OttoI have recently developed a strong interest in researching and applying mindfulness strategies in both my personal life and in my teaching profession. There is strong evidence that practicing mindfulness can help both children and adults build emotional resilience and practicing mindfulness can be an effective strategy to help manage stress. Practicing mindfulness is also a way to set intention to spend meaningful, undistracted time connecting with the ones that you love.

As a mother of four young children (who also teaches kindergarten) I have jumped into the deep-end of the pool, metaphorically, in terms of my commitments and responsibility with the care of young children.

Most of the time, this deep-end is a wonderful place to be, as I have so many blessings in my life, but there are waves. Waves, that we as parents all experience. There are waves of not-so-pleasant moments involving our children, our careers, our family and home lives that can be overwhelming and that can contribute to stress overload. Children can feel this way too. Many children deal with stressors that are beyond their control. I know not all of my students walk through my classroom doors ready to learn or with the tools or ability to effectively control their behaviors and emotions. My own children, too, have their own needs, perceptions and realities when it comes to dealing with the expectations and pressures in their daily lives.

As Jon Kabat-Zinn founder of the Mindfulness based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center states, "You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf."

What is mindfulness?

According to Kabat-Zinn, if you are acting mindfully you are simply paying attention, conscious and aware of the present moment without judgement.

Modern day living is fast paced and technology driven. We as parents have a lot on our plate and it is in the nature of parenting to multitask. I know my mind wanders constantly: whether I am mentally making lists, processing a previous conversation, worrying about things that are not necessarily in my control, or distracted by the pull to check social media postings, email or messages on my phone.

When our minds wander away from the present moment, we are pulled away from the task that is presently at hand, and/or the person who is in front of us. When we practice mindfulness we make an effort to focus our energy and attention to who we are with, what we are doing, or what feelings we are experiencing at the present moment.

Our minds will wander, but when we make the effort to recognize this and redirect our thoughts we are putting mindful awareness into practice.

Mindful Parenting

A great resource that I recently came across is: Mindful Parenting: Simple and Powerful Solutinos for Raising Creative, Engaged, Happy Kids in Today's Hectic World by Kristen Race, Ph.D. In the book Race offers practical advice, insight and knowledge for families to recognize the harmful effects on the body from stress, to minimize hidden stresses, and to practice mindfulness as a family.

According to Rice, "When we practice mindfulness regularly, we feel happier, healthier, calmer, less anxious, less stressed, and it is easier for us to concentrate and think clearly." In her work, Rice emphasizes simple yet powerful activities including, mindful breathing, mindful listening, and practicing gratitude as strategies to strengthen healthy brain functions and contribute to overall well-being.

Stress and The Brain

Race articulates in her TEDtalk how stress triggers our fight and flight response and how that affects our brain. She notes that hectic and busy lifestyles can lead to chronic stress. Race advocates research based mindful practices as tools to bring ourselves to a contented state.

I am finding that using some of the mindfulness based strategies that are suggested in the book I am feeling more present and grounded as a mother, wife, teacher and friend. Not only this, but I am also finding parenting and teaching with a mindful approach has been an effective way to help children develop essential skills to self-regulate, to calm themselves, to focus, and to quiet their own minds.

As I work to keep my head afloat, riding these waves as they come and go, I have claimed my own mindfulness surfboard, making mindfulness a habit in my daily life.

This article originally appeared in Minnesota Parent magazine.