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Parenting with Intention: Mindful Play

**This is Part 3 of Parenting with Intention; a 3 part-blog series by Aika Erlandson, LMFT-Associate at Austin STRONG: Relationship Building Center**

Sometimes, parenting can be a stressful experience. When stress takes over the parenting, your child(ren) are paying very close attention and learning from your behaviors. Children look to their parents for support and modeling in figuring out how to manage emotions, especially when they feel distressed. As a parent, you may not think that your child is paying attention if you do not verbally lecture to them out loud; however, children actually learn the most when the behaviors are modeled to them, rather than lectured. If you want your child to be calm and respectful with you, it’s important to model that appropriate behavior for them.

We all have different ways of managing distress, based on the habitual “fight or flight” responses in our brains. When your boss is upset with you, and your spouse didn’t pack your kid’s lunch, and your kids are yelling at each other, your brain might go in a “fight” response and scream at your children from the top of your lungs to “be quiet!” The “flight” response may be to lock yourself in the bathroom for a few moments of uninterrupted quiet time. Because of the way our brains have been structured to better help our ancestors survive in unsafe, environmental conditions, it makes sense for your mind to mistake emotional stressors as a threatening situation that you need to either “fight” or take “flight” from.

Tip 1: Take Mindful Breaths

It’s normal to lose your cool sometimes as a parent. However, what you do when you lose your cool is important in helping your children understand what to do when they get upset. One tip that can be helpful is when you feel that your heart is starting to race and your fingers are tingling and your thoughts are racing with stressful ruminations, start to take 10-20 mindful breaths to calm your mind and your body down. Remembering to take mindful breaths to calm yourself down can be one way to model an appropriate response to stress in front of your child. If mindful breaths do not seem to work, let your child know that you are feeling upset, and you need to take a few minutes to calm down before you can respond to them. This way, your child learns that it’s okay to feel upset, and taking some mindful breaths or taking a break are appropriate ways to alleviate distress. By stopping yourself from yelling at your child, your child is learning that they don’t need to yell at you, their siblings or friends when they too, feel upset.

Tip 2: Play a game

Of all the things you need be doing on your checklist, playing a game with your child might seem unproductive and a waste of time. But research from the Mayo Clinic finds that laughing relieves stress by reducing stress hormones and increasing bonding hormones, including endorphins, a natural opiate that increase feelings of attachment, bonding, caring and forgiveness. Endorphins also “create a positive state of mind and boost optimism, self-confidence and feelings of self-worth.” Most parents actually find that playing games give them more energy, because stress and tension makes us tired and irritated. Even taking 5-10 minutes to play a short game with your child will help you and your child create stronger bonds, relieve stress, feel less irritable with each other, and show that we have time to be present for each other.

During the holidays, see how you and your child(ren) respond to a short game of Uno or hide and seek after dinner. If this routine can become a regular activity in your home, your child may become more cooperative, and you may become a happier, more energized parent! Playing games is also something that you can continue to incorporate into your relationship with your child no matter how old they get. This is a nice way to continue to connect with your child in which any tension or stress can be set aside for the moment and the focus can switch to family bonding, togetherness, solidifying your relationships, and of course stress relief!

If you feel like any of these suggestions could be beneficial or fun for you and your child, try them out during the holidays! If you notice changes in your parent-child relationship, then set an intention for the next year to implement one or two of these suggestions on daily basis with your child. Plus, these small acts can determine if your child will either become defiant or cooperate with you when you ask him or her to take the trash out next time.

All of these are part of the Intentional Parenting that will help set you and your child up for success in emotional health and wellbeing. Emotional awareness, stress relief, and enjoyment and connection through play are all important ways of self-management and engagement in healthy relationships. Through Intentional Parenting, you will learn and teach skills that will help you and your child develop a STRONG and happy parent-child relationship.

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