Brooke French, mama of 2 daughters, Speech Language Pathologist, and Our Seva Motherhood Circle community member opens up inspiring dialogue around the power in full presence while we play with our children. In this casual chat, Brooke shares a simple 5-step process for modern mamas seeking to create an environment for peaceful play that not only benefits the child’s developmental needs, but bolsters a mother’s mindfulness practice. Many of the mothers in this community have expressed the difficulty in fully surrendering to our child’s desire for full presence “play”. I hope this conversation inspires a new narrative…one that supports more mindfulness and deeper connections with the tiny gurus at our feet.
Q: You are truly embodying the path of Karma Yoga (the yogic path of service) both in your career and in your heart as a mother. How has your role as a Speech Language Pathologist for children influenced your role of mother?
My training as an SLP seeps into almost every facet of motherhood. My understanding of child development, behavior, and feeding has helped me feel empowered. I have greater patience (at times) because I am aware of what my children can understand and express in their current stage of development. This has helped me set realistic expectations for them and our family. I am able to meet them at their level.
While most of the influence has been positive, I have also felt inadequate during times of struggle. My eldest child’s behavior can be explosive at times. I would think to myself, you have the training, why can’t you “fix” this? How did you let this happen?
Q: At a recent Our Seva Mastermind Session, you and I witnessed the women in our group struggling with the idea of full presence during playtime with our children. The general sentiment was that playing with our children is actually “hard”, leaving us searching for distractions that actually pull us out of the present moment. Can you share your step-by-step process for bringing full presence back into PLAY?
Playing is hard for most adults because children and adults function on such different levels. If it’s hard then it’s probably not fun. Your child will likely pick up on your discontentment.
During play, I recommend following the child’s lead. However, if your child’s preferred activity is crashing cars together over and over and over, then I have a few tips to make playtime more enjoyable for all. I encourage mothers (and fathers) to go for quality over quantity.
A step-by-step approach to conscious parenting while playing:
1 – Set The Mood: Start by creating an environment for focused play. Put away your cell phone, turn off the TV, be aware of background noise, lighting, and anything that could negatively impact the senses.
2 – Choose Wisely: Choose a few toys and books that are of interest (or at least tolerable) to you. Personally, I prefer toys that have a building/creating essence over toys that take more imaginative play like kitchen sets or dolls. If you prefer a tea party or playing superhero, then definitely go for it! Limit access to only the few toys you have selected. This may mean you need to leave the toy room/area and go to a different room in your house.
3 – Start Small: Set a timer and don’t be afraid to start small. Even 5 or 10 minutes of focused play will be rewarding to you and your child.
4 – Play: Follow your child’s lead. Watch to see what they pick up and focus on. Describe what they’re focusing on (“You have a blue block”). Take turns stacking, pushing, etc.
5 – Recast: If your child is at the age where they’re talking, even if it’s only a few words, recast their speech. Recasting is repeating what is said but adding to the message. For example, if your child says “Block”. The parent may respond with “Yes! blue block”. This article dives more into “recasting”.
A few additional tips:
* Understanding where your child falls in the “stages of play” (reference this PDF) will help you set your expectations accordingly.
* Books can also be a fantastic facilitator to presence. As you read through the book pause and talk about the pictures, name and describe them, ask your child to point to certain pictures (guide their finger if they’re too young to answer), give the pictures sounds – make the cars go “vroom”, make animal sounds, point out how apples go ‘crunch’ and fire is ‘hot, hot’. Maybe you have more ‘advanced’ picture books on your shelf. Open them up and make up your own story or abbreviate the story in your own words. Your child will love having your complete and undivided attention.
* Play can also occur without books and toys. Children enjoy movement and use it to let out energy and regulate their emotions. Dr. Laura Markham, clinical psychologist, has an amazing list of play ideas to help your child (and yourself) regulate emotions while connecting and playing.
* I also think it’s important to note that children learn and grow when playing independently. In today’s culture, parents feel pressure to entertain and play with their children nonstop. If we are constantly present, children don’t have many chances to entertain themselves or solve problems without assistance. My older daughter was 3 years old before she took off playing independently. I find joy in watching her pretend play with her stuffed animals and watching her do more and more for herself.
Thank you so much for that gentle reminder, Brooke. Independent play is not only a valuable skill set we can foster in our children, but a true gift as a parent. Watching our children develop their own inner worlds is beyond fascinating! Mamas, you have my permission to just watch your child 😉
Q: As women, mothers, and parents, it’s our rituals and routines that help us find steadiness amongst the chaos. What element of your personal or family routine brings about the most steadiness?
