You hear it all the time – “Be present with your children.” But how exactly do you do that? We break the advice down into simple, actionable steps that you can apply today.
Being present, also called mindfulness, is the act of Pay attention to your current thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and the immediate surroundings. The opposite is distraction or thinking about things in the past or future.
You can be present with your children by keeping your attention on your children and any activity you do together.
For you as an adult, there is ample empirical evidence of the benefits of mindfulness; including reduced stress, increased mental focus, and greater satisfaction with relationships. Let’s focus on the relationship part because it also has benefits for your child.
If you are attentive and approachable to your child, they will feel safe and seen by you. Research shows that children who form strong bonds with their parents are more resilient to stress and have better relationships as adults. They are even more likely to graduate from high school and college.
Step back a minute – the scientific literature confirms what you probably already know. What your child wants and needs more than anything is your time and attention. Only you can offer this, and it comes with a great reward – a happier life for you and your child.
We know how hard it is to be around your children all the time. The work requires your attention. There are things to do around the house. And doing your toddler’s favorite puzzle with him for the third time in a row is a torture. Take courage, because you are not alone and there are solutions. Here are some of the most common barriers to attendance and practical steps you can take to overcome them.
Problem # 1: You can’t stop thinking about your to-do list
Solution: Schedule time for your child
For example, if you finish work at 5 p.m. and your child goes to bed at 7 p.m., take these two hours to be with them. You can get back to your to-do list at 7 p.m. Establishing a definite start and end for parent-child time will help you relieve some of the fear of the things you haven’t done and will allow you to stay checked in with your child.
A second tip: if you tell yourself, “I only have two hours to spend with my child,” the time will feel more precious and less stressful. This mental shift also works on longer time scales. When you remember that you only have eight years before your child goes to college, you will cherish your time with them even more.
One final suggestion, you might want to redefine what a productive day means to you. Consider putting “Having a meaningful interaction with my child” at the top of your list, before other errands and work-related tasks.
Problem # 2: Playing with my child bores me to death
Solution: Take your focus off the activity and instead focus on interacting with your child kid
Back to the puzzle example – instead of thinking about the nonsense of putting the same pieces back together over and over again, focus your attention on your child. What does he enjoy about it? What new things can you learn about him through this interaction? What is he talking about while you work on the puzzle together?
A second, fairly obvious way to avoid boredom is to choose activities that both of you enjoy. If you and your child enjoy being outside, go for a walk together. If you both love building things, grab some blocks and play with them together.
Problem # 3: I can’t put my phone down
Solution: turn on Do Not Disturb mode
Both Apple and Android phones have a feature that allows you to turn off all notifications. You can even adjust your settings so that only important calls or text messages come through. Before spending time with your child, take a few seconds to turn on Do Not Disturb mode. You can check your notifications when you are done playing.
Another helpful feature called “Downtime” on iOS and “Digital Wellbeing” on Android allows you to schedule time to automatically disable access to your apps. You can still access your apps, but you’ll need to enter your passcode. This little psychological barrier can be very helpful in limiting screen time and allowing you to focus on your child.
If all of this is too much technical nonsense for you, just put your phone in a drawer in another room. Problem solved.
Being present with your children means adjusting to what you and your child are doing right now. Mindfulness offers you and your child real mental and emotional benefits, but you need to put them into practice.
While there are obstacles like busyness, boredom, and devices, there are simple steps you can take to overcome those obstacles and be fully present with your child. Practical steps are:
- Establish a definite beginning and an end for the time you spend with your children
- Tell yourself, “I only have 1 hour (or whatever your time limit) for my kids”
- Redefine what a productive day means to you. Put interaction with your child at the top of your to-do list
- Choose activities that you and your child enjoy. When you get bored, focus off the boring activity and focus on interacting with your child instead
- Turn on Do Not Disturb and Downtime on your phone. Or put your phone in a drawer.
We hope that you can enjoy your time with your child today. Check out some of these tips and let us know how it worked out for you! And if you have any more tips that we missed, please leave us a comment and let us know!