Registered mental health nurse and mindfulness teacher, KATE BRANDRAM-ADAMS, supports parents to develop mindfulness and self-compassion – for their own wellbeing, and for the profound impact this has on children. By Kate Barber
We know that our capacity for emotional awareness and regulation is vital for our wellbeing, as well as being a strong indicator of how successful we are – in our careers and our relationships. And the same goes for our kids. Naturally, we want them to be resilient, loving, self-compassionate little humans.
So focused on our children, sometimes it’s easy to forget that we need mindfulness and self-compassion ourselves. In fact, while placing high value on compassion for others, the society we live in judges harshly those who are self-compassionate, who are seen to put themselves first.
Yet, says Kate, the research reveals that the more present and compassionate we are with our own feelings of stress or distress, the more we can be with our kids with theirs.
“Mindfulness is about being aware of your feelings and awake to what is happening as it happens, in a caring, curious way,” says Kate. “Self-compassion is about acknowledging our own times of pain and distress and treating ourselves like a friend at these times.
“With mindfulness training, you can be a kind, friendly observer of your own experience, rather than reacting to it. The power of this is that it gives us more choices to act (and parent) how we want to, according to our values, as opposed to being blindly reactive, according to our conditioning.”
Often we are so uncomfortable with the pain and discomfort of our children, we try to repress and silence them. We feel overwhelmed, so we downplay what’s happening for them, or we try to fix it.
Our brains are wired, for safety and survival, to be reactive, says Kate, and our ‘old brain’ (our emotional, reactionary brain) overrides our ‘new brain’ (our rational, thinking brain) in times of stress – think ‘fight or flight’. This is why, when the kids are screaming, we don’t feel in control; we feel hijacked, and we react in ways we later regret.
“Mindfulness training activates and strengthens our access to the new part of the brain when we most need it.”
It is not easy. But ‘neuroplasticity’ means that our brains can actually change, depending on what we pay attention to and repeat. Like a muscle in our arms, we can activate and strengthen our brains in certain ways, says Kate.
How do we get started?
Kate recommends courses on mindfulness because there is “the common humanity of being with others” and support from a teacher. There are, however, numerous simple exercises to get you started. ‘Coming to your senses’ is an exercise where Kate invites people to ‘be curious’ as often as possible during their day, and notice: 5 things you can feel in your body, 4 you can see, 3 you can hear, 2 you can taste, and 1 you can smell. This is one you can do with your kids and helps you be in the moment, rather than at the mercy of a brain that, will naturally wander and ruminate on things you’d prefer it didn’t.
The ripple effects of our own mindfulness practices are profound. “The more self-compassion we have, the more we are able to be compassionate towards our kids. We can be in an uncomfortable space more sustainably and ‘hold it’ rather than try to fix it.”
“When parents embody mindfulness and self-compassion – when they actually practice it for themselves, rather than teach it – kids absorb it,” says Kate. “Seeing a parent in touch, or present, with their emotional state is very powerful.”
With ongoing training, we can “show up differently for our kids” and change the wiring of our brains, says Kate. It all starts by practising mindfulness for ourselves.