Compassionate Parenting: Mindfulness and the Child

This is the second week in a 3-week series on parenting observations. Week one is based on gentle parenting, week two is about parenting with compassion, and week three is about parenting with a disability.

These posts are based on my personal experiences as a parent and are not meant in any way to judge other parenting styles or decisions. I am offering my personal research and conclusions as possible suggestions for others out there, therefore these posts will be as objective as possible. When it comes to parenting: provided the method isn’t abusive, there really isn’t a wrong way to parent your child. Be secure and do what works best for you and your family and ignore outside judgment.

Being a parent or caretaker requires a level of compassion that is almost second nature from the beginning. It’s as if when the child is handed over, they also hand over the inherent tools needed to be loving, compassionate, and caring for the little one.

Just kidding. That’s the narrative we’re told when we’re about to become parents.

That isn’t actually the case: it takes time to fall in love with this new human being. While some things do come naturally, being compassionate may take longer to foster and that’s okay. Compassion isn’t given, it’s developed through a lifetime of experiences.

Going several months with sleep deprivation makes it hard to want to understand what’s going on inside the little one’s head, but it’s something to consider, especially when they won’t stop screaming.

In a child’s ugliest moments, it is important to see things from their perspective to better serve their needs. As with Gentle Parenting, this isn’t about being permissive, but finding ways to use available parental tools in the most effective way.

Nota bene: This post will be using the universal “you/second person” pronouns throughout, so while it may not speak to your experience directly, it may apply to someone else you know.

The Difficulties of Growing Up

Understanding babies and toddlers is a rather foreign concept. As adults, we are furthest away from them developmentally as possible. Teenagers can be easier to understand, if only because we may have recently come out of that developmental stage.
Toddlers have a difficult life.
As silly as that sounds, it is true when looking at things from their perspective. Several years ago, before I even thought of having Jai, I read a post about how hard toddlers have it. I haven’t been able to find the exact article, but there are others out there with the same concept. It talks about life from a toddler’s perspective and speculates what they might be thinking.
Life From a Toddler’s Perspective:
  • You can understand most, if not all, of the words spoken to you, but you have limited ability to respond in a way that your caretakers understand. Certain noises or actions will elicit responses, and while they may not be an effective way to get your needs met, it gets the ball rolling.
  • You rarely have a say in anything. You could be playing with a toy, watching your favorite show, eating your snack, and your caretaker picks you up and asserts their will on you in some manner. Moves you to another room. Straps you into a chair. Changes your diaper. You did not want or ask for any of this.
  • Once more: you don’t have a say. There’s food put in front of you and you don’t like the taste or are bored with it. But your caretaker won’t let you out of your chair until you consume an arbitrary amount. You are put in your crib for a nap, but you don’t feel tired and don’t want to be left alone.
  • Rules are abstract concepts. You want to explore and try everything now that you are mobile, but every time you get close to something interesting you get yelled at or moved. You eventually get that something is “no,” but that’s a “no” at the moment and may not be a “no” in a while. So you want to test to see if there’s consistency.
  • There is no concept of self-preservation. You can walk and you see your caretakers go downstairs, why can’t you on your own? Now they get upset when you venture too close.
  • There is no concept of ownership. Everything your caretaker has is yours and everything of yours is yours and everything the other little human you’ve been brought to see is yours, and now there’s crying and you don’t understand why your caretaker is being stern with you for taking that toy.
  • Emotions are new and shift every day. You don’t understand what they mean or why you feel this way. The only way to feel better is to have an outward release of those emotions by yelling, crying, or throwing something because why not? This causes your caretaker to react in ways you don’t understand.
  • In the same vein, learning happens all the time, but you don’t understand your limitations. You see your caretaker do something or an older child do something that you want to do, but you aren’t able to do it in the same way when you try which is very frustrating.
The list can go on and on, but the point is made: it’s difficult to be a toddler when it’s hard to understand what is going on and you don’t have the tools to manage it.
Keeping these ideas in mind when dealing with a little one will help raise personal awareness and compassion for your child. Essentially every part of being a toddler is frustration, from not being able to understand to not being able to manage emotions. When they are throwing a tantrum or being resistant, it’s nothing personal to the caretaker, it’s because they are incapable of managing their feelings the way adults have been trained to do.
Therefore when confronted with a toddler’s frustration, the adult can take a step back and be compassionate to what might be upsetting their little one.

What Parents Can Do

Compassion is about stepping outside of our comfort zones and into the place of others to fully accept them as they are. Not how we wish them to be.

