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Mindful Parenting: Raising Happy, Healthy Kids
The Gift of a Parent's Presence

Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn are the authors of Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting, a book on how the practice of mindfulness can improve relationships between parents and their children. Body & Soul's Gail Harris, mother of one, had the opportunity recently to talk with the Kabat-Zinns about the nature of parenting. Herewith, some excerpts.

Myla: We've evolved over thousands of years, and for thousands of years babies slept with their parents. They were held all the time, and we evolved, in some ways, to be in those situations. That's what babies need. It's only since the industrial revolution that we've really started to separate from babies so early. I think it's real grounding for children to be held. It grounds them in the present moment. It grounds them in terms of their relationship, and it also gives them and the parent tremendous pleasure which, we're really in some ways, denying ourselves when we don't do that.

Jon: Touch is not simply with the body but also with one's heart, being able to embrace a child in your heart even when the child is doing something that you don't like. Mindfulness of touch means really being present in the touching. Mindfulness of seeing means being present in the seeing, in the feeling. So that's something that one cultivates over time, and it seems very simple, but it turns out it's extremely powerful.

Myla: You might think you're present in that moment when you're putting your child to bed, and then the next minute you're thinking about the next day and you lose something. Bringing your attention back into the present moment can be a tremendously powerful exercise and endeavor.

Jon: You keep bringing your attention back to the present moment. Why? Because it's the only moment that you're ever going to be alive in. It's this one. You can be awake in a fraction of a second. You can be kind-hearted in a fraction of a second. I like to think of it as strengthening a muscle. The mind goes off, you bring it back. The mind goes off again, you bring it back again. It's of tremendous benefit to do that, but it is a discipline, and you have to be somewhat intentional about it.

Myla: Honoring who that child is means looking beneath the surface of their behavior. Very often, we get caught up in the surface. 'Oh my God, she wants to get her nose pierced,' or, 'She wants to dye her hair purple. Setting limits, or having very clear values and standing firm when it's hardest for us to do that, takes a lot of energy. But that's the way we really show our love and our honor of their sovereignty. Sometimes it's a huge struggle, where the easy way would be to say, 'Sure, do what you want.' That's not what we call honoring the sovereignty of the child.

Jon: Children stretch our limits. They are always challenging. There are moments when we feel like we're the worst possible parents in the world, no matter how mindful we are. This is part of the work. Life is real. It's not that if you do this in some formulaic way, everything will just work out. There are times where we worry deeply about our children. Mindfulness is the cultivation of emotional intelligence. Families that honor emotions grow children who are competent in the vast range of different emotional situations.

Myla: So often we think we have to give our children tangible gifts. We're very oriented in our society to buying; that's the way we give our children love. But very often what is most meaningful to children is the gift of our presence. When we've asked people to talk about moments when they felt truly seen by another person in their family, it was often something very simple, like having their hands in the dirt with their grandfather out in the garden. That moment stays with them their whole lives.

Program Description
Adventure Game Theater
Jon & Myla Kabat-Zinn
The Holistic Pediatrician
Nature's Way
Tell Me More

Body & Soul is currently airing Monday-Friday at 7:00pm and 8:30pm on PBS YOU.

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