Heart breaking… funny… poignant… eye opening… so many words to describe the moment my perceptive 5 year old asked me, “What do you like better, your phone or me?”
In response, I immediately stopped what I was working on and stated, “Of course you! I actually don’t even like my phone. I just need to use it to get stuff done…but I love you with all my heart.” To this she replied, “Then why do you play with it more than you play with me?” If we listen to our children, they have more life lessons to teach us than can be found anywhere else.
In this age of excess communication, technology, networking, etc., we are constantly barraged with information that feels important and requires being attended to (and I do realize the irony of this blog on mindful parenting, serving as a perfect example of the phenomena). It is such a challenge, for even the most thoughtful, tuned in parent, to put down the phone and fully engage in the moment with your child.
So, when my wise beyond her years daughter posed her “a ha moment” question to me, I told her she had made a fantastic point and if she would give me 5 minutes to wrap up my work, we can do any activity of her choice (side note — it is always important to find opportunities to work the “patience” muscle, especially for a strong willed child like mine).
I kept my word, and 5 minutes later, Alexandra and I were on a colorful journey, painting rainbows and sunshine, and my day took a dramatic turn for the brighter.
Three tips for mindful parenting:
(1) If possible, leave it at home: Don’t be tempted to check an email while you’re out. If you are heading to a quick trip to the park, don’t set yourself up for failure by taking your phone with you. We survived for millions of years without our cell phones. You can survive for 30 minutes on the playground without yours.
(2) Set limits on when you will use technology: Model limit setting by explaining to your kids that, even for mommies and daddies, too much screen time makes the brain mushy. Ask them to remind you if you are breaking your rule of X number of minutes of screen time (kids LOVE reminding their parents when they are breaking a rule).
(3) See engaging with your child as a way to practice mindful living: When you are playing with your child and your mind wanders to your endless to-do list, acknowledge this shift in focus, and then gently return your attention back to the present moment.
You will find this practice is extremely difficult at first, as you tame your “monkey mind,” but with repetition, it will get easier and exponentially more rewarding to practice mindful parenting.
Dr. Debra Kissen is the Clinical Director of the Light on Anxiety Treatment Center of Chicago. She has a special interest in the principles of mindfulness and their application for anxiety disorders. Follow Dr. Kissen on Twitter.
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“Be well and kind to yourself.” — Dr. Kissen.