Parents today have a lot on their plates. On top of trying to raise good kids, the stress of work, family issues and current events weighs heavily on their minds. Many are dealing with mental health struggles like anxiety, depression and burnout. Then there’s the never-ending to-do list — from grocery shopping to arranging carpools and playdates to finding a math tutor — running through their heads at all times. With so much going on, it’s hardly a surprise that many parents struggle to be present with their kids.
Clinical psychologist Laura Markham — author of ”Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids” — told HuffPost that the parents she works with are often so stressed that they find it hard to relax and just enjoy their little ones. All of the multitasking and worrying gets in the way of being able to really connect with their children.
Being present with our kids, she said, means we’re not only physically with them, but emotionally with them, too.
“You are aware of them and responsive to them,” Markham said. “That means that you are not looking at your phone, reviewing what happened at work this morning or planning what you’ll make for dinner.”
For some, the constant pressure of trying to be a mindful parent on top of all of the other demands of parenthood can be exhausting and overwhelming, said Ann-Louise Lockhart, a pediatric psychologist and parent coach at A New Day Pediatric Psychology.
Parents “want time with friends, their partner or spouse, or by themselves,” she told HuffPost. “They are tired of always feeling like they have to be on and ready to engage.”
And that’s understandable, too. Being present takes practice, but the payoff is big, said Carolina Agudelo, a conscious parenting coach at Sunshine In Casa.
“Being present as a parent is not only the best gift we can give to our children, but also the one thing they truly desire and yearn for,” she told HuffPost.
Below are six ways you can practice being a more mindful parent.
1. Try to keep your phone in another room when you’re together.
A 2017 study found that the mere presence of your smartphone significantly reduces your cognitive capacity, making it more difficult to focus — even when it’s turned off. If you want to give your child more of your attention, put your phone out of sight and out of reach when you can (with the understanding that sometimes it won’t be possible — and that’s OK, too).
“When your phone is available, you are distracted by it, even when you aren’t on it,” Markham said. “You make less eye contact with your child and you are more likely to overlook their facial expressions and other cues.”
2. Set aside some distraction-free playtime every week.
Being present 24/7 isn’t a realistic goal. Instead, dedicate a small chunk of time every day — or a few times a week, if that’s more manageable — to just being with your kid. Let them choose the activity and you commit to being there, putting aside other distractions.
“It’s not about the length of time, but rather the value and consistency of it,” Agudelo said. “Take a few minutes every day to spend together with your child submerged in play. Playtime is the easiest way to connect and show our presence to our children.”
“It's not about the length of time, but rather the value and consistency of it.”
If you can find ways to share a laugh while you play, all the better.
“Laughter releases bonding hormones in both people, so it strengthens and sweetens your relationship,” Markham said. “It also makes you feel less stressed and more able to simply relax and connect by reducing the stress hormones circulating in your body.”
3. Choose a daily mindful moment with your kid.
It might be during the morning feed, at bath time or bedtime. At whichever moment you choose, take some deep breaths and really tune into what’s happening around you.
“For instance, while your child is playing in the bathtub, notice every detail,” Markham said. “Use all your senses: feel your child’s wet skin, smell their hair, listen to their laughter. This wakes you out of autopilot and helps you connect more deeply.”
As family therapist Susan Stiffelman, author of “Parenting With Presence,” told Parents.com, “Acknowledging even fleeting moments of being fully present can help you feel successful at being more mindful.”
On those days when you’re preoccupied by other things, just taking a moment to name the fact that you’re feeling distracted “puts you back in the moment,” Stiffelman added.
4. Practice listening without jumping in to save the day.
When your kid is venting to you, your first instinct might be to chime in with your opinion, advice or words of support. But sometimes, the most powerful thing we can do, Agudelo said, is to just show up, listen and hold space for them.
“This means that we are willing to listen to whatever it is that they are sharing or feeling with no desire to ‘chip in’ or judge,” Agudelo said.
5. Free up more space in your schedules.
These days, kids are busier than ever — which means parents and caregivers are often scrambling to shuttle their children from one activity or event to the next with very little time in between to relax and recharge. Take a close look at your schedule and see if there’s anything you can skip to give your family some time and space to slow down.
“Let go of relentless activity. Allow time to be, to rest, to create, to read, to connect, to be together, to be in nature, and to enjoy life,” Kiran Gaind, owner of The Connected Family coaching practice, wrote in a blog for HuffPost. “Constantly running causes stress, anxiety, resentment and a sense that nothing is ever good enough. Being present means we slow down enough to actually notice moments we’re in.”
6. Try to do something for yourself every day.
These can be self-care practices like meditation, coloring, reading or working out — anything that fills your cup. It might also mean saying “no” to certain requests, social events and activities to give yourself more room to breathe.
“[Your] self-care practice should address different parts of the self — emotional self-care, physical self-care, spiritual self-care, occupational self-care,” Lockhart said. “That way, your needs are being met on a daily basis.”
“This makes such a difference and is so important because when your needs are met, you will be in a better place to be more present with and for your kids,” she added. “You won’t feel so depleted and will actually look forward to and enjoy the interaction.”
This is part of a HuffPost Parents series called Enjoy The Ride. Read more here.