When hearing the word distraction, what comes to mind? According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, distraction has three distinct meanings. The most common refers to anything that keeps us from giving our full attention to something else. Often we view that “something else” as more important than whatever or whoever is interrupting us. Sometimes it is. Others absolutely not. The definition is ambivalent. The situation determines what’s a bane and what’s a blessing.
If I’m concentrating on writing a blog post and constantly being interrupted, the interruptions are keeping me from focusing my full attention on my writing. That’s a hindrance. On the other hand, child life specialists use distraction toys and techniques to divert a child’s attention away from a frightening or painful scenario. Such distractions reduce stress and increase the child’s ability to cope. Similarly, distractions help prevent or minimize emotional meltdowns in children.
Additional definitions, “diversion or recreation” and “extreme agitation of the mind or emotions,” reflect the same polarities as the primary meaning. Perhaps if we embrace this duality of meaning, we can avoid extreme agitation by allowing ourselves a brief diversion. Breathe deeply. Find a quiet place – preferably outdoors – and simply sit. Take a walk. Balance is crucial to our well-being.
C. S. Lewis wrote “Children are NOT a distraction from more important work. They are THE MOST important work.” Most parents would agree, at least in principle. Our most important work is rearing our children. Doing so is our privilege and our responsibility, and we take that seriously.
Being responsible parents means providing for our children: clothing, food, shelter, health care, and education. To accomplish this, we engage in other important work – that of earning a living. If we’re not mindful, our jobs can drive us to distraction. We’re called upon to create boundaries and establish equilibrium among myriad important tasks including our most important one.
Interrupt the cycle by creating a diversion. Spend time in a leisure pursuit with your children. Switch off electronic devices and play. What play means to you and your children will depend on ages, stages, interests, and available resources.
With holidays approaching, consider baking, making cards, or decorating butcher or craft paper for one-of-a-kind gift wrap. Explore service opportunities in your community and choose one to brighten the holidays for others. Perhaps read aloud a favorite holiday story or sing familiar songs at a retirement home. What’s important is being together, sharing experiences, making memories. Creating positive experiences for others shows our children the importance of kindness. They learn such lessons best from watching us. Whatever words we use, our actions speak louder.
Now back to the word of the day – distraction. Be mindful of interruptions to your most important work and use recreation and leisure pursuits to avoid being driven to a state of mental distress. Breathe deeply, slow the pace, and savor the moment.
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