Compassion is not about letting others walk all over us or letting them get away with being disrespectful. It’s about understanding the reasons why we are being treated that way and knowing when to let it go in favor of a more reasonable solution.

In short: rather than allowing something to emotionally upset us we operate logically and diplomatically.

Children are no different from us, other than they have not been given the tools to properly handle their emotions and actions in a socially sanctioned way. Taking the time to understand their perspective and engage on their level provides insight on how to effectively parent them.

When a toddler starts screaming in frustration, the immediate response may be to yell back at them in equal frustration, but that provides no sustainable solution. What ends up happening is emotions escalate on both sides and grow out of control until the parent feels resentment.

Instead of responding in kind, take a few seconds and reflect as to why the child is throwing a tantrum: are they hungry? did they eat something new and this is a reaction? are they tired? was the nap fulfilling enough? do they need a diaper change? is the diaper I just put on them uncomfortable? am I asserting my will over them in an unreasonable manner? am I providing them an alternative? are they overwhelmed with all that is going on? are they in pain or undergoing some new developmental milestone?

Once a possible reason for their frustration is found, figure out how to calmly resolve the situation. It may be taking a few minutes to speak to your child in a soothing voice, distracting them with an alternative that won’t be giving in to their desires, or ignoring the tantrum altogether.

If it’s something that can be easily addressed, like food or over-tired, it may take some time to resolve those items, but remaining patient through the process will help bring about a calm resolution.

Several things to remember:

  • Don’t take anything your child is doing personally. While they may be testing their boundaries with you and trying to push your buttons, they are doing it because they trust you and feel comfortable with you.
  • You are the adult in the situation, therefore your child expects you to behave like one.
  • You are not being permissive or giving into them by being compassionate. You are just taking the time to understand things from their perspective. If discipline is needed, compassionately figure out an appropriate response to the situation without going overboard.
  • Teach the tools needed to manage emotions in a more constructive manner. They haven’t had the same life experiences.
  • You are enough for your child. I’ve mentioned it before, so what I mean is this: you are everything to your child, therefore, you are everything they need. You may not have the answers all of the time, but most of the time you alone can provide for their needs.
  • It’s not going to be perfect 100% of the time, there will be times when running down the list of solutions not a single one works to get the situation under control.

One tool that works for Ash and me, at this point in time, is putting Jai in a safe space where he can take a few moments to act out his frustration via screaming until he has calmed himself down. It allows him the chance to learn how to bring himself under control without fear or shame.

This is particularly helpful for those moments when a situation is out of control – it gives you as much of a break as it does your child. You may need those five minutes to calm down so you can reassess the situation. Chances are your child has forgotten about the impetus for the frustration by the time you reconvene.

Being Compassionate When All Else Fails

There’s a reason why I wrote the post about self-compassion first: there are days where nothing is going to go right and all you want to do is mentally check out. Those are the moments where practicing self-compassion is the most important thing to do even when it’s the most difficult.

By being kind to yourself, you will refill the reserves needed to be calm and compassionate towards your child. It is extremely hard to be present and mindful for others when you aren’t able to do it for yourself.

When you take a few moments to understand what is going on with your child, take a few more to figure out what is going on with you.

Do not feel bad about:

  • Needing to step away from your child for a few extra minutes, provided they are completely safe and all their needs are met
  • Needing to ask a partner or someone in your support system to step in for a few minutes while you grab a cup of tea or coffee
  • Admitting that being a parent is hard and that you are having a difficult time
  • Feeling resentment for your child. Most of the time this is temporary and try to work through those feelings so they are temporary (deep-seated resentment is a sign of a larger issue that should be professionally addressed)
  • Not being perfect or “on it” 100% of the time. In no area of our lives are we able to be perfect all the time, this is no exception

Being a parent is hard work and there’s a lot thrown at you with very little preparation. We can read everything on the matter, but in practice, it’s hard to maintain our calm and sight of the end-goal.

By taking a few minutes to understand things from our child’s perspective it will give us insight as to how to appropriately address the situation from a logical standpoint, not an emotional one. Having an emotional response is okay, provided it isn’t escalating the situation.

What are some solutions you’ve come up with in dealing with your child? How has compassionate parenting helped you in difficult situations with your toddler or a little one? Post a comment below with your insights.

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3 thoughts on “Compassionate Parenting: Mindfulness and the Child

  1. Pingback: Nature's Classroom: Teaching Perspective | MS//Mommy

  2. Pingback: Toddler Life Lessons | MS//Mommy

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