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A mindful parenting educator and author shares her tips for raising mindful kids during the holidays.
Mindful parenting educator Michelle Gale first realized there was “something to this meditation thing” in college, when she found herself weeping during the 30-minute meditation portion of the service at Unity church every Sunday morning.
It was at a time when Gale felt lost, alone and was suffering from anxiety. But it wasn’t until she switched careers from the fast-paced world of technical recruiting to leadership coaching that she was reintroduced to mindfulness—and it stuck. “I have been a dedicated practitioner ever since,” she says. “Mindfulness has helped me … by teaching me to be present for my family and myself. It’s been my lifeline managing my anxiety, cultivating joy and living with purpose.”
Formerly the head of learning and development at Twitter, Gale currently serves as an adviser to the Mindful Schools and Wisdom 2.0, teaches mindfulness, mediation and other awareness-based practices to corporations and individuals, and just released a book, “Mindful Parenting in a Messy World.”
“I’m on a mission to support parents in staying meaningfully connected to themselves and their families, even as the demands and complexity of contemporary life and work are accelerated,” she says.
Gale is also a mom of two boys, ages 14 and 10, and infuses her parenting style with mindfulness. She knows that teaching her sons to make mindfulness an important part of their day-to-day activities begins with her own practice. “I’ve noticed that when I’m grounded, peaceful and calm, the rest of the family attunes to me without even realizing it.”
Making the holidays more mindful
So how does a mindfulness educator raise her children to be mindful during the holiday season in a culture that is so materially minded? Gale says it’s all about awareness.
“Let’s not let our children live in the dream that this is all that matters. Share with them the difference between wanting something and needing something,” Gale says. “There is nothing wrong with getting gifts; the question is, do we appreciate them and count our blessings to not only receive gifts but have a warm home, food on the table, and loving family and friends around us?”
Here are Gale’s four tips for parents who want to make the holidays a time of mindful reflection and gratitude, not solely about the gifts under the tree.
“Think about what rituals you generally partake in during the holidays and get the kids involved. Connect whatever you are doing to family members who came before you. Show pictures of the family lineage if available.”
“During dinner, pause before eating and reflect as a family on the food in front of you. How did it get to your table? How many people can you send gratitude to? The farmer who tilled the soil and planted the seed, the truck driver that brought it to the store, the store employees who unpacked it and checked you out? Whoever cooked it? My husband and I talk about the privilege of our lives to our boys. We want them to grow up understanding the privilege and head start they have in the world, and teach them about the importance of service to others.”
“Slow down when opening gifts. Depending on the age of your children, consider having each person share a short memory of the person who gave them the gift they are about to open. Picture them in their minds eye and send them love. Then rip that present open!”
“Find a local volunteer opportunity that works for the entire family to participate in. If your children are too young, consider going to visit an assisted living community or creating holiday notes for the workers at a local hospital who will be working over the holiday. It doesn’t take much but it certainly includes taking attention off ourselves and giving to others.”
What if I’m too busy this holiday season?
Whether we like it or not, kids mimic their parent’s behavior, which is why it’s so important to prioritize your own mindfulness practice, too.
Gale admits that having a family can make it challenging to make space for a regular time of stillness in the day, especially when you are a working parent. This is when “working with what you’ve got” is most helpful. Here are three ways to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life:
- Anytime is a good time to meditate: “If you read about the best time to meditate, you will often find suggested that practicing at the same time each day is best. Although it’s a great concept, it just doesn’t always fly with busy parents. In the past I’ve meditated in my children’s room as they fell asleep, in the parking lot of jiu jitsu class, while waiting in the doctor’s office or in bed before I go to sleep. Take the moments you can get!”
- Focus on breathing: “If you do nothing else, spend time each day noticing a few breaths coming in and out of your body. You can do this while waiting in line at the grocery store, in the bathroom, during boring work meetings or while on the phone with that family member who drives you crazy. Even better, sit or lay down with your eyes closed for a few minutes or more. Allow yourself to focus only on your breath with intention and notice how you feel when you are done.”
- Pay attention to your body: “We hold an incredible amount of stress in our bodies. I often find myself driving my car with my shoulders hunched, jaw tight and barely breathing. What a funny scene. I’ve learned to notice when I’m holding tension in my body by doing a quick body scan meditation.”
Mindful Parenting Educator Michelle Gale, MA, author of the new book “Mindful Parenting in a Messy World,” an Amazon bestseller. Learn more at www.beamindfulparent.com.
Photo credit: flyparade, Thinkstock; courtesy of Michelle Gale