The Power of Presence
13 September 2019
My sons are now men, so life has become a little easier. As a working mum, I have become the queen of survival. I am time poor, and hence am a skilled multi-tasker. I find myself caring for housework and dinner preparation while listening to my family, planning the next day and answering texts and emails. My life is paced by the alerts on my phone. I hold it together most of the time, but I have to admit that sometimes I have no idea what my family are talking about because my attention is somewhere else.
Researchers refer to this parenting phenomena as ‘continual partial attention’. We may be physically present with our children, but we are not emotionally present. In this scenario parental attention is unpredictable and reactive. Recent research shows that this kind of parenting results in children who are more negative, less resilient and who feel unimportant. The opposite to this style of parenting is that we give our children our undivided attention all the time. This approach is also undesirable, contributing to an entitled attitude with a distorted sense of self.
One solution to this parenting challenge is to be fully present with your child for a short, predictable burst of quality time. No phones, no TV, no distractions. Chat over a snack, kick a footy, go for a walk, just listen! Positive attention builds self-esteem, increases resilience and develops a sense of security. Dr Justin Coulson says, “Listening is one of the most important ways that we can build resilience. Rather than operating on ‘auto-parent’ we will help our children know they are important by giving them our undivided attention. Children feel validated and worthy when we listen to them.”
In her article, The Single Most Important Parenting Action We Can Do Today, Rachel Macy Stafford says, “Having a parent that listens creates a child who believes he or she has a voice that matters in this world.” This powerful concept does not require huge chunks of time, but it does require your full attention to allow your child to feel truly heard.
At school we also want to increase the opportunities for student voice to be heard, both individually and collectively. We want to empower our students to share what they are thinking, feeling and needing in order to learn and thrive. We want to know each student as an individual and find ways to connect.
My challenge is for us to be intentional about creating time to be present, engaged, unplugged and focused. Our kids deserve nothing less.