your child—one where you reacted automatically because that is what most of us do when difficult thoughts, feelings, or judgments arise. In stressful situations when our emotions are easily triggered, it's hard to be the best version of ourselves. You can expect that your child will find those triggers.

In order to make the choice to change your behaviors, you first have to become familiar with your “hot spots" and emotional triggers. Hot spots are certain times of your day where we are more vulnerable and less emotionally available. We may be feeling stressed, tired, overwhelmed or helpless, or we feel preoccupied with work or marriage.

Emotional triggers are feelings or judgments from your own childhood which may arise when your child does a specific action:

  • Your child behaves in a way that clash with your beliefs. Example: Your kid throwing food in a restaurant or grabbing all the toys in a store, which makes you feel embarrassed or shameful.
  • Your child's behavior may evoke a childhood memory and response. Example: Your child not being on the academic level you think they should be and you feeling like you failed as a parent because when you got a bad grade, your parents said it wasn't good enough.
  • Your child's behavior may evoke a traumatic state or event. Example: If you broke your arm climbing a jungle gym as a kid and you are scared every time your kid goes to the playground.
  • Your child's behavior activates the lens of fears and desires. Example: if one of my kids wakes up the other kid during the night, no one is sleeping and everyone is crying and I fear I have no adult time and I've completely lost the old me now that I'm a parent.

In order to feel a sense of control over your emotions, you first have to be able to recognize and anticipate what types of situations are likely to trigger hot spots and emotional responses in you.

Kristin Race, PHD and author of Mindful Parenting: Simple and Powerful Solutions for Raising Creative, Engaged, Happy Kids in Today's Hectic World states that there are key factors to mindful parents.

Three key factors to mindful parenting

1. Notice your own feelings when you're in conflict with your child

Think about your most recent argument or a frustrating situation with your child. What feelings are triggered? Are you angry, ashamed, embarrassed? Try to experience your emotion or trigger as a wave coming and going. Try not to block or stop the emotion. Don't push it away. Don't judge or reject it. Don't try to keep the emotion around. Don't cling to it. Don't make it bigger than it already is. You are not your emotion and you don't have to act on the emotion. Just be there, fully mindful of it. Remind yourself that you don't need to blame yourself or your child for what happened.

Next, try to see the conflict through your child's eyes. If you can't see goodness in your child during a tantrum or argument think of a time when you felt connected with your child and responded with kindness. Try to remember that version of your child when you are triggered.

As you go throughout your day make an effort to notice when you start to feel anxious or annoyed. That may be a signal that you are being triggered. Once you figure out your triggers, you can move to the next step.

2. Learn to pause before responding in anger

The most challenging and most important part of mindfulness is being able to find that calm space in the heat of the moment. We practice finding the space this by focusing our attention on our body and breath because emotions show themselves as changes in body or breath. When we slow down and focus on our body and breath, there is a physiological change that decreases our reflexive responses and increases the abilities of our prefrontal cortex.

All of this leads to a calmer mind where you can find the space to sit with the emotion. When we are able to pause we can experience the emotions as sensations in our body without fueling them by focusing on the trigger. In that space we can remind ourselves to breathe and bring our thoughts back to the present moment and then choose to respond how we want to and not react because we are out of control.

3. Listen carefully to a child's viewpoint even when disagreeing with it

Your child is going to act like a child! This means they won't always be able to manage their feelings. Kids are still learning how to regulate (actually, so are most adults) and have different priorities than you do. Their behavior will push your button at times, and that is okay.

The problem is when adults begin acting like kids, too. If, instead, we can stay mindful – meaning we notice our emotions and let them pass without acting on them – we model emotional regulation, and our children learn from watching us.

Learning to pause before responding takes practice and our ability to control our emotions change depending on what's going on each day. That is why self-care is so important. We can't pour out all of ourselves every day and never take the time to fill back up. Many parents feel guilty for taking care of their own needs. That is not selfish – it's necessary. Make yourself a priority, because the better you feel, the better you will be able to manage the frustrations that arise.

It is important to learn how to help yourself and how to meet your emotional needs. Examples of self-care can range from things like taking a time-out by hiding in the bathroom when you can't handle your kids (which I did last night), taking a few minutes of deep breathing, putting the television so you and your kid get a break, writing in a journal, taking a shower, going for a walk, or talking to your partner or a friend.

And, sometimes we can't catch ourselves in time and we do react in ways we regret. In those moments, we can apologize to our kids after we yell at them because we are still learning and parents make mistakes too.

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Dear Jeff Bezos and all who have anything to do with Amazon Prime Day,

I just want to start by saying—I know you are trying to be helpful. I love you all for that. I honestly do. But, you are kind of making me feel a lot of pressure today. Like, in a good way, but also, in an anxious way.

