What is mindfulness and how can it improve our family life?

We were delighted to recently interview Tessa Watt, one of the Mindful Living Show's speakers and panellists. She gives us the benefit of her expertise on mindful parenting and helps answer some questions about how we can develop mindfulness in the family environment.

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Tessa Watt
Teacher and Founder
Being Mindful

What is mindfulness?


Mindfulness is a natural capacity we all have for being aware of what's happening in the present moment. That sounds simple, but many parents find that life is such a rush, we're never fully here - we're always worrying about the next thing on the to-do list.  We get stressed and anxious, easily provoked by our children into unhelpful reactions, instead of responding in a more considered way. 

The good news it that we can train ourselves to slow down, to pause more, to give space for some 'being'  instead of always 'doing'. We can set aside a few minutes each day for mindfulness practice, taking time out to nourish ourselves by resting our attention on something very simple like the breath and the body. This begins to seep into the rest of our daily life, and we find we can approach daily experiences like walking, cooking, and playing with our children in a more mindful way. It's not an instant fix, but if you put a little time and energy into exploring this approach it can be hugely transformative, helping to make your life more of a joy and less of a chore. 

How can I use mindfulness to reduce my toddler’s tantrums?


When a toddler throws a tantrum, often our own reactions can inflame it further.  Instead of adding our own emotions into the mix, we can take a few breaths and calm our own mind and body. Then we can respond more empathetically and wisely to the situation.

My child has a problem sleeping – would mindfulness help?


There is a mindfulness practice called the body scan which many people find helpful for getting to sleep, both adults and children. Using audio guidance, you learn how to shift your attention into different parts of the body, letting go of the busy, chattering thoughts which keep you awake. If there 's a lot of adrenaline and excitement, this practice can help you to settle down and get in touch with the natural tiredness of the body. Our app Quility, designed especially for parents, includes audios for getting to sleep which are also suitable for older children. For small children there are mindfulness CDs such as Sitting still like a Frog by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn and Elin Snell.

My child’s behaviour causes me a lot of stress – I feel I’m constantly shouting or nagging, can mindfulness really help me and how?


Mindfulness helps us to be more aware of our own emotions without letting them trigger us into knee-jerk reactions. Gradually we discover how to notice and feel the body sensations associated with our stress, anger or irritation, without having to act them out by shouting at our kids. In the quiet 'laboratory conditions' of our mindfulness practice, we discover that when irritations and unhelpful impulses come up, we can let ourselves feel them without judgement, as a natural part of being human. But we don't have to act on them. This training helps us to respond more calmly when our children press our buttons throughout the day. 

What is the best way to introduce mindfulness to my toddler / child?


The most important thing is to follow the oxygen mask principle: put your own mask on first, before you help the child. Small children are naturally mindful, noticing the world around them with great curiosity, fascinated by a leaf or stone they find on the road. We adults are often the ones who are hurrying them along, teaching them that life is all about getting to the next place. So the more we rediscover how to be mindful ourselves, the more we can appreciate and nurture our children's innate capacity to be present in each moment. 

To introduce the idea of mindfulness more directly to children, you can use simple games getting them to tune into their senses. Instead of gobbling down a piece of chocolate or fruit, you can both try eating it very slowly, savouring the smell and texture and taste. Spend a minute or two outside just listening, inviting them to pay attention to all the sounds they can hear. Go for a mindful walk, noticing things that are interesting or unusual to look at. On journeys by car or train, find ways to encourage them to look out the window instead of spending all their time glued to phones and other devices.

Can mindfulness benefit my teenager’s aggressive behaviour?


Teenagers often experience emotions that they don't know how to handle. Mindfulness gives them the tools to notice, feel and name their emotions rather than lashing out at other people. The wonderful Mindfulness in Schools project (MiSP) has created a mindfulness curriculum with short practices specially designed  for secondary age students. Many students say that mindfulness helps them handle the pressures and stresses they feel at school, at home and in their peer groups.

Could mindfulness help our family to communicate better?


Often we are so caught up in our own thoughts and plans, we don't really listen to other people. Mindfulness helps us to step back from our own mental chatter and be more aware of others and their needs. We can practice 'mindful listening' by simply being present for the other person, and giving them space to talk without imposing our own agenda. As one person in a family consciously practicing mindfulness in this way, you may find that you are modelling it for the others, and quietly encouraging them to listen with greater attention and empathy. You can also bring in family rituals that encourage reflection together: for example at dinner time, each person could share one thing they enjoyed during the day. This can also be a powerful training for children in how to notice what's good in their lives, even when things are difficult.

Tessa Watt is co-presenter of Quility (quility.me), a mindfulness app especially for parents. She is co-director of Being Mindful (beingmindful.co.uk) which offers regular courses in Mindfulness and Mindful Parenting in central and south London.


Tessa is chairing a session on 'Being a Mindful Parent' at the Mindful Living Show on Friday 2 June (15:20-15:50)