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The Lost Art of High-Quality Family Downtime: Defeat the Screen

By Andrea Lieberstein, MPH, RDN, RYT

Quality time with family 

These days, it feels as if meaningful quality time with the family has become more challenging than ever before. Activities and to-do lists for both kids and parents have gotten longer with unstructured time becoming more and more sparse. With technology at our finger tips, screens have become ubiquitous, intruding on many moments of our lives. The precious moments of downtime used to consist of family members being fully present and interactive, allowing for engaged conversations and family connections. How can we restore our individual and family quality time? How can we be aware and attentive with one another in fulfilling ways?

Mindfulness can help

Mindfulness is the practice of bringing awareness to day-to-day experiences, including the structure and events of our day, as well as to our thoughts, feelings, urges, needs, and habits. Being mindful calls for kind, curious, open, and nonjudgmental attention. Through the practices of mindfulness, we learn how to note the habits that work in our lives to promote well being and connection.

We could all benefit from more undistracted time, whether it is in the form of downtime or fun activities. There are times where we all need to disconnect from the world around us in order to reconnect with ourselves and our loved ones.

In more recent years, devices, which can be used to connect us, have also become a source of disconnection. Similarly, High-quality connections can happen within families when we are mindful of how often we use our devices such as cell phones, tablets or televisions. Set clear boundaries, especially around meal times, specific family activities, intentional downtime, and hanging-out time. It’s important to model good digital habits with our children and to fight the impulse to get on our devices to check that one thing that turns into more.

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Mindfully examining the urge to constantly check our cell phones can help free us of ingrained patterns and addictive habits. Try “urge surfing” to support habits and boundaries you want to create or reinforce. Mindfully attend to urges to pursue to-do lists or use the phone during times intentionally set to be with each other. Depending upon how open and old your kids are, you can even share aspects of the following practices with them:

  • Share your intention to have more quality time spent between you and your family members.
  • Examine your life with mindful attention. How is it working? Where do you need to make changes to support more fulfilling quality time? What are they?
  • Define or refine boundaries. If your kids are older it can be helpful to sit down and explain why you are setting more boundaries around screen-free time, to increase their buy in.
  • Practice “urge surfing.” When the urge arises to get back on the screen or reengage in a to-do list, meet this inner experience with curious, open, mindful attention. Notice thoughts, feelings, and sensations that make up this urge. When you meet it with mindfulness, the urge will subside naturally, and you will have more space to make new choices to be more present and connected with your family and yourself, rather than following the automatic habit that takes you away.

Explore eM Life and take part in one of ur Mindful Daily sessions this month as we delve into many aspects of mindful parenting and a variety of helpful tools and skills.

About the author

Andrea is a bestselling author of ‘Well Nourished: Mindful Practices to Heal Your Relationship to Food, Feed Your Whole Self, and End Overeating,’ Instructor at eMindful, Speaker, Trainer, Mindfulness and Mindful-Eating Coach

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Also published on Medium.