Let me explain…

On any given day, as a mother to three children, I have a certain level of anxiety. While it's not constant, I do have my anxious moments. Why? Because there are various versions of the following: Me asking my two older daughters to get their shoes on what feels like 500 times as I am changing my 9-month-old's very, very, very messy diaper while I am trying to figure out what I can throw on to wear in about five seconds while I am repeating brush your teeth, brush your teeth in my head so I, in fact, don't forget to brush my teeth.

Not even to mention the mental load that weighs on my mind every single day. Remember to flip the laundry, fill out the school forms, cancel that appointment, reschedule this appointment, order more diapers, figure out what we're having for dinner, squeeze in a shower, lock the basement door so the baby can't get down the stairs, find better eczema cream for my middle daughter, get more sunscreen...the list goes on and on and on.

But then you Amazon Prime Day me and I'm having a lot of feelings about that.

Because you're reminding me of things I need to order, to think about, to be on top of more.

The little potty that's on sale reminds me that I need to step up my potty training game for my 2-year-old. That super cute dollhouse reminds me that I need to think about my daughter's first birthday in two months (WHAT!). That face mask reminds me that I need to remember to wash my face before bed because I forget waaaay more than I remember which is terrible.

But then I realize, these deals are going to save my mental load by fixing my life. Right?

Like, I never knew I needed an Instant Pot until you told me it was only $58. Now I am scouring Pinterest for meals I want to prep in my own. THIS POT IS THE TICKET TO GETTING MY LIFE IN ORDER.

Do we need more plates and cups for the kids? I mean really they only probably need about two plates and two cups each but YES. Yes I do need more cute kids kitchenware. THESE PLATES ARE THE TICKET TO BEING A GOOD MOM.

What would I do if I had five Echo Dots? I don't know, but let's find out because they're only $29! THESE DOTS ARE THE TICKET TO EFFICIENCY.

If I order a Vitamix at 30% off, I know I'll lose the baby weight. Think of all the smoothies I'll mix up! I mean, I just lost a pound even thinking about the smoothies that thing can whip up. THIS VITAMIX IS THE TICKET TO A SEXY BOD.

Buying this trendy, floral dress will step up my mom style significantly. THIS DRESS IS THE TICKET TO KEEPING MY COOL.

Okay, then after I add all the fixers to my cart, I realize… I have 99 things, but necessity ain't one.

I mean, I have everything from waterproof band-aids to bras to dresses for myself and my kids to an alarm clock and books. I basically feel like Oprah—You get an Audible subscription! You get an Audible subscription!—but instead of these products magically being paid for by Queen O herself, the money is coming from my bank account, which is a lot less fun of a game, TBH.

And if I am being honest, I don't need much help with my order-things-from-Amazon-and-pretend-it's-being-paid-for-with-Monopoly-money game as I am quite often coming home to an Amazon package wondering what it could be, opening it with the enthusiasm of a kid on Christmas morning—even though I am the exact person who ordered whatever is inside of that Amazon box.

But today, on Amazon Prime Day, you tempt me with all the deals. And yes, my anxiety, blood pressure and adrenaline rise. And yes, my bank account might temporarily decrease—BUT if we are being fair, with the savings I'm getting on things I would buy anyway, I am basically making our account increase overall. Right?

And while these things aren't going to make me skinnier, or cooler, or more put together—I'm okay with that. I am doing a pretty good job on my own. But some of them will actually help my life in a few different ways at a reasonable price, and I am grateful for that—for real.

Now, Bezos, please end this 404 error nonsense and let me purchase all the things!

Thank you for all the savings and excitement,

Mamas everywhere

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Usually when celebrities post swimsuit photos on Instagram they don't exactly look like your average beach-going mom, but former Bachelorette (and mom of two) Ali Fedotowsky posted a series of bikini photos on Monday that are both beautiful and relatable.

"This might be my most vulnerable post on Instagram ever," she wrote in the caption for the photos which show a postpartum belly that looks like a real postpartum belly.

"At the end of the day, I know it's important to be open and honest about my postpartum body in hopes that it helps even one person out there who is struggling with their own body image," Fedotowsky (who just gave birth to her second child in May) wrote.

In the first photo of the series she's wearing a sarong around her stomach, but in the second and third photos Fedotowsky reveals the kind of stomach many mamas sport: It's not perfectly taut, she's not showing off any abs, but it is definity beautiful.

"If you swipe to see the second photo in this post, you see that my body has changed. My skin around my stomach is very loose and stretched out, I'm 15lbs heavier than I used to be, and my cup size has grown quite significantly," Fedotowsky writes.

The photos are a sponsored post for Lilly and Lime Swimwear (a line made for women with larger busts) but that doesn't mean it wasn't brave. In fact, the fact that it's an ad makes it even more amazing because research shows that when advertising only shows us bodies that don't look like our own, women become "generally more dissatisfied with their body and appearance".

Ali Fedotowsky

On her blog Fedotowsky notes that a lot of comments on her previous Instagram posts have been followers remarking how slim she looks, or how much they wish they looked like she does postpartum. By dropping that sarong and showing her tummy Fedotowsky is showing other mothers that there is nothing wrong with their own.

