As a parent, I have lost count of the number of times I’ve heard, “Cherish these moments, children grow up way too quickly.” It’s true. I feel like it was just yesterday that my soon-to-be two-year-old was barely crawling. Yesterday he climbed a full set of stairs alone. I’m sure many of you reading this post can relate.
Today, many families are on a schedule from morning until bedtime, trying to get our children out the door, scrambling to meet job demands, ferrying our kids from one extracurricular activity to the next, grabbing dinner on the run, and squeezing in extra study or practice time. We thoughtfully program many aspects of our children’s lives in hope of giving them every opportunity we think can give them a leg up.
It’s no wonder many of us feel the end of the day comes way too soon and like life is just rushing by. Sound familiar? If so, it may be time to try a “slow parenting” approach to family life. Slow parenting embraces the idea of consciously pausing this constant motion and taking time to relish the special moments that might otherwise pass us by when we overschedule ourselves and our kids.
For example, I recently realized that I was trying to get my curious four-and-a-half-year-old from one activity to the next too fast. As we were heading out for ballet class one day, she said, “Mom, look at this bug on the floor! It’s so interesting. It’s crawling and falling over!” Normally, I would have rushed her out the door, but, with slow parenting in mind, I decided to stop and see what she was talking about, even if it made us late. We sat on the ground for 10 minutes examining this bug together. My daughter had a lot to say about it as she imagined different scenarios. This time together created a memory more special than watching her through a little glass window while she practiced ballet. We still talk about it, and a scrapbook now holds a picture I took of her with the bug.
Slowing down creates space for relaxation and quiet time, something children’s developing brains need to make sense of the world and integrate new information they learn every day. It also gives parents a chance to be mindful of and appreciate some of our kids’ more subtle developmental milestones like problem-solving and conversational skills. And, it gives us new snapshots of time that would have otherwise been ignored and swallowed up by more pressing demands.
Here are some ideas to help you get started with slow parenting:
1. Limit your children’s recreational activities like ballet or soccer to one activity per season, rather than two or three.
2. Make an effort to have sit-down dinners or even cook together on certain days of the week.
3. Prepare for the next day together the night before. This will allow some practice around choices in the evening (e.g., “Which outfit would you like [choice A or choice B]?” or “What would you like as a snack in your lunchbox?”) and more “together time” in the morning, when you can read to your kids, sing a song together on the ride or walk to school, or talk about the day ahead.
4. Rather than cramming weekends with birthday parties and other scheduled activities, spend a plan-free weekend at home and see what happens. We sometimes forget that there is so much to do together in our own living rooms: play family games, read books, or just chat.
5. Instead of rushing from one activity to the next, pause and say, “We are going to skip karate today and take some time to go for a walk,” or, “We’re just going to sit together and play a game.”
6. In the evening, talk with your kids about how their day went. If a book was introduced at school, read it together at home. If a special event occurred in the news, bring it up and see what their thoughts are.
7. Sit outside at night and talk about the different sounds you hear. Quieting down can give rise to important topics that would not naturally come up during an over-scheduled day.
8. Talk to your kids about your own childhood when the pace of life was slower. Share challenges you faced, fun experiences you had, and how you spent your time. Then suggest some simple, “old-fashioned” outdoor playtime: jump rope, toss a ball, play hopscotch.
9. Dial down the technology: turn off the TV, put phones away during dinner, simply be together and talk. Today’s kids are often whizzes at digital devices, but may be uncomfortable socially because they have little practice with back-and-forth conversation.
10. Pause and pay attention while your children are engaged in a project. For instance, if they are drawing, see how they are making sense of that activity and just appreciate who they are at the present moment.
11. Take time to give a hug and receive one. Just breathe your children in.
Slow parenting allows time to connect with our kids in a different, more positive way, and gives us a chance to quiet ourselves and feel less stressed. Today is a great day to start making the most of your time by doing less—together.
Daniela Montalto, PhD, is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone’s Child Study Center, a part of Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital. She is the Clinical Director of the Child Study Center’s Institute for Learning and Academic Achievement.