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How to Parent Mindfully (and Minimize Distractions)

Distracted parents looking at their phones during dinner as their child looks on.

Feeling preoccupied and anything but mindful as a parent? Here’s how to cut down distractions and focus on your kids.

Being a parent is a challenging job. It’s normal to become overwhelmed and distracted when trying to balance chores, prepare meals, work, take time for self-care, and so on. However, today’s level of distraction can get even more out of control, thanks to the lure of devices. But all is not lost! We’re here to help you parent more mindfully (without throwing out your smartphone).

First, think about how distracted you are as a parent. When was the last time you played with your kids without any interruptions? Do they complain that you seem distracted? Do you look them in the eyes during conversations? If you feel you need to improve in these areas, we have some tips for you.

Not only will being a mindful parent deepen your connection and relationships with your kids but in the case of smaller children, it can keep them safer. Even when you’re paying attention to little kids, they can get into quite a bit of trouble—even more so if you’re distracted by your phone. Being present is critical, and it’s not as hard as you think once you develop the habit. Here’s how.

Set Aside “Unplugged Time” Every Day

Make sure you establish some regular times each day to connect with your family without phones, TV, laptops, iPads, and other devices getting in the way. Mealtimes and bedtime are perfect opportunities to unplug.

You can also set a timer for one hour, leave your phone in another room, and devote that time to activities your kids enjoy. Consider reading books, going for a walk, building a fort, or painting a picture. Knowing that they have this dedicated time each day will show your kids that you’re present and engaged with them.

Also try to be present during reunion times, such as when your child comes home from school. Give them space to open up and talk about their day. Try to avoid glancing at your phone—even for a second—as this can lead to disengaging from the conversation. Get down on their eye level and really listen.

Check Your Phone at Designated Times

We often glance at our phone here and there, thinking it’s harmless. However, we underestimate the time it takes to read an email or post a picture on Instagram. A few seconds can easily turn into 5 to 10 minutes or more.

We suggest scheduling designated times to check your phone. For example, you could spend a few minutes on your phone at the end of every hour to tend to anything urgent. Make sure your kids are safe and set the timer, so you don’t get pulled into writing lengthy, unnecessary posts. Everyone can wait at least an hour for you to respond, right? And if not, they’ll call you. Yes, talking on the phone is another distraction, but at least you can still watch your children and keep them out of danger while taking a call.

Save Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and even email time for the evening, after the kids go to bed. Think about the times you’ve emailed someone. Did they respond immediately, or within 12 to 24 hours? Believe us, that email can wait.

You can also set your phone to “Do Not Disturb” Or “Priority Only.” There are different settings you can play with to allow only important contacts to reach you during specified times. This way, if your spouse texts you, you can take a minute to respond, but you can ignore the picture of your bestie’s new haircut until later.

Above all else, pack your phone away when you’re at the pool or lake. There are more and more incidents linking child drownings to phone-distracted parents. Remove the temptation by leaving your phone in the car or safely tucked away in your backpack.

Disable Apps on Your Phone

Research has shown that every time you get a ding on your phone, it gives the brain a hit of dopamine. This leads to a vicious cycle of addiction that keeps pulling us in and away from our children. Remember—it’s your kids who need your attention, support, and interaction—not your Facebook friends.

Think about which apps you absolutely need on your phone. If you can check specific sites (like Facebook) from your laptop, then remove it from your phone. On the apps you decide to keep, consider disabling the notifications. This way, your phone doesn’t beep every time you get a message. You can do this for everything, including email, Twitter, and so on.

Alternatively, you can set different tones for unimportant apps. This way, you can choose to ignore Snapchat if you’re completely engrossed in bonding time with your kids, but still respond to texts from your spouse.

The Power of the To-Do List

Too many thoughts racing through your head? Keep Post-it notes and a pen handy. You can jot down ideas to clear your head, without needing to type or speak a memo into your phone. (Remember, it’s best to limit phone time since it can really pull you in.)

Once you’ve written down everything you’re going to do later, take a deep breath, look around, and focus on what’s happening right now. Engage with the activity you’re doing with your child and let those nagging tasks wait until later.

Schedule Unplanned, Spontaneous Times

Family reading a book together on the couch.

There are so many options for kids when it comes to activities, from swim lessons, soccer, horseback riding, tennis, dance, music—the possibilities are endless. However, when you’re racing from one activity to the next, it’s hard to be present with your kids. Plus, you’re probably spending a lot of time on your phone or computer, entering all the details into your calendar, emailing instructors, paying for lessons, and so on.

Try having an afternoon of “nothingness”—meaning you have open time to be creative, lazy, or even bored. Use this time for spontaneous, unstructured activities with your kids, such as a walk in the park, staring up at the clouds, starting a good, read-aloud book, creating a masterpiece out of sidewalk chalk, or cooking together. Take away some of the pressure to be somewhere and do something structured so the creative juices can flow.

Teach the Art of Conversation

When you go to a restaurant, you often see families staring down quietly, absorbed in their devices. Think about the last time you had a deep, meaningful conversation. Was the other person on their phone? Did you feel heard, or was the conversation disjointed and continuously interrupted by beeps and dings?

We don’t want to lose the art of conversation. It’s essential to get our kids talking and making eye contact, as well as sharing feelings, hopes, disappointments, dreams, and more.

This process is often interrupted because we feel like we have something more pressing to deal with—that important work email, a phone call that can’t wait—even organizing and cleaning the house.

Make sure you set aside time each day just to talk with your kids. This can be at mealtime or bedtime, but you should also be ready when your child initiates it. If they want to share a story, try to finish what you’re doing quickly and show that you’re available. That email or text can wait.

It may be challenging to step away from our devices and reduce the level of distraction in our lives, but our children are worth it. They crave that one-on-one time. So, just remember, you can deal with all those messages later after the kids are in bed.

Jill A. Chafin Jill A. Chafin
Jill A. Chafin is a freelance writer, aerialist, dancer, food enthusiast, outdoor adventurer, and mama, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Read Full Bio »
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