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Living in the moment with your child

With so much to do in a day, you may sometimes feel distracted or short on time when you’re with your child. Here are some tips on how to be more present when you’re together.

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Learning to live in the moment

Learning to be more mindful of the present takes practice, but even just a few minutes a day can help you get there.

By Nathalie Vallerand

Why is it so difficult to live in the moment? “Parents are overwhelmed—there’s so much they have to stay on top of,” says psychologist Fabienne Lagueux. “Stress is another factor, and cellphones, of course, are a huge distraction.” It’s not easy for parents to spend quality time with their child if they’re also thinking about what to make for dinner or their appointment at the daycare the next day.

When a parent is preoccupied, they tend to look after their child while their mind is elsewhere. Practising mindfulness can help keep your thoughts from wandering and allow you to stay more focused on the present moment. This means being both physically and mentally present for your child.

Mindfulness is about turning your attention to the present and striving to maintain that focus. “This allows you to be fully aware of the here and now and how you’re feeling,” says Laurence Morin, a doctoral student in psychology at the Université de Montréal.

Tips for living in the moment

Describe what you see out loud. Comment on what your child is doing when you’re together. This can help prevent you from getting lost in thought. For example, you might say: “Your tower of blocks is going to be tall!”

Put your cellphone away when playing with or taking care of your child. Look at them when they talk to you and pay attention to their gestures and facial expressions.

Try to see things through your child’s eyes. How might they be feeling? What are their needs? This can help you become less caught up in your own emotions and behave more mindfully with your child.

Avoid dwelling on your thoughts, as this will keep you from making the most of the present moment.

Look to your child for inspiration. Young children are masters at living in the moment. “When my son is playing and I see how focused he is on what he’s doing, it reminds me to refocus as well,” say Gabrielle Cantin, mother of 20-month-old Leo.

Practise being more attentive

Unfortunately, it can be hard to make that little hamster wheel in every parent’s head stop spinning. You can try practising mindfulness by following guided meditations (e.g., apps or books) or simply while going about your daily activities. The advantage with the latter solution is that it doesn’t take any extra time out of your day. Here are a few tips:

  • Start with activities you can do without thinking: washing dishes, walking, brushing your teeth, etc. “Try to experience the present moment with all five senses,” says Morin. For example, when you take a shower, pay attention to how the hot water feels on your body, the scent of the soap, the sound of the water, etc.
  • Next, find pockets of time where you can be fully present with your child. Gabrielle, for example, tries to be fully in the moment when she’s cuddling with Leo. “I also like observing the gestures he makes while he’s playing,” she adds. Rocking, bathing, feeding, or dressing your child are all opportunities to live in the moment.
  • When you notice that your mind has started to wander (e.g., you’re suddenly thinking about a problem at work), slowly bring your attention back to what you’re doing. Gabrielle’s trick is to imagine thought clouds. “I visualize my thought as a cloud drifting away,” she says. “It helps me refocus on the present.”
  • Try not to get discouraged. It’s virtually impossible to be aware of every passing moment. However, you can improve your attention span with practice. “It’s like training a muscle that gets stronger every day,” Gabrielle says. “The more I practise, the longer I’m able to stay present.” Keep in mind that consistency is more important than practising for long stretches at a time. “If you practise mindfulness regularly, even if it’s only one or two minutes a day, you’ll notice the benefits,” says Fabienne Lagueux.

Cultivating attitudes of mindfulness

Certain attitudes can also help to relieve stress, thus allowing you to be more present when you’re with your child.

Certain attitudes can also help to relieve stress, thus allowing you to be more present when you’re with your child.

  • Don’t hold all of your assumptions as truths. This is the advice of psychologist Françoise Lagueux, who, with her colleague Véronique Parent, set up the Parents attentifs support program at the psychology clinic of the Université de Sherbrooke. “Just because you think your child is being manipulative doesn’t mean it’s true,” she says. “Being aware of this can help you see your child as they really are instead of labelling them.” It will also help you better understand their needs.
  • Practise self-compassion. “You have to be able to take care of yourself as a parent and not always feel guilty,” says psychologist Véronique Parent. If you snap at your child, it won’t help to beat yourself up for being a “bad parent.” Instead, try telling yourself: “I’ll do better next time.”
  • Accept without judgment. Pay attention to what you’re feeling or experiencing, but don’t cast judgment. “This means welcoming whatever presents itself, good or bad,” says Laurence Morin, a doctoral student in psychology. “When you acknowledge your negative emotions, they subside more quickly than if you try to avoid or deny them.”

Imagine a hectic morning where you’re in a rush but your little one refuses to get dressed. A parent who is aware of the present moment might notice that their heart is suddenly beating faster, their stress has gone up, or their anger is starting to rise. They might also notice they’re on the verge of yelling.

Mindfulness can help you stay calm when you reach the boiling point, as in this situation. Leo’s mother, Gabrielle, agrees: “I now know that you can’t diffuse a tantrum when you’re stressed or angry. Mindfulness has taught me not to worry about what others might think, and to focus on what my son is feeling. I hold my tongue, I stay close to him, and I take deep breaths. A calm mom is a soothing mom.”

The benefits of being in the present moment

Being in the moment is good for your relationship with your child, as it allows you to spend more quality time together. “There’s less confrontation and more listening,” Parent continues. It can also reduce unwanted behaviour, such as tantrums and resistance.”

In fact, parents who manage to be more mentally present appear less prone to knee-jerk reactions, like yelling. “They’re able to react less impulsively to their child’s difficult behaviours,” says Parent.

Practising mindfulness may also be good for couples, according to Laurence Morin, who conducted a study of 156 first-time parents. “The more present new parents were in their daily lives, the less stress they felt, and the more satisfied they were with their relationship as a couple,” she says. What’s more, her research revealed that when one partner was fully present, the other’s satisfaction seemed to increase.

Things to keep in mind
  • Living in the present moment allows you to spend more quality time with your child every day.
  • Mindfulness can help you relieve stress and appreciate the joys of parenting.
  • Becoming more mindful of the present moment takes practice, but even just a few minutes a day can help you get there.

 

Naître et grandir

Source: Naître et grandir magazine, March-April 2022
Research and copywriting: Nathalie Vallerand

 

Resources

Books

Kabat-Zinn, M., and J. Kabat-Zinn. À chaque jour ses prodiges: être parent en pleine conscience, Éditions des Arènes, 2012, 412 pp.

Korevaar, D. Apaiser le stress parental: Exercices pratiques et méditations guidées, Québec Amérique, 2018, 206 pp.

André, C. Méditer, jour après jour: 25 leçons pour vivre en pleine conscience, Iconoclaste, 2015, 304 pp.

Apps

  • Insight Timer - Calm - Petit Bambou

 

Photos (in order): GettyImages/PeopleImages, GettyImages/miniseries, GettyImages/fotografixx and Maxim Morin