Newsletter for Parents
December 2017
Holiday Mindfulness
Mindfulness during the Holidays

This month, we're taking a deep breath and caring for ourselves, even (or perhaps especially) as new parents during this busy holiday season. But that doesn't mean we're just listing some fancy spa-like treatments that are supposed to make you feel better. Instead, we're taking a closer look at mindfulness--what it is, how to use it, and how it impacts both parents and children for the better. 

Holidays may place an extra burden on women and moms, who often are, or at least feel, responsible for creating and carrying on the traditions of the day. We might have an idealized version of how the day--or the whole season--should look. Add to this a new baby, and it can get overwhelming and disappointing.

But mindfulness can help us put everything back into perspective and give us a breath of fresh air. This month we suggest a few quick and concrete tools that you can use to feel grounded even in the midst of the holidays--Compassion to Go (the STOP method) and the Sacred Pause Practice. We'd love to know if you try them!

Our best wishes for a peaceful holiday season and a mindful new year!
In This Issue
Mindfulness, Parenthood, and Relationships
Yaffa Maritz, Listening Mothers

Mindfulness was defined by the "father" of the Mindfulness Movement in the United States, Jon Kabat Zinn, as "awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally." "It's about knowing what is on your mind."
Analysis of recent research data showed that parents who reported more mindful parenting engaged in more positive and less negative parenting behavior, which was then linked to more positive behavior in their kids--meaning less anxiety, depression, and acting out. " To bring mindful attention and awareness into your interactions with your child really seems to set the stage for you to be a good parent," says Justin Parent, lead author of this study , which was done at the University of Vermont. 
Sounds simple enough? It may sound simple but we know how hard it is to follow, especially because in our very busy life we are often engaged in the "Trance of Reactivity," as one of the mindfulness teachers, Tara Brach, wisely named it.  It's like we are all riding a bike--the more stressed we feel, the faster we pedal. 
Parents are all craving to be the best parents they can be, but often they end up feeling "not good enough." So for us at the Community of Mindful Parenting, we often speak of the two wings of the bird of wellbeing:
  1. Mindfulness: Awareness, being present, seeing what is actually happening right now without judgment (as Zinn defined it long time ago). 
  2. Heart-fullness: Holding what we see with compassion, tenderness, and love. 
We engage parents in practice that includes "both wings of the bird," and we call this practice " Compassion to Go." We see this practice as portable, user-friendly, and available at any time and any place. It doesn't require special time, a special occasion, or special tools--just an intention to practice that is aligned with our natural goal to be happy.
So what are the key factors to mindful parenting? We follow the acronym STOP:
S--STOP. Learn to pause. The key element that will turn reactivity to mindful responsiveness is the ability to pause, just stop anything you are doing, and BE.
T--Take a deep breath. Breathing is very important as it calms our nervous system and slows us down. Take few deep breaths and perhaps give yourself a soothing touch by putting your hand on your heart, or hold your palms together. 
O--Observe: Notice your feelings. What are the triggers? Notice your body. Any stress? Notice your mind. What thoughts rush through your head? Just notice and let it be held in awareness and kindness (nonjudgmental approach). If you start experiencing again the "trance of reactivity," perhaps you can use soothing words as well as soothing touch to calm yourself down. What words you like to hear when you are under stress? Say them to yourself.
P--Proceed: Respond to the situation from a place of wisdom and compassion. When our nervous system is calm, our wisdom and intuition kick in. Part of the response when it comes to others, like your children, is to engage calmly in conversation, in deep listening (even if we disagree with what's being said), led by curiosity and open-mindedness and respect.  When the response calls for setting limits, we use the same principles: compassion, respect, understanding, and firmness that is informed by LOVE. Remember the saying from Carl Rogers, "When someone really hears you without passing judgment on you, without trying to take responsibility for you, without trying to mold you, it feels damn good." 
These skills potentially help preserve the parent-child relationship, while also providing positive role modeling of how to handle difficult situations and how to successfully regulate and manage emotions. Mindfulness training like this has been demonstrated to impact emotion regulation at both the neural level and at the cognitive level. ( Goldin and Gross, 2010; Modinos, Ormel, & Aleman, 2010). If practiced regularly, these skills can apply to all difficult situations. We often say that mindfulness and COMPASSION are related; the more we practice, the more benefit we will reap. 
Practicing the STOP method will be just as useful when it comes to couple relationships during stressful moments as when it comes to dealing with children or other stressful situations. But of course, couple relationships, like any other relationships (but more so at this critical period of life), need lots of nurturing to thrive. Time needs to be set aside for making meaningful connection and revitalizing the relationship. We know from brain studies that our minds are like Velcro to negative emotions and like Teflon to positive ones (see the work of Rick Hanson on this topic). In order for relationships to thrive, we need to expand and take in the good, setting the intention to see the cup half full, practice gratitude regularly for all that goes well, share our positive thoughts and feelings with our partner, and forgive ourselves and our partners for not being perfect. In other words, using the Compassion to Go practice. 
Dr. Robert Epstein wrote an article What Makes Good Parent?, in which he reports on a study of 2,000 parents that was to determine which skills are most important to bringing up healthy, happy, and successful kids. The outcome: Giving love and affection tops the list. But then comes the big surprise: Managing stress and having a good relationship with the other parent are more helpful than some child-focused behaviors.
But we were not surprised! What we model in our everyday interactions-- our intentions, our attitudes, our measure of awareness and compassion, the way we regulate our emotions, manage our stress, the way we treat ourselves, our kids, our spouses-- all will have impact on our wellbeing and our kids' wellbeing and happiness. 
Yaffa Maritz is co-founder and clinical director of Listening Mothers, a research-based parenting pr ogram. She is founder and director of the Community of Mindful Parenting. Yaffa was born and trained in Israel as a clinical psychologist. She is also a licensed mental health counselor with advanced training in infant mental health. She is an advocate for the well-being of children and their families and serves on several local and national boards that promote this agenda, including the Governor's Commission for Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention. 
Yaffa believes that by supporting parents and creating nurturing communities for them, we can set the foundation for the positive growth of children's social, emotional, and mental health.

