Healthy Living

'Being present' for kids means putting down your phone

Many parents are struggling working from home and spending so much time with the kids. Try to disconnect from your phone
Many parents are struggling working from home and spending so much time with the kids. Try to disconnect from your phone and laptop when you’re not working to pay attention to your kids. (Adobe Stock)

It’s been more hectic with me working from home AND watching the kids. I have noticed our son has been pushing boundaries with me more than usual. Just recently we had an episode where my son started screaming for me to watch him jump from our living room chair to the couch. “Mom! Watch! Mom! Watch! I’m going to jump to the couch!”

I was at the kitchen table working on my laptop and groaned. Ughh. He knows he shouldn’t be jumping on the furniture.

Not wanting to make the situation a big deal that would most likely result in a power struggle (gotta pick my battles), I decided to keep typing on my computer and casually shout in his direction, “Hey, sweetheart — please sit down on the chair.”

“Mom! MOM! Watch! Watch!”

Still not looking up from my computer, I said, “Henry, you know you shouldn’t be jumping on the furnitu--” All the sudden he was right there beside me tugging on my shirt, “MOM! Look at ME!”

I had been busy working, and all he wanted was my attention. My full attention.

The truth is, it’s challenging right now. Parents have deadlines for work, kids are cooped up at home with pools closed and activities canceled. Things are not normal. Writing an article about some of the pitfalls of “too much” technology is personal for me, as I have been guilty of using technology as a “babysitter” when I have work to do.

The last thing I want to do is add more stress to an already stressful situation, given that parents are often on the computer while they are working from home.

Although at times when I feel I am being neglectful, I need to remind myself that it is perfectly OK to ask my children to entertain themselves while I get my work done. It helps me to know that some studies show that an appropriate amount of parental inattention is not catastrophic — and may even help children build resilience.

This balancing act is one of the reasons I felt compelled to write this article.

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I am learning that it’s not the working from home that steals time from my children. It’s my habit of looking at my phone when my work is done.

For example: If I have worked all morning and then sit down to have lunch with my kids and whip out my phone to text or scroll through social media, it’s this chronic inattention that can be harmful to my children’s psyche and even their development.

Experts agree the problem is not when the parent and child are separated (day care, school, etc.) — it’s when the parent is physically in front of the child but not present with the child.

We have all been around friend(s) or family member(s) who are constantly on their phone. It’s a little humiliating, as it’s easy to assume they would rather be on their phone than spend quality time with us.

As adults, if we feel like that, just imagine how a child feels in the same situation.

When this plea for attention happened with my son, I immediately thought back to a story I read about a swim coach asking parents to refrain from using their phones during their children’s swim lessons. Cat Owens is a swim instructor in Australia. She says she isn’t the only one who is heartbroken when she sees children feel dejected when they notice their parents aren’t paying attention to them as they learn to swim. She tells of how one fellow swim instructor almost cried after a child was ignored by his dad during a lesson.

Owens says, “A little boy swam the length of the pool for the first time, looked up at his dad for praise, and said, ‘Why won’t Daddy watch me? He’s always playing on his phone.’”

Of course, there are emails to be answered and phone calls to be made, but Owens says it’s usually not even work-related when she sees parents unched over on their phones; she notices the majority are on Facebook, Instagram or online shopping.

So should parents stop their lives to watch and praise their child’s every move? Absolutely not. That would be exhausting and unhealthy for both parent and child.

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If you would like to try to be more present with your children while working from home, here are some possible solutions:

• Take time to explain to your children what you are working on and why it matters.

• Set aside time with each child and let them pick an activity to do together for 5 minutes. No phone or laptop distractions allowed.

• Set technology-free zones or times with your family. For example, ask family members to refrain from bringing their phones or technology to the kitchen table.

• Use timers or a schedule. Tell your child, “I’m setting a timer for 20 minutes. I need this time to work on a project and then we can play for 5 minutes.”

• Set expectations for yourself. Tell yourself, “When I am done with work, it’s time to engage with my children. I will make a habit of leaving my phone in the other room so I am not tempted to scroll through social media when I am with them.”

• Set yourself up for a home run. Delete apps that you know are a time-suck. Track the time you spend on your phone. Ask yourself, “Can this text message/email/etc. wait?”

• Offer yourself some grace. When you remind yourself that smartphones are designed to consume your attention, come up with some strategies to give your attention to the people you love and who matter the most to you.

Working from home and being at home with children can be challenging. What one strategy will you employ this week to help both you and your children feel more connected?

• Kylie Alger is a certified wellness coach and co-owner of the

Well-Woman: Body, Mind & Spirit. Comments: kylie@thewellwoman.org

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