In my 10 Best Parenting Books for Parents of Challenging Boys, I put a Yoga DVD as my number 10 “book.” I did this because parenting young children, especially challenging boys, can be physically demanding and emotionally stressful. If we do not take care of our bodies and our stress we can’t be at our best with our children and we run the risk of burning out. I find yoga’s blending of physical exercise with emotional calm to be an excellent source of restoration from the demands of parenting and life.
In addition to being a strenuous yet calming form of exercise, yoga practice contains a number of concepts that can be beneficially applied to parenting, especially in our most trying moments with our kids. Even if yoga isn’t your exercise of choice, the following concepts are very valuable to have in mind as you interact with your challenging boy.
Don’t Forget to Breathe
Maintaining a rhythm of full, deep breathing during yoga postures is one of the fundamental parts of yoga practice. When a yoga pose challenges the strength, flexibility or stamina of the yogi, a natural inclination is to stop breathing in the face of the strain. Maintaining deep breathing helps keep the body relaxed and the mind calm. I have heard some yoga instructors talk about using breath to find “calm in the storm” of the yoga pose.
It turns out that there is science behind the yoga emphasis on rhythmical deep breathing. When we are stressed – by a challenging child or a difficult yoga pose – our bodies shift into the “fight or flight” response. Fight our flight evolved to help our animal ancestors survive in situations where there was no time to think; where quick action was required. A caveman confronted by a bear had to decide in an instant whether to run or fight. The caveman who stops to reflect on the situation and takes time to decide what to do gets eaten.
Fight or flight is not a good mode for dealing with most of life’s stressful situations. The fight or flight response causes the release of stress hormones that negatively impact health. Furthermore, because fight or flight shuts down thinking, we often end up doing things in the heat of the fight or flight moment that we later regret. Breathing helps turn off fight or flight and helps turn on calm, clear thinking. When we are dealing with stress in our relationships with out children we really need “calm in the storm.” Remembering to breathe is a powerful tool for helping us find calm.
If Things Get too Strenuous, Take a Break
The first pose beginners to yoga are taught is “child’s pose” (click this link to see a description of child’s pose). During a yoga class if things feel too strenuous, or too hot, or you can’t catch your breath, the yoga practitioner is taught to stop following the class and to go into child’s pose to recover. Once the yogi has rested, cooled down, caught his or her breath, then he or she can return to the flow of the class.
I frequently advise parents that the best type of “time out” is time out when the parent takes a break for a few minutes to compose him or herself. As long as a child is not in danger of getting hurt if you exit the scene briefly (and as long as a child is old enough to be briefly unsupervised), a self-imposed time out is a great way to return to one’s breath, to find calm in the storm, and to prepare to return to interacting with your children. Go to your room, make a cup of tea, step outside. Even a break of just a couple of minutes can help you return to the fray with a much better attitude.
Find Your Focus
In yoga there is a concept referred to as “drishti” (DRISH-tee). Drishti refers to where one focuses ones gaze during a yoga pose. One thing the drishti does is help you keep your balance. Certain yoga poses require that you balance on one leg. It is amazing how much more stable you feel in these balancing poses when you pick a point on the wall and focus your attention on that point. A drishti also helps keep you from getting distracted. In a yoga class it is tempting to be distracted by what other people are doing. How do I look compared to them? Am I doing this right? It is also easy to be distracted by the discomfort you may be feeling in a pose.
In parenting, likewise, keeping a clear focus is very helpful in keeping one’s psychological balance. In any given challenging circumstance with your child, you both will feel better about each other and have a better relationship over time, if you interact with your child with your most important relationship value in mind as a focus. I would suggest that a parent’s most important relationship value is respect. “Am I treating my child in a respectful way right now?” is an important question to ask oneself particularly during a conflict with a child. It is a parenting drishti. Messes made, siblings hit, rules broken are all situations that require a response, but our responses, limits and consequences should all be made with a focus on treating the child with respect.