The benefits of Present Parenting
By: Vera Santiago
Young children have meltdowns and throw tantrums. They can drive us crazy, then we lose our temper, throw a grownup tantrum, and regret it five minutes later. It can be a never-ending cycle. There might be a different way to deal with this situation. It is through being present in the moment. Sounds simple, but if it were, we would all be doing it. Present parenting means that when you are with your child, your attention is focused on what is happening right in front of you.
How many times that you were in this situation, have you stopped to think about what made you so mad? I have a guess that, at least some of the time, you are yelling not because of what your child did, but because you feel frustrated that things are not going the way you wanted them to go. Your child is not listening to you, and kids should always listen to their parents, right? Your kid is taking so long to get dressed that you are going to be late. They should know better! I am sorry to break it to you, but no. We think our kids should listen to us all the time, and they should respect our schedule. But they are individuals, with needs, fears, wants, and distractions. A lot of distractions, in some cases. That is just how they are (it is how you are too, by the way). Fighting it won’t change it. Here is where present parenting kicks in.
What is present parenting?
Present parenting doesn’t mean that you are with your kid 100% of the time. It means that when you are with your child, you are fully present and engaging. No screen, calls, or thinking about what’s for dinner. Spending 15 minutes fully present with your child is more important than a whole day, wishing you were somewhere else. Like Dr. Shefali Tsabary says in her book, The Conscious Parent, “children don’t need our ideas and expectations, or our dominance and control, only for us to be attuned to them with our engaged presence.”
Let’s go back to the child who was having a tantrum earlier. If we manage to look at our stressors through an accepting point of view, we can see more clearly how to deal with the situation. If your child is not listening, screaming won’t help. But perhaps looking at them in the eye, speaking with a firm, loving voive, might. When you are not freaking out you have the chance to test different approaches and focus on what you really want to achieve: to be heard. Not fight, punish or scold. If you are going to be late because your child is losing focus on the tasks, you can find different ways to help them come back to the present.
That is the beauty of present parenting. You stop judging situations as good or bad, and you stop reacting. Instead, you open space to loving action. You are not giving in to the tantrum. Being conscious is about listening to our children, honoring their essence, and being fully present. But it is also about setting boundaries and discipline. Our job is to teach them the value of the structure, appropriate containment of their emotions, and skills to deal with the real world.
4-7-8 Breathing for becoming a present parent
An excellent alternative to try when you feel like you are about to lose your mind is breathing exercises. If possible and safe, step away from your child for a moment. You don’t have to go far; just find a place where you can listen to your thoughts. Sit down and set your hands on your legs, now follow these easy steps:
1- During this exercise, keep the tip of your tongue against your upper front teeth.
2- Exhale through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
3- Once your lungs are empty, close your mouth and inhale through your nose, counting mentally until four.
4- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
5- Exhale completely through your mouth, making that woosh sound again, to a count of eight.
Do this as many times as you can or need. Once you have it mastered you will be able to do it standing up, in a much quicker and practical way. This breathing exercise will help you calm down and stay grounded. When you feel calmer, go back to your child, and try to understand what’s behind the tantrum. What do they need? Can you provide it? If not, can you explain the reason? Stay firm in your decision (remember: boundaries), but give them love, and show that you understand their frustration. Present parenting might not make the tantrum go away, but it will make the experience a lot more tolerable for you both.
We will see that we often think things like: they shouldn’t be screaming, or they ought to know better, or something in that area. But if we could stop for five minutes, bring ourselves to the present, with no judgment, we would be able to understand the situation from the child’s point of view and act in a better way. Of course, it is not ok for the child to misbehave. What happens is, when you are entirely in the present, not judging the situation as bad or inappropriate, you can see clearer and decide on what to do next without all that frustration and anger.
Being conscious is about listening to our children, honoring their essence, and being fully present. But it is also about setting boundaries and discipline. Our job is to teach them the value of the structure, appropriate containment of their emotions, and skills to deal with the real world. We can only do that by keeping our ideas of “what should be” aside.