Practice Being Present
● By Hood Magazine
I have a nine-month-old daughter and, like any baby her age, she is extremely curious. Friends, family, and even people we meet in the grocery store comment on how she takes everything in. She is especially interested in whatever her dad or I have in our hands, and this has caused me to be more conscious of my phone use. We are trying to follow the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation to avoid screen time for our daughter until she is two. According to the AAP, ‘A child's brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.’ The concern is that excessive media use can lead to attention problems, poor school performance, and sleeping and eating difficulties. Like many people, I have a smart phone. In addition to making calls, I use it for a host of reasons: as a clock, a timer and a white noise machine as well as to check my e-mail, the weather, and texts. But limiting my daughter’s screen time means that when I try to check the weather or my e-mail, keeping my daughter from looking at the screen sometimes forces me into unnatural contortions. And this has led me to use my phone less.
I’ve found myself practicing the art of being present with my daughter. Part of this is a necessity because she’s started crawling with surprising speed, she likes standing up holding on to things, and she is fearless. Regardless, when I am able to focus on her with all my attention I’ve found it to be very peaceful. There is something beautiful and calming about being in the moment with her. I like watching her facial expressions as she figures out how to unstack her stacking rings or as she grabs our dog’s fur.
Being present is a lot of what I do in therapy with children and their families. It is focusing all of my attention on the child I’m playing checkers with or the parent who is telling me how the week went for their family. I often recommend to families that they do something similar at home called ‘Magic 15 Minutes.’ This is a time every day when a parent spends 15 minutes of one-on-one time with each child, playing with them however they would like. Parents follow the child’s lead, avoid directing or asking questions, and instead narrate what their child is doing and enthusiastically play along. I encourage parents to praise positive behavior in a specific way like saying, ‘you can build a really high tower.’ It is called ‘magic’ because spending 15 minutes a day with a child when they know they have our undivided attention communicates security and love and can decrease negative attention-seeking behaviors. As I know from my own experience, it is as easy as a working parent to be distracted by the never-ending to-do lists and constantly beeping devices. ‘Magic 15 Minutes’ is a great way to take a break from all of that, reconnect with our children, and experience the calm that comes with focusing all our attention on them.