Improving Family Relationships By Being Fully Engaged

by , M. Ed., Priceless Parenting (sign up for monthly parenting newsletter and receive 20+ printable charts for kids and parents)

(listen to article read by the author)

father and daughter talking

Think about a time when someone was completely engaged in listening to you. Where were you? How did you feel?

Now think about a time when you were trying to talk to someone but they were distracted. What did you do when you noticed they weren’t really paying attention? How did you feel?

There is a huge difference between being fully present and being half there. It’s hard to fake being present when your mind is somewhere else. Others pick up on your distraction even if they don’t openly acknowledge it.

Being Engaged Versus Being Distracted

Like all people, you go between states of being engaged and distracted all day. Your connection to your children and your ability to do your best parenting is affected by which state you are in.

When you are distracted, you are thinking about things other than what’s currently happening. Like a distracted driver, you are wandering around oblivious to the subtleties of the situation. If you have young children, being distracted is especially dangerous because they can quickly get in serious trouble.

These are some characteristics of being distracted:

  • feeling scattered, off-balance, rushed, disorganized, bogged down
  • making simple mistakes, performing poorly
  • creating misunderstandings
  • reacting slowly
  • struggling to come up with ideas or solutions
  • ignoring questions or requests
There are many ways to be distracted. What distracts you the most often? When you find yourself distracted, how do you pull yourself back to the present moment?

Being engaged is the opposite of being distracted. It means you are focused on the current moment, attentive and tuned in to what’s happening. Just like professional athletes perform their best when they are engaged, you also perform your best when you are engaged.

Characteristics of being engaged include:

  • feeling connected, contented, focused
  • feeling close to whoever you are with
  • making thoughtful suggestions, contributions
  • being productive and efficient
  • being creative, coming up with new approaches
It’s more fun doing activities with your kids when you are fully participating. Whether you are playing with your kids or talking with them, immersing yourself deepens your connection with them.

Distracting Digital Devices

Are digital devices causing distraction in your family? Ian Sherr feels that his phone usage might be hurting his 2-year-old son. In Sherr’s article, “Your kids hate your smartphone addiction”, he writes “Sometimes it's a breaking news story that draws me in, other times it's boredom. Whatever it is, this device in my hands — which gives me access to nearly all human knowledge plus all the cat videos I could ever want — is constantly calling for my attention.”

Research published by the journal Child Development looked at the impact of technology use in 170 two-parent families with 3-year-olds. “The study revealed that even low - or what is considered "normal" - levels of technoference correlated with a higher level of child behavior issues such as oversensitivity, irritability, hyperactivity, and whining.”

Your kids notice when you are paying more attention to your phone than you are to them. You need to control your own device use plus set screen limits for your kids. What limits have you decided to set so that your family spends some time together without screen interference? Many families decide to have screen-free meals and turn all devices off an hour before bed.

Choosing To Be Fully Engaged

You control how engaged you are. It’s easy to get distracted because thoughts are constantly popping into your head. To stay engaged, you need to be able to set aside thoughts irrelevant to the current situation. When your mind wanders, you bring it back to the moment.

Being completely present with your kids increases your connection with them. For example, you might ask your child how his day was at school. He responds “I don’t know. I guess it was ok.” You need to leave in a couple minutes for soccer practice. How do you respond?

  • Ignore the subtle message that something didn’t go well at school. You say something like “Great! Grab your gear and I’ll drop you off at your soccer practice.”
  • Let him know that you’d like to hear more. You say something like “Hmmm … it sounds like there were some challenges. I’d love to hear more about it on our drive to soccer practice.”
It’s easier to pick up on underlying feelings when you are tuned in to your kids. Try setting aside some time each day to truly be present with each of your children. During this time just be with your child … playing, reading a book together or listening to whatever your child wants to tell you.

Focusing on time with your children daily will strengthen your relationship. Having strong connections within your family makes parenting easier and being together more fun!

About Kathy Slattengren

Kathy Slattengren

Parenting expert Kathy Slattengren, M. Ed., is dedicated to supporting parents in doing their best parenting. She helps families create homes where everyone feels accepted, heard, respected and appreciated.

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