"While I appreciate the positive comments, you guys are always so good to me, I keep trying to explain that I'm just good at picking out clothes that flatter my body and hide my tummy," she wrote on her blog.

"I bounced back pretty quickly after I gave birth to Molly. But things are different this time and I'm OK with that. I'm learning to love my body and embrace how it's changed. I hope I get back to my pre-pregnancy shape one day, but that may never happen. And if it doesn't, that's OK."

Ali Fedotowsky

It is okay, because our bodies are more than our swimsuit selfies. They the vessels that carry us through life and carry our children and provide a safe, warm place for those children feel love.

Loose skin is a beautiful thing.


Thanks for keeping it real, Ali.

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Amazon shoppers were anxiously awaiting the countdown to Amazon Prime Day, but when the clock struck one, er three, the website went down.

On Monday afternoon shoppers were trying to get their hands on the much-hyped Prime Day deals but instead of low prices, many users just saw 404 errors, continuously refreshing pages, or had issues keeping or adding items to their shopping carts.

CNBC reports shares of Amazon were down during the shopping glitch, and many shoppers took to Twitter and Instagram to discuss how all they could see on Amazon were the dogs who decorate the site's 404 pages.

As cute as the dogs are, shoppers are getting tired of seeing them, so hopefully Amazon gets things back up and running soon. Analysts had projected Amazon would rake in $3 billion dollars this Prime Day. Time will tell how much of that was lost during the great dog picture debacle of 2018.

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"Say you're sorry!"

"Go apologize and mean it."

"You don't sound like you're sorry to me."

"She won't want to be your friend anymore if you don't apologize right now."

Sound familiar? This is a hot topic for many parents. We want our kids to have good manners, to truly feel and show compassion for another, to want to apologize from a heartfelt and authentic place—yet when we tell them to say they're sorry, what are we really communicating?

I think:

  • I need you to apologize so I can feel better about what just happened...
  • This is how we fix problems...
  • I need you to do what I say ...
  • You need me to tell you how to feel and behave...
  • I'm in control...(bigger and stronger wins)
  • Integrity is secondary to apologies—what you do doesn't have to be aligned with how you feel or think... just do it anyway.

Whew. Maybe not the message we really want to give.

Yes, manners are important and apologies are necessary. But, encouraging the growth of this from within—a genuine desire to (re)connect and show compassion, being in our integrity—is essential for healthy relationships.

Think about it. How might you feel if, after being hurt deeply by a friend they brushed you off with a cursory, "I'm sorry" or after a tearful yelling match with your teen that left you feeling raw, your spouse said, "How could you lose it like that?! You need to go apologize to him!"

I'd venture to say you might feel more hurt, maybe misunderstood and alone, or even mad.

Often, situations our children are in that we catch ourselves telling them to apologize are defined by just the same kinds of feelings. Hurt whether they are the one doing the hurting or being hurt; frustrated and mad that their favorite toy was grabbed, a cool idea rejected, some other injustice experienced; misunderstood because their feelings and thoughts weren't respected, because the adult missed all that led up to the conflict, because they weren't listened to; alone because they are misunderstood, not listened to, hurt on the inside, feeling rejected; MAD because they really didn't like what their buddy did and their feelings overflowed.

Having your child say "I'm sorry" is going to do very little for a child to grow an understanding of how they feel, why they feel, what they can do with all these feelings—all precursors to compassion.

The words I'm sorry" are more often about our need, not our child's. So what can you do to grow the genuine, integrity based, heartfelt ability to apologize?

1. Role model, always

Be genuine with your own apologies. Voice compassion for your child, others, and their situation.

2. Name and affirm feelings of all parties involved.

Just think, if your spouse, following the tearful yelling match with your teen, had said, "Honey that was really tough. Let me hold you for a minute while you pull yourself together," how might you now feel? How might that change the next step you took? I bet you'd feel connected, understood, cared for, and in a better position to now re-connect with your son and apologize for losing it. And it would have come from a genuine place within you.

3. Give choices or ideas.

"What can you do to help him feel better?"

"When you are ready to let her know you feel sorry, she'll appreciate it."

"Can you use your words or would you like to show her you feel sorry?"

Words, smiles, pats, sharing a toy, playing next to—these are all authentic ways kids can show they are sorry.

4. Notice what your child chooses or does on their own to express their apology and their feelings and name it.

"Thank you for offering your special stuffed guy to your friend. You wanted to help him feel better. What a nice thing to do to let him know you felt sorry."

And now you are helping your child learn a bit more about what healthy, caring relationships look like. Genuine apologies are on their way. It takes time to grow a child who can tap into their inner selves and respond with compassion and honesty in a difficult situation. Time, patience, and gentle guidance... trust this. "I'm sorry" will follow... and be truly meant.

Relationship building all around.

Originally published on Denali Parent Coaching.

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