Parenting in the Moment: The ABC’s of Being Present
It is not the quantity of time, but the quality of time spent together that is most impactful-- the act of being in the moment with your child.
As parents and educators, we often feel overwhelmed with the number of initiatives and movements that promote strategies to improve our parenting skills and our daily lives with our children. After years of experience as a school principal, Head of School, teacher, guidance counselor, and college professor, I have concluded that our most powerful tool for effective parenting and building connections is something that is accessible to everyone, does not require specialized training, and is free.
At a Back to School Night presentation a few years ago, I spoke with the parents and guardians at The West Hill School about this powerful tool: utilizing the ideas of “mindfulness,” being fully in the moment, to impact their everyday connections and interactions with their children.
The idea of mindfulness is a reminder for all of us to pause from our busy daily responsibilities and stressors to fully focus on our children–not just during significant milestones like birthdays, graduations, sports events, and awards ceremonies. No, I am referring to the less pronounced but more compelling times that occur every day and in every setting.
It is apparent that parents and guardians are busy with all aspects of their lives and are master jugglers of time. I understand the constant pull in many directions because I second-guessed whether I was giving enough of myself to my young son since I was a divorced and full-time working mom.
Finally, one day all of the pieces of uncertainty and guilt were paused for me when my seven-year-old son handed me a package that has turned out to be one of my most precious possessions. Hanging on my office wall is a framed piece of art from my son that pictures a mom and a son hugging. At the top of the picture, there is a monthly calendar with each day checked off. The caption reads, “My Mom is Special Because She Spends Time with Me.” I still remember the impact and emotion of that moment, even though it was over 25 years ago. After tears and a hug, I collected myself and asked him to tell me about the beautiful picture. He said that he knew that I was busy with a lot of jobs to do, but that I was never too busy for him.
What he meant was that I made the best of each time we were together. That comment reinforced the overly stated, but true, notion that it is not the quantity of time, but the quality of time spent together that is most impactful– the act of being in the moment with your child.
Here is a list of parenting ABC’s of fully experiencing the “present” moments with your children that you will treasure as your precious gifts forever:
A – Act like your children are the only people in the room. When they reach out to you for a hug or to ask a question, be there for them.
B – Be present in the moment. Being with your children is not a multitasking activity.
C- Connect with your children even if their concerns seem trivial. It is always important to them.
D- Disconnect from phones and electronics at meals. How do we feel as adults when we realize that we do not have someone’s full attention?
E- Encourage your children for their efforts, not just their successes. Children may not need a trophy, but they do need our approval.
F – Forgive yourself if you are not perfect in every situation. Acknowledge your mistakes and apologize, just like you want your children to do.
G– Give your children responsibilities so that they learn how to be responsible in all situations.
H– Help create a bedtime ritual that makes your children feel safe and loved. Create time for them to talk, and for you to listen.
I – Include children in decisions that affect them directly. This participation will develop their sense of pride, responsibility, and feeling of security.
J – Judge your children less and encourage them more.
K- Keep a sense of humor. Children need to know when to be serious and when to laugh at themselves or the situation at hand.
L – Leave your stressors behind. Children feel and hear everything.
M – Model, model, and model some more. Children see us when we think they are not looking.
N – Notice and acknowledge your children when they are being kind and thoughtful.
O – Open your hearts and your minds to the beauty of childhood and let your children be children.
P – Play with your children. Play is the way you teach them joyfulness, cooperation, and collaboration while learning what your children enjoy and value.
Q – Question your children when you sense that something is wrong. Ask them what they are feeling and listen without interrupting or giving your opinion too quickly.
R – Respect the developmental levels of your children. Children are all different and develop at different times and at different rates. Avoid the temptation of comparing your children with others.
S – Speak in the tone that you want your children to speak to you and others.
T – Treat the ideas your children bring to you with respect and openness. Listen with empathy and show compassion.
U – Understand that unscheduled activities and free time are essential for a healthy childhood. Let children create their own fun time. Play is their work.
V – Volunteer your time at school. You are teaching them the beginnings of volunteerism and also demonstrating your interest in what they do at school each day.
W – Wish with your children. Find a dandelion, sit on the grass, and find out your child’s hopes, wishes, and dreams.
X – X marks the spot. Any spot you find to enjoy with your children will be the perfect place for them, as long as they are with you.
Y – Yodel, sing, dance, act silly, and do whatever brought you joy as a child. Seeing you this way will give your children permission to do the same. Your children will love seeing you act as they do.
Z – Zero in on the moment. We don’t get these moments back. Let’s make the most of them.
Written by Connie DiMedio, Head of School. Photograph provided by The West Hill School.