Parents and teens have the ability to trigger each other as no one else can. It takes a lot of self-control not to just let out our anger – to react before thinking…to lash out. Do you know why? If our brain perceives a threat, it signals the amygdala, body's “alarm" system, which tells our body to act without thinking. The amygdala responds to situations with the fight, flight, freeze response. In everyday parenting, our stress response often gets triggered unnecessarily by events that are not actually life-threatening. Our bodies are reacting to our kid spilling cereal all over the floor in the same way we would react if we were being chased by a bear. When we get triggered, our teens get triggered and their reaction triggers us again. It's an endless loop that results in less than stellar relationships with our teens. However, If we choose to be more mindful by pressing the pause button, we can teach kids they too can pause and choose to respond instead of reacting.
What does mindfulness mean in parenting? Mindful parenting means that you bring your conscious attention to what's happening, instead of getting hijacked by your emotions. Mindful parenting does not mean being a “perfect parent" and is not something you can fail at. It is not easy and it takes practice, but like many aspects of parenting, some days are good and some are bad and you can always try again. You may forget to be mindful, but the second you realize you are distracted, it is an opportunity to make a different choice—the choice to respond and not react. This does not mean that you will not get angry or upset. Of course, you will feel negative emotions, but acting on them mindlessly is what compromises our parenting. Practicing mindfulness allows us to model what having a Christ-centered life looks like more than anything we can say to them.
When in stressful moments with your teen noticing your feelings, pausing before you take action and carefully listening to your teen's viewpoint are the keys to breaking the cycle of reactions and building stronger relationships.