Elizabeth M. Klaers, MSW, LSW
Summer is winding down and kids are heading back to school. Supplies, clothing, and coordinating all the activities that comes with this time of year throw many parents into a mode of doing, doing, doing.
While being busy may seem like one of those non-negotiables that come with the job of parenting young kids, it can actually undermine the most important part of raising healthy kids – the parent-child relationship. This relationship is so extremely vital to healthy childhood development and the ability to pay real attention is a key ingredient.
Years ago, when my own kids were young I remember one night we were reading the nightly bedtime story. On the couch, snuggled in close after a hurried bath, we read. It wasn’t until I was halfway through the book that I realized I didn’t even know what book I was reading! I looked at the page number, twelve. I read twelve pages and had no idea how I got there. Like driving the same route to work every day, I had read this book so many times I was on auto pilot. My task list (bath, check – pajamas, check – read a book, check) took precedent over relating with my sons and engaging with them during this wonderful bedtime ritual. After pausing for a minute to notice what was happening, my older son asked me what was wrong. They were both surprised when I told them we were going to start over. They simultaneously exclaimed, “Thank you Mom!” This time I was able to pause with every page, making space for what was right in front of us and taking in all that was happening in the moment.
Sadly, many of us spend a lot of time in a kind of trance moving from one task to the next, sometimes multitasking our way past what is actually happening now. The only way out of this trance is to stop; press pause.
You might being saying, I don’t have time to hit pause! I have to figure out dinner, call my kid’s teacher, finish that work project. Fair enough.
What if you “press pause” for one minute, two or three times a day? That’s just three minutes a day! That way you won’t neglect your “to do” list, nor ignore your kids. All of the projects, perfecting, performance and planning will wait for your return.
During that time stop everything you are doing and simply pay close attention to what you hear, see, feel or notice. Approach this pause in a friendly manner with curiosity and warmth, as if you were meeting an admired acquaintance. Here how it might look:
Settle into your spot – whether standing or sitting – and breathe.
After 5 seconds or so, ask yourself: What is happening now?
You might notice the things outside of yourself… wind chime, refrigerator humming, kids playing, or within you, tightness, frustration, and breathing. Maybe you notice pain in your lower back, or maybe…there is nothing. Whatever you notice, just stay right there for one minute.
After practicing this a few times, consider bringing this pause into an interaction with your child. When you’re doing the dishes and they come into the room, pause. Look at them, listen. What do you notice? When you are running late in the morning and they are taking too long to get dressed, pause. Notice what is happening, name it. Remind yourself, you can be late and frazzled, or just late.
The reality is we cannot be present in relationships (or even with ourselves) when we are constantly in the doing mode. So, press pause. Your kids might thank you.
This blog borrows from the words of Daniel Siegel (Whole-Brain Child) and Tara Brach (Radical Self Acceptance).
Elizabeth M. Klaers, MSW, LSW, is a parent and therapist who specializes in counseling individuals and families, both adults and young children. In addition to her private practice in Boulder, Elizabeth is a ProBono Therapist and Development Manager at Maria Droste Counseling Center.