Mindfulness includes seeing things as they actually are, being intentional in our actions and exercising compassion in every way. It’s about responding instead of reacting, choosing our response instead of defaulting to what we’ve learned in the past.

By David Jones

A lot of attention has been paid lately to something called Emotional Intelligence.

It has to do with learning about one’s emotions and how to handle them. It’s like a lot of things in life today: parents weren’t taught about it, so they’re not equipped to teach their children. This is a tall order in my world. Fortunately I learned a lot about my emotions and how to manage them in therapy. That’s because in my marriage I learned to bottle up my emotions to avoid fights and tension at home.

I still flinch when others yell in anger or frustration.

I have a real issue with conflict avoidance, and if someone is displeased with me I feel disappointed and angry with myself. If an argument develops I can panic and have to resist the desire to run. I apologize too much about everything.

Dear parent, if yelling at every irritation is the only tool in your Emotional Toolkit, your kids will learn that yelling is how you’re always supposed to deal with things that bother you. Likewise, if you blanche when anyone is angry with you, children can learn avoidance as their go-to coping skill.

Mindfulness includes seeing things as they actually are, being intentional in our actions and exercising compassion in every way. It’s about responding instead of reacting, choosing our response instead of defaulting to what we’ve learned in the past.

So what’s a mindful parent to do? Here are some things I’ve learned:

It’s never too late to learn.

Get the to the internet and look up strategies for building your emotional intelligence. Talk to a professional if you need to. You’re not bad or a failure for not knowing something you never learned, whether it’s how to change a tire, how to budget, how to cook dinner without a microwave or how to talk to someone you’re crushing hard on—you can still learn these skills. (Well, except how to talk to your crush—that’s an eternal mystery.)

Be mindful about your own emotions.

Sit with them, abide with them. If those emotions scare you, isolate them for a minute of examination. Get a little distance from your anger for example, then look at why you’re angry, and really dig beyond “I’m mad because of what Jeremy said to me.” Find out what things trigger certain emotions in you or others, and come to understand them without judgment.

Help your kids to remember emotions are just thoughts.

While emotions seem like they’re something separate unto themselves, they’re just thoughts that carry emotional responses rather than purely logical ones. Trouble managing one’s thoughts as well as feelings is a package deal.

Help kids remember that emotions aren’t permanent and will change.

You hurt right now, but you didn’t hurt yesterday and you won’t tomorrow. I mean, that’s not a real time line but it is true: how you feel later will be different from how you do now. I know it’s hard to believe while the sky falls around you, but this too shall pass. Give them the time to do so.

The emotions of others can make us uncomfortable, and that’s okay. Our goal is to deal with that discomfort rather than run from it. Taking time to really understand what they’re feeling can go a long way towards easing that discomfort. And learn to leave any scene that endangers you.

Sometimes emotions can be triggered by anything and everything and nothing at all. Tiredness or hunger, biological changes, or unchecked frustration can send emotions into a whirl.

Teach children compassion over judgment.

When someone’s crying, frightened, or enraged, it’s not your job to decide if they have any right or valid reason for feeling that way. Parents grabbing their kids and yelling “Quit crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!” haunts me. Maybe they’re overreacting, but a soft cloth or tissue wipes away tears way better than sandpaper does. Then you can work on better responses for the future.

Ditch the need for retribution. Hurting others because they hurt you sounds reasonable but really just keeps a fire burning instead of letting it go out.

Learn emotional responses instead of emotional reactions.

It’s better to take a minute to think through something rather than just reacting. That also helps us keep responses proportionate.

If emotions lead to notions of suicide or self-harm, get help.

Get away from the distressing situation or environment if possible. There are resources online on how to make a self-care emergency plan, and while none of them are exhaustive they can give you good ideas on how to  dodge the hopeless spiral. There may be options for texting, calling, or e-mailing someone who is trained to help folks in a crisis.

Make note of resources, keep them handy, and resolve to use them when needed.

It’s a world of road rage, instant offense, and internet provocateurs. We’re expected to be outraged or terrified or sullen over every little thing. Rather than doom-scrolling or hiding under the bed all the time, help children learn healthier ways to live a balanced life in a world of emotional potholes. Get to know yourself, find mindful ways to respond to triggers, and encourage others.

Be well.


Photo: Pixabay


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