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Stop, Drop, Connect! Practicing Presence With Your Kids When Your World is Nuts

African American family outside
Photo © Susan Chiang

by Kim DeMarchi

When I was working full-time and my twins were in preschool, I would come home frazzled and preoccupied with the tasks before me: Start dinner, check phone, open mail, and all of those to-do-list-y things.

During those hectic times, I remember feeling pestered and bothered by my kids' many wants. I kept thinking that they seemed needy—and of course they were needy. They hadn’t seen me all day.

Something had to shift.

So I dusted off my old copy of Your Child’s Self-Esteem by Dorothy Corkille Briggs. Printed in 1975, this book is all about building connections with your kids. The cover features a happy, naked toddler sitting in the grass. I love this book.

Corkille Briggs coined the term “genuine encounter moments,” or GEMS. She understood that before anything else, children need to be acknowledged, cared for, loved and understood. It’s a human need, actually, but in today’s world, we are so busy with work, activities, and the endless thrum of schedules and deadlines that connected moments can get lost. Connection, I was reminded, is so much more important than recycling the junk mail, wiping down a dusty shelf, or finely mincing garlic.

GEMS are about 100 percent focused attention, and they help children—and parents—get their emotional needs met even when life is nuts. GEMS are not just about being physically present. They are those times when you are completely in the moment with your child, when you are mentally and emotionally present.

I re-committed to GEMS. Every day after work, I wouldn’t start with all the things I had to do. Instead, I would sit down on the floor with my kids and just play with them. It was just a few minutes, but it made a big difference in our after-school routine and everyone's emotional well-being.

I love encouraging families to practice GEMS. They feel great, they keep you connected to your kids, and most important they help you meet your children’s emotional needs, so that your kids don’t become so, well, needy!

How to Practice GEMS in Your Life:

1. Stop and get down to your child’s level. If your child is on the floor playing Legos, get down there too!

2. Really listen to what your child is saying. Let your child take the lead, show you his world, direct the play: Your role is to follow the action and participate joyfully. It’s important to note that GEMS are heart-to-heart connections not a head-to-head connections, so it’s not a time to teach your kids something, and it’s not a conversation where you take turns talking. (Not that there is anything wrong with those types of connection; it’s just not a GEM.)

3. Look at your child in the eyes (and not the book shelf that needs reorganizing). You can also look at what the child is looking at. (Sometimes kids feel eye-to-eye contact is too intense and it’s easier to get more “into their world” when I’m excited about the things my kids are excited about.)

4. Just be there. Give them a loving touch: Physical touch is powerful. Sometimes silence is okay.

That’s it. GEMS sound so simple, but if you really look through the rhythm of your days, how many genuine encounter moments can you count?

One caveat:  You can’t possibly give fully focused GEMS-style attention all the time. The goal is improvement: If you’re doing zero GEMS, try to do one a day. If you’re doing two, try four. See how it goes.

We hope you love them as much as we do. They are a reminder that the very best moments in life truly are free. 


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