Research on the power of intention in physics, sports, business, psychology, and other fields suggests that getting clear on exactly what you want and “putting it out there” helps you create it.

From a Notre Dame football coach having players visualize a win, to a manager having salespeople post logos of their desired accounts on a bulletin board, when you imagine just how you want things to go, they are more likely to happen that way.

Focusing on exactly what you’d like to see happen—whether by talking about what you want, writing it down, visualizing it, or even thinking about it—helps move you directly toward it. Intentions are more effective when they are specific (e.g. “I want to eat three pieces of fruit per day” and strong (e.g. “I strongly intend to be in bed by 10 p.m.!”) (Gollwitzer, 1999). 

In chaotic everyday life, parents can harness the power of intention to ensure that, in addition to loading the dishwasher three times in a day or cleaning up yet another broken plate, they also fit in the actions most important to them - the moments of fun, connection, and closeness with their kids and partners. 

Here are 3 types of intention parents can use to bond with family members:

1.) Set Ritual Intentions

Pinpoint the consistent, repetitive actions that you most want to make a part of family life. Setting ritual intentions ensures that the “good stuff,” like playing catch with your kid or going on a monthly date night with your partner, doesn’t always get edged out by trips to Target or vacuuming the stairs. Here are a few examples:

  • I will take my child out for special one-on-one time around her birthday and half-birthday.
  • I will go for a run every Saturday morning to recharge my tank.
  • I will go out for dinner or coffee with my two best friends every other weekend.
  • I will take 15 minutes to listen to my child talk about his or her day every evening at bedtime.
  • I will take my child to play outside for 20 minutes when she/he gets home from childcare or school.
  • Every time my child walks down from her room in the morning, I will give her a hug and say "I love you so much."
  • I will watch a comedy movie once a week when I fold the laundry.
  • I will bake muffins every Sunday afternoon with my child.

2.) Set Implementation Intentions

Researcher Peter Gollwitzer (1999) found that “implementation intentions,” which spell out “When x happens, I will engage in y!” are especially effective because they help you anticipate “situational cues” that elicit a more automatic desired response. They identify where, and how you will implement goals so it will be more likely that you’ll attain them. Implementation intentions can set you up you bring more compassion and connection to specific moments with kids, especially trying moments (like skipping naps or almost being late for school).

Some examples:

  • When my toddler skips his nap, I will take us both for a walk and not let it ruin my day.
  • When my partner walks in from work, I will tell her about something positive that happened in my day.
  • If my child has some challenging behaviors, I will turn on some calming music and make myself a cup of tea to stay grounded.
  • If my kids start roughhousing inside, I will send them to the yard to play.
  • If I notice a conflict while helping my child with homework, we will take a break and come back to it.

3.) Use Visualization

Another way parents can use intention is through visualization, or seeing the best possible scenario play out in their mind’s eye, before an activity occurs. If you picture things going well, they are more likely to go that way. A few examples:

  • On the way to the park, a parent visualized a playful, lighthearted time with his sons—pushing them high on the swings, zooming bikes around the trail, playing hide and seek behind the trees, and having fun together.
  • On her way to the emergency room to get her daughter stitches for a cut above her eye, a parent visualized a smooth experience—a skilled doctor, a short wait, friendly nurses, and the cut healing perfectly well.
  • Before a family beach vacation, a mom visualized herself walking on the beach with her daughter, playing in the waves with her kids, taking pictures of the sunset with her son, and snuggling and reading books to her 2 year old in the morning before the rest of the family woke up.

Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD is a counselor in Chicago’s western suburbs. www.erinleyba.com. She is the author of Joy Fixes for Weary Parents: 101 Ideas for Overcoming Fatigue, Stress, and Guilt - and Building a Life You Love (New World Library), available on Amazon. Join her on Facebook or sign up to get free articles on parenting with mindfulness and joy.

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