By Kia Woods
We know we love and want the best for our children. In our hearts we wish to be conscious parents, mindful of our actions. Yet, mindful parenting seems to slip away when our children refuse to/can't follow directions or when we’re faced with the third full-on meltdown of the day. In those agitated moments when impatience, irritation or anger dominate our thoughts and actions, how can we even remember to be peaceful? As an educator, I’ve helped many parents address their frustration, ease their guilt and find ways to utilize their conscious parenting skills. I use the acronym OARS as a peace-making technique to help parents return to their best intentions. To steer our children in the right direction we need a good set of oars to keep the boat stable and moving from turbulent to still waters.
“O” represents OBSERVATION
Observation requires that we stop and not be reactive. It means that we first observe ourselves and assess our own stress level. A basic mindfulness practice is to become aware of our breathing. Simply saying, “I am aware of my breath” may be enough to trigger a calm state to prepare our mind, relax our body and even out our agitated energy. Slowing down your breath and observing what your child is trying to communicate is an important technique for parents, especially parents of kids on the autism spectrum, with ADHD or with other challenging behaviors. What they need is an ally to help them find their own sense of peace and safety. What is required of mindful parents is compassion, taking into account how their child might be feeling if they are acting this way. I ask parents to identify an image that represents their unconditional love for their child (It's in there!). In that critical moment, tuning into this image can soften your heart and produce feelings of tenderness and protection for your child. Whatever the immediate challenging situation is, it will become minor in the face of your well of love. When we become a helper in a safe zone instead of a reactive, out-of-control parent we will no doubt see their bodies and defense system relax. We can also bring our calming energy to their bodies through rubbing their back, stroking their head or gently holding their hands. When you relax you will begin to see their bodies relax. Observing first will help you assess what is happening within the situation.
“A” represents AFFIRM
When we affirm the truth of our children’s experiences it encourages them to trust their own feelings and perceptions. An affirming statement can go miles to help calm and de-stress your child. For example, “I can see that you are very frustrated because you don't want to leave the playground, eat your sandwich, wear your pants..." Even though you know that doing so will eventually be necessary, simply joining in your child’s experience shows that you are an ally. When you listen without judgment, your message to your child is that it’s okay to feel frustrated and important to express what you want.
“R” represents REDIRECT and REFOCUS
After feelings have been affirmed, parents can guide children into creating appropriate solutions.
Editor's Note: I tried it! This morning, Wolf wanted to go to the ice cream shop at 8:00AM and no matter how many times I said it wasn't open yet, he insisted on seeing it for himself. I decided in that moment (as I was frantically trying to get out the door to get to work) it was more important for him to see for himself rather than just trusting what I had to say or hearing NO. And when we got there, he saw the shop was closed and he accepted it as fact. I know there could have been a meltdown outside the shop when he couldn't get ice cream when he wanted, but instead he felt good because I listened to him and included him. Now Wolf understands that his favorite ice cream shop opens after lunchtime and we had a nice, tantrum free start to our day:)
"S" represents SMILE
It is said that it is impossible to stay mad if you allow yourself to crack a smile. And, chances are you'll find it funny when all is said and done. Smiling is a quick route to releasing endorphins that can reset your energy system and help you remember your intention to be a loving, conscious parent. A smile is a show of acceptance. It encourages a caring, safe atmosphere to work out resolutions.
Kia Woods is an educator and art therapist who includes mindfulness practices in her classrooms, seminars, workshops and art therapy groups for children and adults. Early in her career she taught elementary school and was awarded the title of Outstanding Young Educator for how she used creativity to help children love learning no matter what skills they brought to school. She wanted to understand more about children who struggled in school and did graduate work in the field of learning disabilities. After many years of developing and offering many interesting projects in education she founded a parent/child creative arts school in New York City.