Being present with your kids is fundamental to connecting with them. As clinical social worker Carla Naumburg, Ph.D, writes in her brilliant book Parenting in the Present Moment: How to Stay Focused on What Really Matters:
It is not possible to truly see and soothe our children if we aren’t attuned to their internal and external experiences. And if we aren’t aware of our own anxieties and fears, we’re much more likely to react to our own emotions rather than to our children, or to control our kids rather than support them.
Being present, she writes, is simply about being with what is, right now, in the moment, without judging the situation or hoping it were different.
Before Naumburg started meditating and being more mindful, she didn’t realize how much time she spent either distracted by different devices or judging herself or her kids.
You, too, may be able to relate to the endless disruptions and diversions and the disparaging self-talk.
Everyone has a tendency toward judgment and distraction. Naumburg points out that it’s just how our brain works.
But there are practices you can adopt that help you become more present with your kids, and thereby connect deeper with them. Here are three valuable pointers from Naumburg’s book.
1. Slow down.
Naumburg has noticed that rushing around triggers her to become rigid and overcontrolling. But when she slows down, she’s a lot nicer, her daughters are happier, she’s a more effective parent and it doesn’t take that much longer to get to their destination.
Slowing down also leads to wise decisions, because you’re able to think things through. And it makes you more willing to do nothing, which is when great parenting moments happen anyway. That’s when Naumburg’s daughters tell her stories, put on performances and snuggle up to her.
“Every time I just show up, with no particular plan in mind, I am showing my daughters that they are worth my love and attention, no matter what they are doing,” writes Naumburg, who also pens the popular Psych Central blog “Mindful Parenting.”
To help you slow down, start by taking several long, deep breaths. This helps to interrupt old habits and patterns and to calm down.
Also, pay attention to how you’re spending your time. Can you carve out moments to do nothing? What activities, appointments, meetings or expectations can you relinquish?
As Namburg writes, “A great way to slow down is to figure out what we can let go of, whether it’s the state of our 10-year-old’s room or our teenager’s obstinacy.”
One morning Naumburg spent a few minutes paying attention to her daughters playing with stickers and a notepad on the couch. Normally, she would’ve reminded them not to get their stickers on the furniture, but that day she just noticed. She noticed they were giggling and sharing their Hello Kitty stickers as the sun streamed in. She noticed how kind they were being to each other and how they pronounced different words.
Just these few minutes helped to brighten Naumburg’s mood and appreciate her kids and life a whole lot more.
To help you savor the present, she suggests relishing in simple pleasures. For instance, you might notice the delicious smell of your morning coffee, the warmth of your soup on a chilly day, or your kids and spouse singing silly songs.
Another idea is to acknowledge your positive feelings, either out loud or to yourself. Naumburg shares this example: “Wow. I’m really content right now. I’m having a great lunch with my kids and we’re all in a good mood and I’m really happy about it.”
Also, remind yourself that every moment — no matter how mundane — will be the last time you’ll experience it. “Our children will be older, or perhaps they will use different words, or we will notice something different about how they play or sing or dance or interact with each other.”
Meditation, Naumburg writes, is the ultimate type of single-tasking. It helps you pay attention with intention, in a compassionate and curious way to whatever is happening with yourself and your kids.
For Naumburg, meditation has helped her in a number of ways: It’s helped her be kinder and less anxious and reactive, sleep better, calm down faster, compare herself to other moms less, and enjoy parenting more. (Here’s how to get started.)
She also suggests picking one thing you do every day and giving it your full attention. Naumburg does this with showering and reading to her kids. She turns off her radio, leaves her cell phone in the other room, and sets an intention to pay as much attention as she can to how great it feels to take a hot shower and snuggle up on the couch with her kids and a picture book.
Whenever her mind naturally wanders — which is often — she simply brings her attention back to the present moment.
According to Naumburg, “Ultimately, mindfulness and mindful parenting are about choosing, again and again, to come back to what is happening right here and right now, with kindness and curiosity.”