Have you heard of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT (pronounced like the word act, not a.c.t.)? ACT is an intervention focused on psychological flexibility. It helps us to be accepting of the thoughts, feelings, and experiences in our worlds while committing to behavioral change strategies that help us stay in the present moment and live a life that we value.

Based in the science of behavior, specifically a behavioral theory of language and cognition called Relational Frame Theory, ACT helps us look not only at specific behaviors, but at each person as a whole. It includes thoughts, feelings, and our unseen verbal behavior- our internal states.

As parents, it is so so so beneficial for us to be psychologically flexible. What does that even mean? Psychological flexibility means “contacting the present moment fully as a conscious human being, and based on what the situation affords, changing or persisting in behavior in the service of chosen values”.

It means holding our own thoughts and emotions a bit more lightly and acting on longer term values and goals rather than short term impulses, thoughts and feelings. It’s focusing on the big picture instead of getting caught up in our thoughts and worries. It’s choosing what is important, what we value, and committing to simple actions to help get us there.

text: don't just give more attention

When we are faced with difficult emotions, do we avoid them or label them as bad? Or do we accept even the hard thoughts and feelings? Do we often face difficult thoughts and emotions in our parenting lives?

When those pesky worrisome thoughts about our parenting and about our children pop into our minds, do we glue ourselves to those concerns and allow our identity to be based on them? Do we believe and focus on every single worry about the future or remembering past parenting mistakes? Or can we allow those thoughts to come and go freely while knowing where we stand as parents and where our true parenting identity lies?

Do you know what your core parenting values are? If I asked you to give me no more than 5 values for you as a parent, or you as a parenting team with your co-parent, could you do it? Can you narrow it down to the specific things you want to stand for as parents, as a family? When we know what we value, it makes decision making so much easier. When we know what we truly value, we can move our parenting practices in that direction instead of floundering all over the place.

Are you able to enjoy the fun parts of parenting? Can you stay present and really appreciate your child even during every day simple tasks? Or is your mind going a million miles in every direction at once? Wouldn’t you like to hit pause on that busy brain activity and look at your child the way you would a sunset- with a little awe and wonder?

These are some of the very things ACT can help us to do in our parenting. Using strategies and tools from the ACT repertoire can help us to see our children as sunsets to appreciate and not a math problem to be solved. Using ACT we can clarify our parenting values and commit to simple steps to help us live those values every single day.