by Rachel Macy Stafford

I recently heard from someone who read about the “Heartbeat Check” in my new book and was making it a nightly ritual with her child. One night she was instructing her spouse on how to do it in her absence, and it led to a meaningful talk and healing tears between them. The strategies listed here and in my book can add peace and loving connection to any relationship, despite the busyness of our lives… despite the distractions pulling us away… despite what happened yesterday.

There is hope in today. Here are eight ways to end it in peaceful connection.

  1. Have “Talk Time.”

Although my older daughter coined this term when she was a toddler, it is just as important to her 12-year-old heart now as it was then. It means for a handful of minutes, I push away my distractions, my to-dos, my worries & regrets to offer my undivided presence before my child goes to bed. No matter how tired, stressed or distracted I am going into her room, I come out feeling connected, peaceful and renewed. It costs me about 10 minutes, but the payoff is huge. I get to hear the topics on my child’s heart and mind. Something tells me this is one daily investment I will never regret.

  1. Have “Question Time.”

My younger daughter loves Question Time before she goes to sleep. For 10 minutes, she is free to ask me any questions she wants. Sometimes the topics are light-hearted: Where do magic bunnies live? Other times they are heavy: What is heaven like? I always answer them to the best of my ability, in hopes she will continue to turn to me for answers as she grows.

Isn’t that what kids truly long for — to have the freedom to ask the questions of life? Is there any better gift we can offer our children at the end of the day than to allow them to ask questions without fear of judgment, without fear of being hurried along, without fear of being ignored?

  1. Do a Heartbeat Check.

My kids love when I place my head on their chests and tell them what I hear. While one child’s Heartbeat Check brings laughter so intense that hiccups result, the other child’s Heartbeat Check inspires solemn talks of poverty, terrorism and middle school angst. But there is one commonality: The Heartbeat Check offers solace. No matter how crazy the day… no matter how discouraged I feel… no matter how dismal the state of our world, the Heartbeat Check offers refuge. There is nothing more hopeful than the sound of the human heart.

  1. Offer an apology.

Several years ago a reader of my blog wrote to me and said, “Our family was ripped apart by the inability of a man to say, ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘I was wrong.'” Her story helped me face a painful truth: I needed to apologize more. The nightly tuck-in offered me this chance. Although it was difficult for me to apologize directly after I had acted poorly, it wasn’t too late to apologize later. I began apologizing for things that had happened earlier that day and things that had happened in the past. Admitting my wrongdoing and asking for forgiveness lifted a weight — not only for me, but also for my children. It is not uncommon for them to apologize to me in the sanctity of their darkened rooms, because I have modeled it. An added bonus is that we are better able to talk about about how we plan to do things differently in the future when we are both calm and open to suggestions.

  1. Name 20 things.

One night my younger daughter asked me to name 20 things I love about her. Although I had dishes in the sink, work to do, and an aching back, I did it. I watched her smile widen with each positive comment. It took under two minutes, this little request of hers, but something tells me she will remember this list for a long time. I’ve made a point of “naming 20 things” periodically as my children grow. The reaction is always the same: pure joy. And that makes for a soft place to lay our heads at night.

  1. Remember the power of presence.

Maybe the connection between you and your loved one is strained. Maybe nothing on this list feels right. In that case, remember the power of presence. Remember you don’t have to have all the answers or the ability to “fix” a troubled heart. Sometimes our mere presence is enough. Simply say, “Can I sit with you? I love you and want you to know I’m here for you.” Our mere presence has the power to change a dismal situation into one of hope.

  1. Offer soul-building words.

Perhaps time is running short and you only have a few seconds to say good night. Make it count by speaking words that nourish the human heart and foster growth & acceptance:

* You make my life better.
* I love spending time with you.
* Seeing your face makes me happy.
* I am amazed at how much you are handling right now.
* I see your light & will do all I can to protect it.

  1. Count to 50 in your head.

Early on in my journey to slow down and be fully present in my life, I found it difficult to oblige when my daughter said, “Stay a little longer.” That is when I would count. I would count to 50 or 100 in my head. Every time I mustered that little extra time, my child would say something important or funny, or simply whisper, “I love you.” I would be thankful I stayed. I would be thankful I did not miss it.


Rachel Macy Stafford is a certified special education teacher with a Master’s Degree in education and ten years of experience working with parents and children. In December 2010, this life-long writer felt compelled to share her journey to let go of distraction and grasp what really matters by creating the blog “Hands Free Mama.” Using her skills as a writer, teacher, and encourager, Rachel provides readers with simple, non-intimidating, and motivating methods to let go of distraction and connect with their loved ones. Rachel’s work has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Global News, USA Today,,, The Huffington Post, and Reader’s Digest. Her blog currently averages one million visitors a month. Rachel’s new book, HANDS FREE MAMA, is a New York Times Bestseller.