Although there are many helpful interventions to improve parental effectiveness, sometimes they don’t always generalize outside of therapy. One problem is that even when clients understand parent psychoeducation, automatic patterns and blind spots can still block meaningful change.
Integrating mindfulness into parenting work, alongside existing parent interventions, can be a missing link for effective parent change. Mindfulness can remove common barriers to parental change, such as emotional reactivity and a narrow perspective. Mindfulness can also help parents build inner resources that can be critical during parental stress.
We can start by having parents pay attention with kind curiosity to what’s getting in the way of treatment gains. This includes identifying unhelpful patterns and their unintended consequences. With more clarity into the patterns, we can then ask how they would like to show up next time they face the trigger. Outside the session, intentionally slowing down and finding a sacred pause can help parents disrupt the autopilot reactions and make new choices.
Let’s take an example of a mother whose high frustration was blocking her from implementing the approach she was learning in therapy. With kind curiosity rather than judgment, she utilized mindfulness to become more aware of automatic patterns getting in the way. In session with her therapist, she was able to understand these unhelpful patterns with more clarity and gain awareness that she had unrealistic expectations about her child that played into conflict cycles. With a wider perspective, she was able to reframe her child’s needs and saw the value of responding with empathy. Outside of session, she was able to replace frustration with more patience by intentionally pausing and slowing down her breathing when she felt activated. As her reactivity decreased, she was able to build on the gains and apply the parenting approach that was originally out of reach.
For many families, mindfulness can be a transformative resource that can get parents off autopilot and open them up to new approaches. And in times when parenting interventions don’t seem to stick, mindfulness can help fill in the gaps between knowledge and change.
Ashley Vigil-Otero, PsyD, is a psychologist in private practice, an author, and a consultant at the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine (NICABM). She practices in Florida, where she specializes in compassion-oriented psychotherapy with clients throughout the lifespan. Raised in a multicultural family, she has long-standing interests in cultural humility and diversity in mental health.