Our family routine revolves mostly around meals, snacks, and nap time. We are getting ready to start pre-school. I’ve used my SLP background to begin introducing a new morning routine that we will need to get ready and out the door. My daughter and I discussed the need for a change in the morning routine and together we created a picture chart of the morning routine. We spent a couple mornings moving slowly through the routine and referencing the pictures. Next, I set a timer but made sure to give us ample time to get through the routine. I hope to find that sweet spot where we can get through the routine without a meltdown and out the door at an acceptable time. Children want to be in charge of their body. It is our responsibility as adults to respect those wishes and not assume children will simply do as we say.
If we can be present and listen closely to our littles, then we empower them. A calm, empowered child can bring steadiness and rhythm to a family.
Now a mama, I don’t start my day with meditation, yoga, or a cup of coffee or tea. Someday I hope that is my reality. Instead my daily mantra and personal practice is to be quick to apologize and quick to forgive. I try to own and acknowledge the mistake or pain I caused and encourage those in my family to do the same. We accept forgiveness and move through the moments together. Holding onto resentment weighs us down. Just because we forgive a mistake doesn’t mean the mistake was justified or that it didn’t happen. However, by offering forgiveness we open up a door for connection and growth. The reverberations of grace and compassion keep me steady and aligned with my inner values.
Q: In a modern culture, our daily successes are often measured against unsupportive and often unsustainable measurements of success and productivity. If we were to rewrite the cultural narrative around productivity, what do you think women/mothers would like to hear?
Simply put, I think mothers want to be seen and appreciated. They are doing a million little things everyday, many of which go unnoticed. Even beyond the domestic tasks of washing, cooking, and diapering, mothers are often the primary expenditures of emotional labor. No, you’re not getting paid an hourly wage to soothe your child, but your calming presence is the whole world to your child. Your time is valuable and your work is important. Be gentle with yourself.
I absolutely LOVE this and want to thank you for calling out the emotional labor of motherhood. I never understood the depth of my emotions better than swinging from the highest highs to the lowest lows in early motherhood. The “unspoken spaces” of motherhood is where the depth of our transformation lies. It’s all part of the process to be a pendulum between high and low, back and forth, ebb and flow.
Q: If you only had 5 minutes to pause and find a sense of stillness, how would you spend that time? Is there a way you can ensure this practice in pausing is nourishing and routine?
I would spend the time with my eyes closed and focused on my breathing. In one of the Mastermind sessions you explained the exercise of listing what comes to mind. I find that exercise so helpful in tuning into my body and mind.
When I tune into my body, I notice how little I do to care for myself. My body usually tells me I am hungry, thirsty, and need to use the bathroom. I am reminded that I must take care of myself in order to care for my daughters and family. As time goes on, I notice my inner wisdom becoming louder and more definitive. In the past, I have ignored my inner wisdom, that ‘gut feeling’. I ended up in a situation that was toxic for myself and my family. I learned my lesson and listen more carefully now.
Q: Any go-to resources you’d like to share to inspire continued personal transformation or connection to our innate desires to PLAY and PAUSE?
1 – Chatterbox Books are favorites in our household. (The book is loaded with ideas to elicit language and connection.)
2 – Learn about recasting your child’s speech.
3 – Stages of Play, PDF Resource
4 – List of play ideas for regulating emotions
5 – The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (8th Edition) by Diane Wiessinger
6 – You Can’t Make Me (But I Can Be Persuaded): Strategies for Bringing Out the Best in Your Strong-Willed Child by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias
NEW Resource – Download Now!
Mamas, I know playtime with our children can sometimes feel like the ultimate test of endurance.
In collaboration with one of the Brooke French, we created a downloadable fridge-worthy PDF with helpful reminders for full-presence play. Using Brooke’s expertise as a Speech Language Pathologist for children, her play recommendations center around intentionality, mindfulness, and most importantly, adaptability and grace…for both kiddos and mama. I hope this guide helps you to sink into the nectar of life just a little bit more. Enjoy!
Join Our Seva Motherhood Circle
In the Our Seva Motherhood Circle private Facebook group, we explore the many facets of our roles as women and mothers navigating the demands of modern life. Adopting a mindfulness practice, even if it’s a part of our child’s play routine, builds a certain level of steadiness in our daily rhythms. If this dialogue inspires more stillness or conscious action within your family, I’d love for you to share your experiences in the private community! Join us for weekly discussions around personal transformation, inner & ancient wisdom, and our sacred selfless service to motherhood.