Are You A Distracted Parent? Here's What You Should Do About It

You remain glued to the TV when your child is speaking to you, check messages at mealtimes, update social media during family outings — chances are, you are a distracted parent.

By Aarthi Arun

Are You A Distracted Parent? Here's What You Should Do About It

Gone are the days of parents complaining about their children being inattentive. Today, the situation is reversed; an increasing number of children now state that their parents are always distracted, especially by technology. Messages and emails on our mobiles, social media or an interesting programme on TV, often take up our attention while we are trying to spend time with our children.

This phenomenon has been studied in detail. Radesky et al observed how caregivers, absorbed with their devices, behaved when children tried to attract their attention. They published their study, 'Patterns of Mobile Device Use by Caregivers and Children During Meals in Fast Food Restaurants', in the journal Pediatrics (2014). According to them, caregivers who were distracted by technology often responded harshly to their child. They also found that, "many children started to exhibit limit-testing or provocative behaviors during adult device absorption."

Are you also a parent who struggles to fully focus on or pay attention to your child? If so, here are a few tips to help you cut down on the distractions, and connect with your child.

1. Schedule time for gadgets: Screen devices like mobile phones and tablets are now an integral part of our life. We carry them wherever we go. As a result, some of us have begun using them frequently or compulsively. This distracts us and makes us pay less attention to our surroundings and our children. This not only makes our children feel neglected, but can also compromise their safety, especially when we take them out to parks, swimming pools or shopping malls.

  • What you should do: While gadgets may be a necessary part of your life today, it is also important to regulate your usage. Some of the things you can do are: refrain from using devices after work hours unless it is an emergency; deactivate the Internet connection at a set time every day and, switch off devices at mealtimes or, when spending quality time with children.

2. Play with your child: Zig Ziglar, the American motivational speaker, once said, “To a child, love is spelled T.I.M.E.” How profound! In simple words, when you play with your child, you make him feel loved, cared for and special. It also helps your child develop new skills, widen his imagination and, learn about strengths and weaknesses.

  • What you should do: Playing with your child is all about going into her world and getting your hands dirty. If your child is young, you can engage in pretend play, sing rhymes and read stories. If she is a little older, you can play simple card games or board games, or a game of badminton in your backyard. If you don't know how to play with your child, ask her to take the lead. Listen to what she says and follow her, but don't compete with her.

3. Have dinner together: Eating together as a family is considered one of the most important everyday rituals. It has a therapeutic effect on everyone. In fact, research shows that having a family meal can improve a child’s grades. Eating together also reduces stress and promotes healthy eating habits.

  • What you should do: Family dinners are a time to communicate, share and have fun. Set a regular time and place for dinner, and treat dinnertime as sacred. Turn off the phone and other devices like the computer and TV. Ask your children to join you in setting the dinner table. And, when you sit down to enjoy your food, keep the conversation going.

4. Be there for your child: When a child feels that his parent is there when he needs them, it can be extremely comforting and encouraging. It makes him feel secure and valued. Parents who make it a point to be there for their children leave a lasting impression on their minds.

  • What you should do: Being there is all about showing your child that you love and value her. So, when your toddler throws a tantrum, get down to her eye level and try to understand what she is going through. Similarly, when she shows good behaviour, appreciate it. If your child is older, sometimes just sitting with him and listening to his thoughts and opinions can make him feel valued.

5. Honour your commitment: Our busy lifestyles don't always allow us to attend to our children's needs. So, we make excuses to get away with it or, tell our children that we will make up for this, some other time. But, some of us forget or do not honour the promises we make. This leaves our children feeling disrespected, unimportant, and disappointed. Above all, they also develop the habit of not keeping their promises.

  • What you should do: Honouring the commitment you made your child teaches her to trust you and strengthens the parent–child bond. But, if you tend to break promises often, then, instead of saying 'I promise,' it would better to say 'Maybe', as this will keep your child's hopes alive. Also, think very carefully before you make a promise. And, if you think you can't keep the commitment you make, say 'No'.

6. Take care of yourself: Our list of responsibilities keeps increasing with every passing day. And, in trying to attend to our duties, we keep pushing back our own personal priorities, one of which is to take care of ourselves. And our health. 

  • What you should do: Being overworked and tired can make you listless, disinterested and distracted. And, how can you help your child if you aren't in the best shape yourself? So, help yourself first. Take a break whenever you feel you need one, make the time to pursue a hobby, and ask your spouse or family members to lend a helping hand. A time-out will rejuvenate you and you'll come back with vigour and interest.

There you go. It only takes a few simple changes to transform yourself from a distracted parent into one who is always present with your child. Remember, your child deserves you and your complete attention. 

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