The first day of the [staff] school year at Woodleigh always begins in the Bush chapel with a welcome or acknowledgement of country, a smoking ceremony, and selected staff reflecting upon their "Woodleigh" experience. This year we had the privilege of listening to Indigenous elder Unkl Mik from the Bunurong Land Council welcome us to his country. Woodleigh School is located on the Mayone Balug clan of the Boon Wurrung/Bunurong people, who have cared for the land for millennia. Through his unique storytelling, Unkl Mik implored us to,

"Go Gently, Tread Lightly & Listen."

The wisdom in these words can not be underestimated and require intentional practice as we move through our daily routines to have a meaningful resonance. Not unlike the Woodleigh 3R's (respect for self, others & environment), enacting these words requires playing to our character strengths* such as kindness, prudence, love, perspective, honesty, gratitude, and so on.

Following this, we participated in a smoking ceremony, an ancient custom that involves smouldering various native plants to produce smoke. This herbal smoke is believed to have cleansing properties and the ability to ward off evil spirits. I love this ritual. There is something profoundly connected about doing this together as a whole school community, especially after 2019 generating much disconnection and anxiety.

This experience, the wisdom of words, combined with ceremony & ritual, that encompasses many of the principles of mindfulness, is the right place for us all to kick off this year as educators and parents.

In applying mindfulness principles to parenthood, we create an opportunity to be more responsive and more productive and less in auto-pilot mode, and less overwhelmed.

What is mindful parenting?

Multitasking is considered a skill that many people pride themselves on, especially when it comes to parenting — one of the most demanding, most challenging roles in life. The problem is that when we multitask, rather than learning to do lots of things at once really well, we know to do lots of things at once, not nearly as well as we could. Bouncing back and forth between tasks when caring for children can be distracting and stressful, which is why doing a lot of things at the same time is not really in the spirit of mindfulness. We can still get things done and be efficient; we'd approach things differently, and this is where mindful parenting comes in.

Does mindful parenting work?

Being a mindful parent might seem like a high bar, given the everyday family stress you likely encounter daily. The idea of going through a full day thinking that we are going to be permanently mindful is beautiful yet fanciful. The key to mindful parenting is breaking down our day into manageable chunks, moving forward task by task. In doing so, we gradually train the mind to be more present. In being more present, we experience more calm, clarity, and a renewed sense of perspective, making room for increased compassion and empathy. 

The positive impact it could have on your kids is worth the effort. Research shows that it can be a useful tool that helps parents help their kids solve conflicts in a calm, kind, and respectful manner. For example, one study from the University of Vermont found that parents who reported more mindful parenting engaged in more positive and less negative parenting behavior, which was then linked to more positive action in their kids, including less anxiety, depression, and acting out. 

Another study from George Mason University showed that parents who engaged in mindful parenting behavior demonstrated less negative emotion and more shared positive emotion in conversations with their children.

What to do in the most hectic moments?

Step 1: Take a deep breath.

Step 2: Focus the mind on drawing that breath in and releasing it slowly.

Step 3: Acknowledge your fear/anxiety/annoyance, but don't let it overwhelm you. We're not trying to make the feelings go away. We're just trying to observe them without acting on them. 

"Don't worry that your children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you." - Robert Fulghum.

Mindful parenting can positively benefit your family's health, happiness, and wellbeing, as well as some simple ways to be a calmer, more conscious parent. So, go gently, tread lightly & most importantly, listen. Your children will teach you what you need to know.

On behalf of the Counselling Team, we look forward to supporting and promoting positive student wellbeing for you & your children this year.

Acknowledgements & further resources:

My best,

Director of Counselling Woodleigh School