Between work and the constant distractions and invasion of technology into every moment of our lives, being fully present with your kids takes perseverance and dedication. Constant incoming stimuli is hard for all of us to ignore—not just our kids.
Technology makes many things easier but staying focused isn’t one of those things. Honestly, you have to be willing to do more than put your phone in your pocket— and that’s just the start. With all the noises and pings and incoming emails or slack messages or texts—the pocket is simply not far enough away. You will still be distracted, maybe listening with one ear and most likely you will end up pulling it out of your pocket to check it for one thing or another. Still, it’s a start.
Here are a couple of quick wins: Use your phone’s greyscale mode, which turns your screen black-and-white and makes apps far less engaging; enable e-mail notifications for VIP contacts only; enjoy no-phone dinners with your family.
Even better is to give your kids undivided attention, leaving your phone in another room and on silent if possible. Then get on the floor—or wherever eye level is—with your kid. Take out a board game like Sequence or checkers or come up with charades or password to act out. How do you find time for this? You make it. Yup, I said it, you might have to schedule some family time.
At least if you block the time on your calendar you won’t feel as torn. It’s that feeling of guilt; that you are not doing either your job or your parenting very well. And that’s a tough headspace to be in. Certainly, it’s a hard place to be at ease and present. Here are a few ideas and tips that help me do better.
- Schedule time right on your calendar. If that’s only 15 minutes at a time sometimes, that’s ok. Use your phone’s greyscale mode, which turns your screen black-and-white and makes apps far less engaging; enable e-mail notifications for VIP contacts only; and have no-phone dinners with your family. Make it 15 joyful, quality minutes. It matters.
- Choose certain times of a day that are screen free for all of you. A few easy examples are the ride to and from school, all meals and transition times. Transitions include when you get home from work. Finish your calls or texts before you walk in the door. As parents, we need to lead by example.
- Play or read with your children—if there is time, do both. Playing gets you to their level—and it’s about them. It shows that what they want to do is important to you; and it gives you some time to focus on something other than to-do lists, cleaning up or cooking dinner. Reading is like a calming reset button.
- Grab some one-on-one time. If you have more than one child maybe have one night a week where you have dinner one-on-one, or you have reading time, or basketball—whatever that child loves to do. Sometimes that may mean watching Sponge Bob on the couch, snuggled up together (sorry!)
- If your children are acting out, you stay calm. Quiet. Just be together. Sometimes when you least want to hold her and when you are not feeling like being soft and caring, THAT is when you need to be.
- Get more sleep. If you aren’t sleeping or your child isn’t sleeping enough, one or both of you is going to act out and be grouchy. A grouchy parent isn’t good for anyone.
- Go for a walk. That does several things: gets you both moving and in fresh air—critical to all of us. It also gets you away from the house, from other people’s demands and needs—even get your kid away from his or her screens too. That’s a win-win.
- Have a special night or day each year for your child’s birthdate. It doesn’t have to be on their birthday—in fact, it’s probably better that it’s not. But take one day or night where they choose what to do (within reason) and where no siblings are present—just parent time. It never hurts for your kid to think of parent time as fun!
- Tuck them in at night. Give in and lie down with your kids for a minute of snuggle time. We can all spare one minute. This is my favorite way to be present if I am short on time. It will be the best minute of your day.
A version of this post originally appeared on Parenting in Real Life. It has been reprinted with permission.