Tips to be a more present parent
What does being present mean? Being present simply means that you are not thinking about what might happen in the future or worrying about what has happened in the past. Instead, your focus is on the present.
Practising being more present and mindful is great at helping you to manage stressful situations and tricky emotions when life gets complicated. And if it helps you feel better, it will also help your kids, no matter how old they are.
The key to being mindful is practising one baby step at a time - you need to practice to get used to it. It has been suggested that to really master a subject, you need to practice for 10,000 hours! You don't need to be a Mindfulness Master but any small step you take will add up and is so worth it.
Why do you want to be present?
You might be sitting next to your kid but you’re not really with them. You may be with them physically but emotionally you might as well be a thousand miles away.
You might be:
- scrolling through your phone
- thinking about what to make for dinner
- thinking about a difficult conversation you had a work
- your endless to-do list
Put it down! Just for a minute.
Do what they want to do - even if this means sitting and watching a YouTube video about Minecraft with them. I promise it will be worth it in the long run.
Being present shows your child that you care
- You are showing an interest in them and what they’re doing.
- It lets them know that you are aware of how they’re feeling.
- It shows them how to manage their own emotions and to stay regulated.
- When you are feeling safe, secure and grounded, they feel more safe and secure.
- It shows them that you are their safe base, not just physically but emotionally.
Focus on the quality of time with them, not the quantity. It might be a cliché, but it rings true here.
Small gestures add up
It’s ok to build this slowly, especially if this is new. You don’t want to force them to spend time with you. Think about this being more about changing how they see you as a parent. It's not about changing them.
Some helpful pointers for being mindful are to:
- Acknowledge feeling moments when you are being mindful – when you feel truly present. These may well be just moments, and they all count.
- Notice when you are struggling to keep your attention and name it – ‘oops sorry, I wasn’t paying attention very well then.’
- Put your phone away. Don’t just have it on the table and think that you won't touch it, actually have it in another room – they are made to take our attention. Work out when to engage airplane mode.
Other ways to help you prepare for being mindful:
- Research shows that the more mindful a parent is, the less stressed the kid is.
- Stop, take a breath (or three) and respond when you are ready.
- Verbalise what you are doing, for example, ‘I’m feeling a bit stressed, I’m going to take a couple of deep breaths, have a think and then I’ll get back to you’.
- Say ‘I’ll put my phone away so we can have a chat about this’.
If it feels too hard to do, use the time when they’re in the car with you (often a good place for conversations) or when they are getting a drink or something to eat. Ask them about what they are doing or watching.
It means when you do need to have a more serious conversation, they will know that they have your full attention and time.
Useful ways you can bring yourself back into the present:
- pause and take three deep belly breaths
- clench and unclench your hands and fingers
- wiggle your toes
- tap your feet and feel the ground
- pick four items you can see in front of you and name them three or four times
- be quiet for one minute and notice all the sounds you hear
This time in your child’s life will be gone before you know it – even if it doesn’t feel like it just now.
Whatever you do, don’t beat yourself up when this doesn’t work out. Being a parent is hard, remember? There is always another chance to take some time to be truly present with them.
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