January 15, 2015

Stop, pause, play – a simple mindfulness practise for parents

This article was authored by the Parenting Team
at the Australian Childhood Foundation

In 2012, the Australian Childhood Foundation published a booklet focussing on the needs of babies from the infant’s point of view. It’s called I Need You, A-Z, Understanding your Baby’s Needs’ and as the name suggests, there are twenty-six entries in the booklet: one infant need for every letter of the alphabet. It was important that each of the needs be written in the baby’s own voice, and that it supported parents to attend to these needs in a mindful, reflective way.

The images in the book are very cute and you can’t but help share in the magic of being an infant.

One of the most beautiful letters of the alphabet was B. In the booklet, B is for ‘Be with me as I explore my world’. The concept of ‘being with’ …whether that’s being with babies or children, or other adults, is something we need to consciously practise in these busy times where multi-tasking is expected and highly valued. If we define ‘being with’ as having a resonance with someone, and attuning to their emotional experience, then being with children can help them to process their feelings- giving them messages like “I’m here for you because you’re worth it,” and “ I’ll be with you no matter what you feel .”

Being with, requires us to stop; to take time; to listen deeply and to focus all of our attention on what’s happening in the moment- without making judgements or offering solutions . In other words, to fully ‘be with’ young children, requires us to be mindful.

It’s not always easy to ‘be with’ infants: especially when you’re tired or stressed yourself- and particularly when babies cry for long periods of time. Here is a strategy that we’ve shared with thousands of parents, which might be helpful in situations like that. It’s called Stop, Pause, Play and goes like this:

  1. STOP
    • Put your child somewhere safe and looked after.
    • Plant both your feet firmly on the ground and feel your feet connected to the earth.
  2. PAUSE
    • Focus on your breath, feeling the air against your nostrils. As you breathe in, say to yourself, ‘Breathing in’. As you breathe out, say to yourself, ‘breathing out’. Repeat a few times.
    • Reflect on what your baby might be feeling…and what he/she might be needing.
    • Reflect on what you are feeling and what you are needing right now.
  1. PLAY
    • Respond to your baby in a way that shows you are trying to understand how he/she is feeling and what he/she needs.

Being with relates to another of our A-Z entries which is W for ‘Watch, Wait and Wonder’. Drawing on the work of Nancy Cohen and Elisabeth Muir, this is a concept which encourages parents to set aside some special time and space for each of their children every week- technology-free time where parents simply sit on the floor with their child and just quietly observe their child at play, without offering help or making suggestions. What a great way to introduce the experience of mindfulness practice to children!

If you had to choose your favourite letter of the alphabet in our book, which would you choose?


Cohen, Nancy J et al, Watch, wait, and wonder: Testing the effectiveness of a new approach to mother–infant psychotherapy, in Infant Mental Health Journal, Volume 20, Issue 4, pages 429–451, Winter 1999