I am no parenting expert and, just like every other parent out there, I was not given a how-to manual when I had my children. Learning on the job is a must while we try to prepare our children for the world as best as we can. Hands down, it can be rather stressful at times, especially for an international family, trying to juggle family life, children, schools, jobs, different languages and cultures without much of a safety net and very little to no support from extended family. Have you decided to raise your children with more than one language? Then you know how it is – things can and do get chaotic. Setting up a Family Language Plan and pursuing your language goals requires a lot of consistency and persistence, and when life happens in between, it’s easy to lose our cool and get off course.

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I have been there too. Multiple times, in fact, but what’s been helping me lately is using mindfulness as a way to center myself. I’ve been working on incorporating it as a tool to manage our family language dynamic and it has worked beautifully. This practice has enabled me to be a bit more connected to the present moment (yes, I am still a novice at it) and pick up on my children’s cues more easily, adjusting my expectations as we go. Go ahead, be skeptical. Yes, I heard that snort! Mindfulness is indeed a buzzword and you are probably unsure if it is any good at all. Many of these cool new practices rarely live up to their hype. But not this one! And if you are anything like me, you are probably often playing catch-up, occasionally feeling like you are drowning in endless To Dos or not being able to always re-assess language priorities and expectations adequately, thus going on “autopilot”. When we are in the middle of the storm, it’s not that difficult to lose sight of things. The result of all this whirling about is that very often we are unable to follow our Family Language Plan the way we want to, we have a hard time accommodating the activities we know would help us support the process and achieve the goals we have set for our children, resulting in questioning ourselves, overwhelm and a lot of sleepless nights. Can you relate? If so, then you might want to give mindfulness a chance and try it out after all.

So, what is mindfulness actually? It “is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we are doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”[1] The last part was the toughest for me – to not be overwhelmed by my surroundings – but I keep trying. Focusing our attention on the present moment, slowing down and trying to observe our reactions might help us to adequately address and reorganise our language decisions and practices so that they are more in line with our Family Language Policy. Being fully present can support us in making more intentional and relevant decisions about our language strategy at home rather than making choices that are hard to achieve or simply unrealistic.

As this whole parenting gig is a learning-on-the-job experience, I am going to share what has worked in my family. Below are five ways that mindfulness can support your family language process at home:

  1. Developing and improving awareness

Developing and improving awareness will help family members become more aware not only of their own and other family members’ patterns of language use but also of their reactions to the language use of others in the home. Cultivating this awareness will support you in identifying problems and issues as well as areas where changes may be necessary. Some ways to do that might be, for example, focusing on one thing at a time or intentionally pausing more frequently.

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2. Supporting communication

Mindfulness can help family members communicate more effectively with each other. When we practice mindfulness, we try to avoid making assumptions; we are connected to the present moment, thus paying more attention to what the others are saying, rather than sort of listening but already thinking about the next To Dos on our list. These approaches can not only support more flexible and positive communication around language learning but support us in managing our expectations as well.

3. Managing expectations

Perfectionism can be toxic. Take this from a recovering perfectionist, who is painfully familiar with its exhausting, debilitating and depleting nature. And, as parents, we often tend to make decisions for our children and set expectations, based on our own beliefs, convictions and tendencies. Striving for perfection in a language is utopic anyway and yet, some of us still chase it. Mindfulness can help us develop more flexibility, thus inspiring us to let go of preconceived notions and remain open to new ideas and viewpoints. Being connected to the present moment and staying objective could lay the foundation for a perspective overhaul, empowering us to adjust our expectations, based on our child’s changing wants and needs.

When planning for our family language strategy, goals and practices we mustn’t lose sight of the most important aspect – the relationship with our children. Mindfulness can be an amazing tool in our toolbelt during the process, emboldening us to prioritise the relationships – with our children and within the family – rather than only achievements and results. Choosing connection, empathy and consideration will help create a more supportive and nurturing environment, thus making it conducive to learning. A win-win situation, if only we are able to approach it from a different angle.

4. Managing emotions

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This is a big one because language is emotion. The reality is that our emotions permeate every layer of our family language use and are intertwined with all the decisions and deliberations around it. And, therefore, Family Language Planning is a deeply emotional process, especially if not everybody is aligned on future goals and current practices. Children pick up on every little vibration, so we need to be honest with ourselves about the strategies we adopt and the actions we take. If you cannot identify with something, for example, reading to them in a non-native language, stop doing it and choose something else instead. Your child will feel your stress and “stress is contagious”[2].

Mindfulness can help us manage our emotions a little bit better by making us more aware of our feelings and helping us develop skills to mitigate stress. This, in turn, will potentially lead to having more fruitful discussions, facilitating the decision making withing our language planning process.

5. Connecting with values

Staying in the present moment will help us intentionally connect with our values, making decisions, based on them, rather than societal pressure, for example. Who do we want to be as parents? Who do we want to be as role models for our children? What kind of relationship do we seek to have with our family members and how do we want to show up for them? Mindfulness will encourage us to prioritise our values and the well-being of our family, thus setting up our children for success. Whatever definition success has in your own little universe. When we make decisions from a place of connection, we are better able to consider opinions and preferences, likes and dislikes, special interests, cultural and linguistic heritage, and how they all flow together to serve as scaffolding when setting up our Family Language Policy.

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Yes, practising mindfulness will make us more vulnerable, which can be alienating and scary. But it can also be immensely enriching for your family language planning by promoting awareness, communication, cohesion and decision-making based on personal and family values. We, as parents, can approach the planning process with more intention, empathy, clarity and understanding, promoting an environment that supports and elevates bilingualism by nurturing child agency and facilitating an environment, conducive to language learning and development.



[2] https://childmind.org/article/mindful-parenting-2/