BE PRESENT. Hearing or reading that phrase seems to have become so common that whatever meaning we have given it has been lost, falling into the category of parenting white noise.
In an attempt to reignite and demystify it I thought it would be valuable to have examples of what ‘being present’ can constitute. You may be happily surprised that you are already doing a lot of these without thinking about it, or you may simply nod and acknowledge that you, like all of us at one time or another, are guilty of not being as present as we’d like.
To start, let’s change the word ‘present’, to ‘engage’. This subtle shift could make the suggestions a little more useful.
#01 Slow down
Sometimes you just have to catch yourself going at 100mph and check whether it’s important, or can it wait.
Relish and savour the simple pleasures you get to experience with your child. It doesn’t need to be a catalogue of activities to create quality time.
#03 Pay attention with intention
Look to keep single-task focused rather than look to manage multiple things at once. You can’t expect to be engaged appropriately if you’re mentally juggling a number of things.
#04 Sleep (yours)
This is an indirect way to engage with your child. If you’re lacking in vitamin sleep then you’re not going to be at your best. It’s not so much about the hours of sleep, but the quality of the sleep that counts. Think about your pre-bedtime routine and consider no screen time, meditation or yoga to settle the mind and get some needed sleep (recovery) time.
#05 Put your phone away
There’s no greater way to make your child feel insignificant or less important if they are competing for your attention with a phone. If you’ve made time for your child, put the phone away.
When your child asks you a question, look at them and listen to their words. Make eye contact when your child asks you a question. They will feel that they have your attention and there’s little better way to make a person feel appreciated than by giving them your attention.
#07 Join in their fun
Kick off the adult and release the child. Your child will be in shock and awe when you step out of the role of grownup and get engrossed in what they are doing.
#08 Stay calm
There’s no way you’re going to be engaged or relaxed if they are tense, angry or upset. It’s better to step away for 5-10 minutes than to confuse your child, they may believe they are the cause.
#09 Set aside some time just for them
Even if it needs to be scheduled in your planner, shield off some time when you can be fully focused and engaged with what they are doing.
#10 Relive it through writing
Another indirect way to engage but if you keep a journal or diary, just a brief entry about how you spent time together, making notes of the specific things you enjoyed really helps to cement the reasons why you’re doing this. Plus it can get pretty easy to remember the bad stuff so this is a great way to readjust the balance.
#11 “Your kids are the fish, and you create their aquarium. Let them be children”
I love this quote. Kid can be experimenters, scientists and discoverers. Allow them the space to do to just that (safely). You’ll be creating some amazing memories for them.
#12 Keep it simple
Notice when you’re packing too much into your day. Take a moment to see whether you are creating bigger demands on your time than you can possibly achieve. Is everything you’ve labelled urgent, that important?
#13 Develop your non-parent persona
I’ve written a whole article about this. We can get so overwhelmed by the roles and responsibilities that go with being a parent that it can take some time before we realise we’re no longer doing the things that fulfilled us personally. Even if you can reclaim one element, a pastime, a hobby that you enjoyed it will help to feel that you’re more than a parent and allow you be more present with your child.
Sometimes it can seem all to much. So just breathe. Take deep lung-fuls of air and let it all out. You’re doing the best you can, and doing the best you can is good enough. Forgive yourself if something does’t go the way you’d planned or hoped. No one has the ultimate parenting handbook, and no one gets it right all of the time. No on a has clear sailing on this. So accept what you cannot control and change what you can control, often than not, by starting with yourself.
The Quick Action Plan
Are you ready to be a more present and engaged parent? Then use these questions to help get you there:
What is one activity or part of your day that you wish you could find a way to enjoy? After taking a step back, is there a way to involve your child in this activity that could make it more enjoyable for you?
When you start an activity with your child, are you thinking about the mess you’ll have to clean up? The tantrum that hasn’t yet started? The activities you should be doing instead?
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