By Ashley Underwood, LCSW – Dec. 17, 2019

Imagine this scenario: you have a busy and stressful day at work and at the end of the day you get in your car and drive home. The next thing you know, you are parked in your driveway. You made it home, but you don’t remember the process of getting there; the stops, the turns, the motions. You get so used to the usual route home that little thought or focus has to go into the process of driving.

This is an example of being on autopilot. Many of us often live in this state, where actions and words are said and done without thought or focus. When we function on autopilot, we are more likely to say or do things that can be harmful to others.

Why does this impact how we parent our children?

Children need their parents to be the best versions of themselves, thinking through their responses rather than reacting to them. When parents act on autopilot they are not present in the moment and are more likely to react to children impulsively than responding to them with thought.

Some examples of parent reactions might be yelling, cursing, screaming, slamming things, etc. These types of reactions can create an atmosphere of stress between children and parents, as children often feel attacked for things they do. Responding to children requires us to be aware of what is happening, what we are thinking and what we are feeling. That is difficult to do when we are on autopilot.

How can we decrease reacting and increase responding to our children?

One tool that can reduce living on autopilot and increase being more present in the moment is mindful awareness. When being mindfully aware of what is happening in the moment and what we are thinking and feeling in the moment, we are more likely to provide our children with responses rather than reactions.

This also helps model the type of behavior we want from our children. We want them to think through their choices and pick the best one before acting impulsively. The stress of everyday life can make it difficult to live in the moment though, which is why practicing mindful awareness daily is key for mastering this tool.

What are ways to practice mindful awareness?

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn (the founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction practice), “mindfulness or mindful awareness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”  This awareness can be practiced in a variety of daily activities including eating, showering, walking, brushing your teeth, etc.

The key to it though is rather than just going through the motions of these activities – we are paying attention to our senses (what we see, taste, feel, hear, and smell) and we are describing those things without judgments, only the facts. Mindful awareness can also be practiced through meditation, yoga, tai-chi, dance, music, and so much more.

For a more extensive list of mindfulness activities please visit https://www.rachaelkable.com/blog/50-easy-and-fun-ways-to-practice-mindfulness.