Caregiver Community: Be There. Really There


As a caregiver and adult, it may seem like there are a million things to accomplish every day. We understand that taking time to be fully present for your children can be pretty tough. According to the CDC’s Essentials for Parenting resource, “Attention from you and other caregivers is important to your child. In fact, toddlers and preschoolers demand A LOT of adult attention.”

As an essential part of parenting, here are some ways you can be present in moments you spend with your children.

Active Listening

According to the CDC parenting resource, active listening is important for “children need to know that we are going to listen to them. This will make it more likely our children will talk with us about their hopes and problems when they are older”

To practice active listening, you can:

  • Give your full attention to your child
  • Make eye contact and stop other things you are doing
  • Get down on your child’s level
  • Reflect or repeat back what she is saying and what she may be feeling to make sure you understand

For more samples and practice scenarios of active listening, visit CDC’s Essentials for Parenting Toddlers and Preschoolers free resource.

Emotion Wheel

Being present also means helping your child build an awareness of themselves, and their emotions. The Child Welfare Information Gateway shares a strategy that the YMCA supports called emotion wheel. This activity is recommended for preschoolers and toddlers.

Here is a description of it:

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  1. Hang the wheel somewhere where children can see it throughout the day.
  2. Before bed each night sit with your child in a comfortable position and take three slow mindful breaths.
  3. Ask your child what they are feeling and where they are feeling it, i.e. “I feel angry and it feels like lava in my belly”
  4. Tell them that it is ok to have those feelings and that you are proud they can express how they feel.
  5. Then take three slow mindful breaths with them.
  6. Ask if the feelings have changed or if their body feels different.

Continue until the child reports feeling at ease.

Determine an activity to do together

If you set aside intentional time to be with your child, there is a greater chance you are able to focus on them. The CDC calls this special playtime. According to them, “Special playtime is a chance for you to focus on your child’s good behaviors and build a strong, nurturing relationship. You can use the time to actively listen and practice praising, imitating, and describing your child’s behavior. The more you practice the skills, the easier it is to use them in everyday situations.”

Sesame Street in Communities offer many toolkits for parents to use during playtime. These toolkits are shared on the Child Welfare Information Gateway as well! Here are some samples of activities:

Overall, spending active time with your child, where you are focused on them, is necessary for secure attachment and happy childhoods. So, the next time you feel the need to check your phone or reply to an email when you are with your child, remind yourself of the importance of being present!