Christian Mindfulness and the World of Parenting

It’s easy to assume mindfulness practices are to be done for private benefit, but experiencing them with your children can reap big rewards.

My 4-year-old daughter is a strong-willed child and smart as a whip. As any parent of such a child knows, this is both a blessing and a curse! We’ve had our share of challenges helping her to regulate her behavior and listen to us carefully when her idea of a good time isn’t, shall we say, in alignment with ours.

I recently picked up a new Bible (the Jesus-Centered NLT Bible), and on a recent occasion when she had to go to her room on timeout, it came to mind to find a verse from Proverbs that I could read to her. (One of the things I like about the NLT translation is that it’s very readable, even to children.)

My eye was drawn to Proverbs 15:5, which goes like this:

Only a fool despises a parent’s discipline; whoever learns from correction is wise.

I read that to her, and explained that, as she likes being smart (she’s made that very clear), that means she’ll want to be wise too, and she can stay wise by learning from the correction that comes from her parents who love her and from her friend Jesus who loves her too.

She was quite impressed, and later she explained to Mom that she wanted “correction” again. But it gets even better…the next day when she was starting to act up about something, we took her to her room and immediately she wanted me to “read from that book about correction” — aka the Bible. She said it helped her to be obedient! I found another verse in Proverbs similar to the one above, and she got excited about listening to Scripture once again.

Connecting with your child in the moment

There are a lot of parenting materials out now about “mindful” parenting, and how to incorporate mindfulness techniques into your child’s routine. I’m not here to debate which points to accept or not, from a Christian perspective at least, but rather how incredibly valuable it is to learn how to connect emotionally and spiritually with your child “in the moment” and avoid the tantrum/punishment cycle that we so often get caught up in.

Our daughter will sometimes ascribe her activity to something beyond herself…for instance, she’ll accuse her feet of making her run away, rather than admit she made a choice to run away. She’ll even yell at her feet as she’s running: “STOP FEET!” It’s quite comical at times. Perhaps something similar was going on when she was asking for me to read the Bible to her to help her behave—just as her feet “make” her run away when we call her, Scripture will “make” her listen to her parents and be obedient again. While this notion isn’t something to defend theologically, my larger point is this: your child may see the world (and her place in it) in creative and unconventional ways. That’s the beauty of childhood.

Being mindful is about being in tune with what motivates your child’s behavior, and how your response will influence your child for better (or worse!). When you talk with your child about spiritual matters and who God is, mindfulness is all about using the language of self-awareness and introspection to reveal influences no matter where they originate. I want our daughter to discover what is most effective to compel her to do good and not bad, and then remember that and latch onto it so she can come back to her “happy place” once again. For her, the quality time of her parent reading her a Bible verse that speaks about learning wisdom was valuable. But other children may be different. (So ask me about this again when my other 1-year-old daughter is a few years older!)

Everyone learns differently, and everyone resonates with God’s presence in different ways. Mindfulness practices, taking the time for meditation and reflection, being aware of our emotional intelligence, learning how to breathe with our children…these are all ways that, as parents, we can model appropriate behavior for our children and help them to see the benefits that wisdom brings.

If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise. If you reject discipline, you only harm yourself; but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding. Fear of the LORD teaches wisdom; humility precedes honor.

—Proverbs 15:31–33

Jared White