Why Presence is One of the Greatest Gifts That We Can Give Our Children
As parents, we intuitively understand the responsibilities that come with being a caregiver. Being in charge of a human life is simply awe-inspiring. From the moment our child is born, our lives change forever, as it is up to us to ensure our child’s health and safety.
These responsibilities arrive swiftly when the child takes its first breaths. But as the child gets older, it is easy to develop a more casual routine. The status quo has shifted from “we have a new child” to “our child is now an ingrained part of our everyday lives.” While this isn’t inherently bad, it can lead to some habits that sacrifice our child’s future happiness and social and emotional learning.
Specifically, I am talking about one word: presence. By being present, your child will intuitively recognize it. He or she will be happier, have greater self-esteem, and will even develop better communication skills. By contrast, if you are not present when you are with your child, he or she can tell. Adverse effects are possible, ranging from stunted social and emotional learning to even feelings of resentment toward you.
Yes, we all live busy lives. This is especially true if you are a working parent or have many children. Nevertheless, your true, undivided presence is one of the best gifts that you can give your child. It is a gift that keeps on going—even as your child gets older.
The Power of Presence
So what is it about presence that is so powerful? In other words, while we may be in the same room with our child, why is it so important to be totally immersed with your children? There are several reasons.
To start, being actively present with your child or children sends an unmistakable message. That message is: “I am here. You are safe, secure, and loved. My attention is on you and your emotions. Ultimately, you are the most important thing in my life.”
Even though you may not say this directly, that message is subconsciously being relayed to your child. A lot is being communicated here—and all of it positive. From this message, you and your child are building an extremely deep connection. This connection—based on love and support—is hard to break. It gives your child the reassurance that they have a parent or caregiver that is always looking out for them. Naturally, this security makes them happier and less stressed, allowing them to build self-esteem and avoid mental struggles like anxiety or depression.
Let’s compare this optimistic scenario with a more pessimistic one. Many parents or caretakers are trying to juggle one million things at once. Because of this, if their child complains, cries, or is fussy, they may find it all too tempting to give their child an iPad or another tablet device. Often, the tablet is enough to eliminate most of the stress and keep the child quiet.
This strategy is seemingly helpful in the short-term, but it is undeniably harmful in the long-term. By not being present with our child and simply making her distract herself, we forego an opportunity to build that deep connection. Not only that, but our child feels disheartened, discouraged, and down. She doesn’t understand why her parent or caretaker isn’t giving her the attention she needs. Instead, she finds more attention from an electronic device.
Ultimately, your presence is not only a game-changer for your children. It is equally powerful for you (and if you have one, your partner). Being totally present with all members of your family creates feelings of happiness and gratitude. It reduces your stress and helps you recognize what life is really about. Essentially, by being present with your child, what you are doing is recentering yourself—no matter how stressful your day has been. It is almost meditative and can make any day brighter.
How to Be More Present
Considering all of these benefits of being present, you may have one sticking point. You may think that your schedule won’t allow for it.
I inherently understand that life has become busier and more complicated. But I also recognize that we as parents or caregivers make choices about how we spend our time. Even if we aren’t making active choices, we are still making decisions. Inertia is a real thing.
Because of this, I recommend that you sit down and take a look at your regular schedule. Identify some points in the day where you can be more present with your child. I’m sure that this time exists.
In fact, it doesn’t need to be that complicated in the beginning. For example, try to schedule a regular nightly dinner where you can discuss the day’s events with your child. Bath time can also be a great opportunity to talk about homework, school, friends, or anything else.
When you find a regular time to be present, try to leave phones or other devices in another room. This is extremely critical. Even having a device in our pocket or purse can distance us from our child. It sets up an artificial barrier since we feel the subtle temptation to check the device for an important email or text message. Because of this, make sure to put the device out of reach. Doing so will help you be more present with your child.
Finally, make sure that you evaluate and iterate. If you noticed that a certain time of day isn’t working for you (or your child), try to find an alternative time. It isn’t the end of the world—so long as you find a better time where you can be present with your loved one.
Foregoing Presents For Presence
In my many decades of being a teacher and parent, I have come to realize that children don’t want presents as much as they want your presence. So don’t hesitate to give them this precious gift. Give 100 percent of your focus and energy when you are with your child. Put the devices to the side. By doing this, both you and your child will experience happiness, joy, and gratitude.