Practicing the Gift of Presence

By Jessica Holzer

The holiday season is notorious for being busy, stressful, and never-ending “To Do” lists. With our children out of school, it may be instinctive to shuffle them around to different errands, simply hope they behave, and promise to fulfill their holiday present list if they do. However, in my work with parents and their children, I work on teaching parents you do not need to hope, give gifts, or treats, instead you can expect in times of stress that your children will be cooperative and happy.

How do we do this though? How we can teach our children about patience, regulation, and good behavior in times of stress? Well, there are several steps we can take as parents to ensure we are raising emotionally intelligent children, children who can respond to our parenting and to others in a way that can make us feel connected and happy with our children: we give them the gift of our presence.

Here are Three Steps to Help You Give More Presence

  1. Check Your Own Emotions—The first step to being present with your children is checking yourself. Your primary role as a caregiver to your children is regulating your children both psychologically or emotionally and biologically. The first way we do this as caregivers is making sure you are regulated yourself. For example, if you are asking your child to stop yelling while you are yelling at your child, the message becomes unclear and the lesson is lost on the child because you are not showing them what it means to be regulated.
  1. Understanding the Needs of Your Child—After you find yourself calm (be honest with yourself!), examine your child’s needs. What do they need from you? Wondering out loud can be a wonderful tool to teach children to express themselves. When your child is acting out, you could start asking them “I wonder if you are having tone because you need a snack?” instead of asking them “Why are you acting like that?”
  1. Connection (especially before Correction!)—Connect with your child by getting down on their level, really listening, playing, and spending quality time with your children. Most importantly is to do this step prior to correcting any unwanted behavior. Below are some great ideas to connect with your children and be present.

What Can I Do to Be Present?

So if you check your own emotions, understand the needs of your child, and create points of connection, what are some simple ideas to be more present in our children’s lives? Many parents feel that they do not have time to stop and create meaningful connection with their children in between work, making dinner, ensuring homework is complete, soccer practice, etc. But really, it is as simple as this:

  1. Take care of yourself. If you are not sleeping right and eating right, you cannot possibly expend the energy you need to be present with your children. Engage in your own self care, have a good sleep routine, and make sure to fuel your body!
  1. Get off the Grid. Put away the phone, shut down the computer, and unplug the TV. Screen time draws our attention away from our children and our children away from us. Without screens blocking our way, we can come up with better ways to spend our time that is more meaningful.
  1. Really listen. When your children talk to you, look at them, get down on their level, and acknowledge their words. If you are too busy, let them know you will get back to them and follow through. Everyone wanted to be heard.
  1. Play with your child. Play is a child’s language, so talk the talk and walk the walk. Get down the floor and play a board game, take a walk, ride bikes, bake cookies, or do whatever your child’s interests are. The point is live in the moment and engage with your child in play, even if it is five or ten minutes in between doing the dishes.
  1. Time Ins, not Time Outs. When your child becomes dysregulated, it may be time for a pause. Instead of sending them away for a time out, sit with them for a time in and help them calm down. Not only are you helping them learn a skill, you are also sharing a valuable moment with them that lets them know you are available for them in times of trouble.
  1. Plan Ahead. Sometimes we need to actually plan time with our children, and that is ok. If you can make it a planned routine, like “special mom or dad time” at bed time, even better! Planning also relieves some of the anxiety of running out of time for our kids.

So this holiday season, stop stressing about finding the perfect toy or game for your child and spend that energy on staying present with your children. Enjoy your kids and embrace the moments that we truly are thankful for.

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