My wife Sarah and I have two little boys, aged nine and seven. Jackson and Will have given our lives new meaning in ways that any parent knows you simply cannot put into words. At the same time, they’ve injected new challenges that only parents can understand.
In the past six months, I’ve heard more about mindful parenting than I can digest. It’s important because research links mindfulness training to less anxiety, depression and acting out in kids. While some of it’s been wonderful and insightful advice, others have been on the precious and perfect world side of things. As an increasing number of us become dual income households, mindful parenting has more to do with the relationship with your child, opening up communication and setting boundaries, than it does with bringing your child up “perfectly.” Because that ain’t possible.
For skeptics looking for a few basic pointers on mindful parenting, try picking one routine in your family and start there. Sarah and I started with movie night. Here are a few tips that have made a huge difference with a small family tradition:
Introduce democracy with structure
For many families, movie night is an important part of the week. In our house, Friday night is our favorite. We vote on which movie to watch. We have the boys make their case first and then we chime in. Taking turns picking and coming to agreement has also opened up our choices from The Lego Movie. Every. Single. Week. It’s allowed us to introduce new favorites for the whole family, like Mary Poppins and some of the Disney classics.
We also maintain the rules for movie ratings. That means PG-13 is off-limits for our nine and seven-year-olds. This is important for a variety of reasons. We have many friends who disregard movie ratings, feeling that “real-life” exposure is fine for younger kids. Those friends tend to be the same ones who complain about their children’s bad language and poor behavior. Being mindful about rules also helps us avoid ongoing “Awww. But all my friends watched that movie…” conversation. And these are important ongoing teaching moments.
Teach the value of money
We like our boys to understand the value of money. They earn money by doing household chores. The amount depends upon the type of chore. On movie night, that money comes into play. Cable movies are free. If we’re renting, $3.99 is good value for a night together. But we found the kids kept wanting to buy movies (and then never watch them again). Rather than debate, we invited the kids to each chip in one dollar to help pay for the movie. It’s not about the $14.99. We can actually see them engaging their thinking brains. They’re understanding the value of money, debate, opinions and being able to articulate what they want and why, as well as how to win others over. We also saw our seven-year-old rapidly develop an understanding of when he was being played by his older brother (“You really want it. You should pay for it all.”)
Rate and discuss the movie
Rather than just watching a movie and hitting the sack, discuss the film once it’s over. Treat it like date night before you were a parent. This allows the family to get into a conversation around what they liked and didn’t like… and why. Which characters were good or bad… and why. Introduce an atmosphere of healthy debate where your kids can understand that their opinions matter and they can represent them with confidence, while also respecting that others may feel differently. And that’s okay, too.
Too many of us let routines become mundane. Like when movie night’s primary purpose is for the kids to be quiet while mom and dad do email. That’s a lost opportunity.
When you’re thinking about mindful parenting, start with routines that you already have in your family. Then discover ways to structure them to increase conversation, healthy debate and teach your children about the value of their opinions and representing their ideas with confidence. It’ll be one of the best skills you gift them with. And it helps to get to know them better.
This article originally appeared in The Observer here.