During the ongoing quarantine, many people have turned toward practices of self-reflection, gratitude, meditation, and other forms of looking internally for emotional support and help with external decisions and relationships. While none of these traditionally Eastern practices are new by any means (the practice of meditation is thought to have originated as far back as the 3rd century), Western cultures have started to take an interest in the benefits of conscious living through them. Among these, parents have started to look towards themselves and their decisions whenever their child acts out or does something wrong, in a practice that combines Eastern tradition and Western psychology that psychologists term “conscious parenting.”
What is Conscious Parenting?
So, what even is conscious parenting? Simply put, conscious parenting is focused on how mindfulness can impact parenting decisions. The theory is that the problem isn’t your child acting out or misbehaving, it’s actually your own “unconscious” mind that leads to parenting decisions that lead to the misbehavior. Conscious parenting requires being mindful, recognizing how you react to your children when they do something wrong, and then trying to find where that reaction stems from so that you can make better choices for your and your children moving forward.
New York Times bestselling author Dr. Shefali Tsabary, PhD describes conscious parenting as being “about the ability to be in the moment in any situation that arises.” She also believes that conscious parenting requires that we learn as much from our children as they do from us. She even describes children as “gurus who can awaken us to be real, giving us the gift of self-awareness, self-expression, and deep self-belief.”
The Elements of Conscious Parenting
Unfortunately, there is no step-by-step guide on how to become a mindful parent. Becoming mindful and conscious is a lifelong ever changing process that is highly personal, so a checklist is kind of unrealistic. While conscious parenting will look different for everyone, here are some key components:
Recognize Kids as People
An important part of conscious parenting is recognizing your children as their own person, not as an extension of yourself. Start treating parenting as a two-way relationship, wherein which both parties can learn and grow from each other.
Let It Go
No, not the song from Frozen (but it might help if you sing it anyways). We’re talking about really letting go of traditions, desires, and attachments to become a conscious parent. When you stop projecting your beliefs on your child and recognize them as independent beings, they are able to develop into their true selves.
A crucial piece to letting it go is being able to identify what “it” is to begin with – examine your values, your parents’ values, how you were raised and see what you can learn about yourself from mining experiences in your own history. What do you want to keep and what do you want to do differently than your parents?
Be in the Moment, Not Hung Up on It
One aspect of being a mindful parent is the ability to “live in the moment” with your child, which really means being present physically and providing emotional support. The flipside of this is to also allow yourself to look at the big picture. Instead of just managing and handling a meltdown, ask yourself how we got to the point of a tantrum and what else could be triggering them?
No Need for Approval
Children love making parents and guardians happy, but conscious parents aim to teach their children to be their own self-motivators, which ties into the idea of “letting go.” Let go of the high-expectations you have set for your children, even expectations around nap times and food, and simply start appreciating your child for being them. Dr. Tsabary suggests doing this because she believes the most important objective of being a parent is creating space for our children to be in touch with their own spirit. It can start small — let your 4-year-old dress herself, let your toddler decide if he wants carrots or potatoes, or allow your 8-year-old to slide by with a C on his math test. Continue to provide emotional support, but just remember to let them become themselves without looming consequences to your expectations hovering over them.
Recognize Your Triggers
Take a look at your own behavior and reactions to your child’s misbehavior and try to recognize where those emotions come from. What is hindering your ability to consciously parent stems from unresolved childhood experiences. For example, plenty of adults struggle with bringing up conflict. Try and recognize how your conflict avoidance impacts your parenting and then take it one step further and try to uncover why that fear developed in the first place.
Boundaries should follow the three C’s – clear, consistent, and compassionate. While it might seem easier to cave on your non-negotiable boundaries (not the ones you are able to “let go” of) to avoid tears and tantrums, children feel secure whenever they have consistency, so follow through! Tsabary suggests using mainly positive reinforcement and only using consequences when they logically make sense to you and your child, which may require some more explanation on your part.
Of course, there are challenges to becoming a conscious parent. For one, taking a good look at yourself is never easy and it takes time to evaluate your own shortcomings and where they stem from. This may even require therapy or other forms of emotional support in order to grow as a parent. Plus, conscious parenting requires your child to struggle and fail in order to become their own person, just as our own struggles helped make us the people we are today. In addition, parents of babies, toddlers, and younger children may not be able to fully commit to conscious parenting in the moment for the safety of their child. For example, if your toddler is about to take a nosedive off of the couch, you have to act quickly and don’t have time to ponder on why she made the decision to go up there in the first place. Finally, there are no cut and dry solutions in conscious parenting, which may be frustrating for some parents looking for quick answers. Conscious parenting involves communicating and working with your child to find answers that work for the both of you, and even after a solution is found, it still may change as your child grows or the situation shifts. Remember to be open!
Conscious parenting is a long term approach that does not always “work” in terms of your child’s behavior, but it is worth the investment to be a conscious parent. Your child will be self-motivated and self-aware. There are benefits to the parents as well. This style of parenting leads to rich interactions and experiences with your children and allows space for you to examine your own values, to fail, but to ultimately build a more cohesive family.
How HAPPÉ Can Help
Becoming a conscious parent means helping your child find healthy ways to become their own person, while still being there to provide emotional support. Try one of HAPPÉ Life’s free online programs to help children build their confidence and become more independent by giving them the tools they need to manage stress and build relationships. Mission I’m Possible uses the power of imaginative play to encourage kindness and empathy in children, while Ellie, HAPPÉ’s animated tapping guide teaches EFT Tapping, a technique that has been scientifically proven to help reduce feelings of depression, stress, anxiety, and other negative emotions.