GEMS: Tuning in to the Present

How often do you actually stop what you’re doing and look someone in the eye when they’re talking to you, truly listening to every word? I’m betting, if you’re anything like me, with very little free time and little kids running around your house, that it’s not very often. Here are some common scenarios for me:

My first grader is tugging at my jeans and telling a story while I’m chopping some vegetables and asking the other one to get off the dining room table. I can barely hear what the story was even about. “Oh, that sounds cool,” I say pretending I caught it all.

Busy Mom preparing dinnerMy husband walks in the door from work, and launches into a story about his day while I’m throwing something in the oven and wiping up our cat’s latest hairball. “Oh, that sounds cool,” I say, while picturing what I’m going to make for dinner tomorrow night.

A co-worker walks into my office while I’m deep into writing and tells me a story about their kids first day of school. “Oh, that sounds cool,” I say, thinking about the next line I’m going to write.

But what actually happened is that now whenever I say, “Oh, that sounds cool,” everyone in my family knows I haven’t heard one word. I’ve been busted. I even tried another line: “Wow!” but that only lasted for a couple days.

Not long after I was outed, my husband and I took Jennifer William’s class called Redirecting Children’s Behavior. We learned many things, but there was one that I especially latched onto—something I now try to use not just with my children, but also in many different relationships. It’s called Genuine Encounter Moments (GEMS), often described as focused attention. 

Steps for a genuine encounter momentHere’s how it works in real life:

Your kid comes up and tugs on your leg, wanting your attention. You put down what you’re doing, get down to his level, look him in the eye, put your hand gently on his shoulder, and listen attentively and genuinely to what he wants.

What this does is help your child feel important and valuable, boosting his/her self-esteem. Since they get very little focused attention throughout a day, this is like filling their cup. And the more you do it, the less likely they are to use misbehaviors to get your attention.

Mother listening and tickling her sonThe first time I tried a GEM with my son, I thought he was going to faint. He was kind of weirded out that I was actually listening and looking at him on his level. But there was no denying that he liked it—it visibly made him feel good, and I knew this was going to be a useful tool.

I soon realized that GEMS don’t just work with children, but with other people in my life who also deserve my attention, from the husband and friends to the coworkers. I can use it in a different way—like I don’t have to crouch down and touch them or I might really weird them out—but I can take the time to actually look them in the eye and listen, even if it’s for a moment.

But it’s important to be realistic; there are some moments when mama just can’t be messed with. There are times when I’m under deadline, and I can’t chat. But even if I can use GEMS a few times a day, I’ve noticed that it makes a big difference in my relationships, while also helping me tune back in to the present moment. I realize I’ve actually missed the present moment, and it’s good to be back!

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Guest Blogger: Corinne GarciaGuest Blogger: Corinne Garcia
Corinne Garcia is a freelance writer for a wide range of websites and magazines, from Marie Claire and Country Living to and, covering anything from healthy food to parenting. She lives in Bozeman, Montana with her husband and two young sons.

Posted in Perfectly Imperfect Parenting

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