Chances are you’ve heard the word mindfulness. In casual conversation, social media and research, mindfulness (or, put simply, observing the present moment without analyzing it) is gaining popularity as more and more studies show that it benefits mental and physical health, relationships, and productivity.
Despite these benefits, becoming more mindful can feel like another to-do, and let’s face it, you’re busy raising a toddler! But here’s the thing: The very toddler who’s keeping you so busy that you can’t even think about mindfulness, might actually be the path to becoming more mindful!
Here are five ways that tuning into your toddler can help you become more mindful:
- Focus on what your child is focused on. Take even just a few minutes to truly tune into what your child is doing. If he’s playing with a shape sorter, for example, really look at it. Notice the colors and shapes. Feel the blocks and notice their texture, temperature, and weight. Listen to the noise they make when they hit the bottom of the container.
- Copy your toddler’s mindful eating. Even if you don’t feel like squishing blueberries between your fingers, you can learn a lot about mindful eating from your toddler. Chances are he takes his time, exploring the textures, scents, and tastes of his food (especially newly-introduced ones). Try eating your food at his pace, bite for bite. Notice its texture, temperature, and how it tastes.
- Let your toddler dawdle, and do it with him. Take a walk with your toddler and follow his pace. He’ll probably stop to bend down and examine a bug or flower, search the ground for a stick to hold, or rub his hands on a tree trunk. Notice these things with him, and pay attention to what you see, hear, and smell around you.
- Schedule distraction-free time to connect with your child every day. Buzzing smartphones and endless to-do lists are mindfulness crushers. We can’t avoid them entirely, of course, but setting aside even brief periods to turn off the phone and pause your to-dos in order to just be with your child is valuable. Bedtime routines lend themselves to this (especially if your child is in the bathtub where he needs your undivided attention for safety). Take this opportunity to pay attention to the details of his face and voice. If he’s in the tub, notice how the water feels on your hands. If you’re reading him a book, notice the feeling of his weight in your lap.
- Practice mindful breathing when his behavior pushes your buttons. We get that staying calm 100% of the time is unrealistic, but piles of research show that staying calm as much as you can is enormously beneficial for your child. To name one way, when you control your own difficult emotions, you model emotional intelligence (which, as it turns out, is a predictor of your child’s success in many areas). One way to stay calm is to practice mindful breathing when you feel your own emotions stirring up. Practice is the operative word here; it takes time to learn how to recognize those emotions, pause, and breathe. There’s no set formula for the breathing. It could simply be one or two deep, slow breaths. The idea is to give yourself several seconds to stop your emotions from spiraling so you can respond to your child in a positive way.
The best thing about learning to be mindful from your toddler? It helps you connect with him in a deeper way.
There’s a lot to learn from your toddler about mindfulness, but you can also turn the tables and start teaching him mindfulness practices like body scans, mindful breathing, and tuning in to details. To learn more, head over to our article on teaching mindfulness to toddlers.