Try It: Sacred Pause Practice
Cultivating a sacred pause amidst the busyness of everyday life as a parent can help us manage the stress that comes with this season.   Pauses can help you get grounded and come back home to yourself.   Whether it ' s for 30 seconds as you pause before you react, or for ten minutes as you nurse your baby, the daily practice of pausing and reconnecting to what matters most can lead to a host of physical and mental health benefits that will improve your well-being. 
Here ' s the practice:
Pause. In any moment during your day, stop all activities.  G et still for a moment and just be. Just slowing down helps our nervous system and allows us to respond rather than to react. 

Come back here to this moment. We have a tendency to be caught in worries about the future or ruminate about things in our past.   Get grounded in the present moment by focusing on your breath, scanning your body to notice tension, and focusing on your senses. Be here in the present moment for 30 seconds, one minute, three minutes, however long you need (or have) in order to come back into your body.

Nurture yourself with compassion. When we get stressed, triggered or reactive, our self-compassion shuts down. Pausing and coming back into the moment with mindfulness can allow you to  " tend and befriend whatever is coming up for you, instead of beating yourself up or treating yourself unkindly. Place your hand on your heart and say something kind and nurturing to yourself.  Rather than all the stress hormones keeping you caught in reactivity, you release the " love hormone of oxytocin.
When we are able to pause in more neutral moments of our lives, we create a positive habit. Our ability to be mindful and " in this moment " is like a muscle that becomes stronger the more we practice. Over time, we are then able to pause when we face greater challenges and respond rather than react. This practice also enables us to foster connection, compassion, and a sense of calm in our everyday lives.  
Mantra of the Month

Mindful Parenting Research--It Works!
Type the word "mindfulness" into any search engine, and you will find an ever-increasing body of research that demonstrates how these practices can help reduce symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression across a wide variety of populations. Almost everyone can benefit from slowing down, paying closer attention, and letting things simply be as they are without judgment.
Mindfulness-based practices can be especially helpful while navigating the stresses of parenthood. From pregnancy and the postpartum period, to living with angsty teenagers, studies are showing that mindfulness can help ease the way for both parents and children.
A 2010 study at UC San Francisco found that parents who cultivated a mindfulness practice before their babies were born reported lower incidences of stress, anxiety, and depression during the postpartum period. And a 2016 study out of the University of Melbourne, Australia, which looked at mindfulness in children, also found that children whose parents were more mindful were significantly less likely to report feeling stressed as well. Along those same lines, another 2016 study (at University of Vermont) showed that parents who used a mindfulness approach saw more positive behavior in their kids--meaning fewer experiences of anxiety, depression, and acting out. The lead author of the UVM study offers three essential factors of mindful parenting:
  • Noticing your own feelings when you're in conflict with your child,
  • Learning to pause before responding in anger,
  • Listening carefully to a child's viewpoint even when disagreeing with it.
No doubt this is all easier said than done when you're feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, but that's where the "practice" part comes in. Time spent strengthening these skills, in small ways during calm moments, could prove to be a big help when you need it most.
A sampling of research:

Self-Care Out of the Box
While spa days and coffee dates may sound wonderful, they may be too overwhelming or not fitting for you as a self-care, or "wellness," practice. Here are some other ideas for what may help you regain a sense of calm and feel more like yourself.
  • Stock your fridge with high-protein snacks (that you can eat with one hand!)
  • Sign off from social media for a day or two
  • Create a new playlist with the kind of music that you picks you up or calms you down, depending on what kind you need
  • Pet or brush your dog
  • Spend 5 minutes outside
  • Stretch your neck and upper back
Call Our Warm Line for Support! 

Perinatal Support Washington has a toll-free support line for new parents. Leave a message, and a trained volunteer will return your call within 24 hours. The line is staffed by a parent who has experienced a perinatal mood and/or anxiety disorder and has recovered fully, or a licensed therapist with specialized training in perinatal mental health.

We provide warm, understanding, effective, and private support, as well as professional referrals to providers who can help. We also provide details about community support groups and resources and information in the community and online. 

NEW! DADS ON THE LINE! Would it feel more comfortable to talk with a dad who has been through his own perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, or has supported a partner who has? Call our warm line and ask to talk with a dad. 
Are You a Provider?
This parent-focused newsletter would be a great resource for your families! Feel free to forward this email to them or print it out for your office. Most of our past newsletters can also be found here

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