When ParentsTogether checked in with parents, many told us they want to get better at staying present and appreciating the moment when they’re spending time with their kids. It can be too easy to get distracted by your phone, start thinking about your endless to-do list, or just worry about the mess you’re going to have to clean up later—instead of giving kids your full attention.
Staying present is important for many reasons! It helps us to not miss out on those precious moments with fast-growing kiddos, and to create stronger relationships with them. But also, it cuts down on our anxiety and stress levels and helps us stay happier and healthier overall.
Here are some ways to remind yourself to stay present next time you realize your attention is drifting.
Schedule your phone/media time
Let’s be honest, this is a tough one for many of us. Yes, we want to stay connected, but it’s hard to be present with your kids when the average American spends over 7 hours a day looking at a screen!
Try this: Turn off your phone or put it in a drawer so that you won’t be tempted to check it, and give kids your undivided attention for an entire hour! While you’re out, zip your phone into an inner backpack pocket (or even leave it at home for a short outing like a family walk) so you’re less likely to take it out every 30 seconds.
Remember that only YOU are in control of your phone and media usage. So think about the hours you are usually with the kids each day, and plan out which blocks of time you will (and will not) spend looking at your devices.
Say what you’re doing out loud
Of course you might need to respond to emails, update your to-do list, or check the news at some point during the day. Just make sure to communicate that clearly to kids, so they understand why they don’t have your full attention. For example:
- “I have to read something on my phone for 10 minutes. Can you find something to do independently?”
- “Hold on, I’m going to write this down quickly before I forget, and then I’ll be able to focus better on our conversation.”
- “I’ll have to take a break from this game in 15 minutes so I can put the rice on the stove. Let me set a timer so I won’t have to keep checking the clock.”
Saying your intentions out loud helps you stick to them. Plus, it sets a great example for kids on how to manage your time so that you can stay present.
Notice when you ARE being mindful
Instead of scolding yourself for NOT being present, appreciate those times when you do notice yourself being fully present—like when you’re laughing at one of their stories or admiring the carefree way they run. This change in mindset may help you look for more opportunities to live in the moment.
Those mindful moments are great ones to document in a journal at the end of the day, talk about at dinner time or before bedtime, or sketch during a scribbling session with kids.
Look for something to praise
To keep yourself present when you’re about to do something that requires patience like help a kid with homework or listen to one of their extra-long-winded stories, keep this question in mind: “What is my child doing well?”
This may help you to appreciate their strong voice, unique handwriting, or persistent line of questioning—rather than looking at the clock and wondering how much longer this will take. Plus, when you offer specific praise, it shows kids that you are paying attention.
Appreciate the process for the process
When you’re constantly looking toward the future and worrying about results, it can be hard to appreciate the precious moments of life. So next time your kid is making a mess with the dinner ingredients, or dilly-dallying on the way home and making you late, remember that your child is probably being more present-minded than you are.
Remind yourself that “the process” (no matter how frustrating, mind-numbing, or time-consuming) is, well, life. You may need to slow down to find joy in it, learn from it, and simply be a more positive presence for your kiddo throughout the day.
Keep a list
If you find yourself preoccupied with to-dos and other things you’re afraid you might forget, keep a list or take photos of things you want to remember. Once you write it down or otherwise record it—and even set a reminder if it’s time sensitive—it’s easier to give your brain permission to let it go until you can actually deal with it. That way you can focus on whatever you’re doing at that moment instead.
Use your senses to get grounded
If you realize your attention is slipping during a conversation with your child, or you’re thinking about your Instagram likes instead of enjoying a family nature walk, try a grounding exercise.
- Rub your hands together until they feel warm and tingly
- Tense and relax the muscles in your legs and feet
- Think about what you’re feeling, like the breeze on your face or the solid ground under your feet
- Find your pulse and count 20 heartbeats
- Notice one detail about your child, like their long eyelashes
- Clench your fists and then stretch your hands open as wide as you can
- Notice one thing you can see, one thing you can hear, one thing you can smell, one thing you can touch, or one thing you can taste in that moment—as many as it takes for you to start appreciating the moment.
Focusing on these tangible details with your whole body will help you savor and capture the moment much better than a camera can, anyway!