Worrying about how you raise your children is nothing new: This is a question that haunts every good parent from time to time.
How do you raise your children with intent so that they’re healthy in mind, body, and spirit? How can you give them the best childhood to help them going forward? How can you stay calm even in the face of the worst tantrums? How can you connect to your kids for who they are right now? Parents have a lot of worries and concerns. Conscious parenting could feel like the emotional shift you want to make in your family, to relieve some of these issues.
Conscious parenting refers to a set of beliefs about the kind of environment parents should set up to help their children thrive. There is no rigid set of structural rules. Practiced well, this relaxed environment can help kids grow up to be responsible, mature adults!
What is Conscious Parenting?
Conscious parents connect with their kids by making emotionally intelligent decisions. That means that instead of immediately punishing a child, parents embrace the brain’s need for empathy and connection.
At the end of the day, it’s really a parent-centric philosophy. These beliefs are based on the concept that our kids are just kids, and our own unconscious mind as parents needs taming. To adapt to a conscious mindset means focusing on yourself rather than how your child behaves. “Fixing” your child first requires fixing your expectations.
By no means should you let your child get away with murder. Don’t abandon all of your parenting instincts. Instead, be mindful of what influences your child to behave in a certain way. That is, give him or her the benefit of the doubt if they’re acting in a way that seems unreasonable on the surface. Children are necessarily immature, and this means they perceive the world differently than adults do.
Maintaining a conscious mindset means keeping an open mind and being fully present with your child without judgment. Indeed, it’s easier said than done, but this undivided attention gives you a much greater understanding, kindness, and awareness when you interact with your child.
At the University of Vermont, researchers surveyed more than 600 parents to evaluate the effect of mindfulness on a child’s well-being. According to the study’s lead author, consciousness and mindfulness play a significant part in laying the foundation for good parenting. Though the research suggests a positive relation, answering the “why” is harder to pin down.
The study pointed out three key factors that can help preserve the relationship between parent and child:
- Knowing what you’re feeling when a conflict with your child begins
- Pausing instead of lashing out in anger without thinking
- Carefully listening to what your child says, even if you disagree with the viewpoint
These skills also positively demonstrate ways of handling conflict.
How Does Conscious Parenting Work?
It’s like natural parenting, but upgraded. You still protect, love, and care for your child, but now you take the extra step of being aware of your conscious mind.
Parenting with a conscious mind isn’t a new concept; there are plenty of books that try to teach parents how to make more deliberate parenting choices. But one famous voice in the movement comes from Shefali Tsabary, better known as Dr. Shefali. She says that she thinks of the concept as no different than being mindful. The goal is to identify when we’re reacting to our children out of anger versus when we respond from being calm and collected — the way we really are. Incorporating consciousness into your parenting means staying in the moment no matter what circumstances come up.
Tsabary offers plenty of conscious parenting examples and case studies to support her reasoning, but there are no one-size-fits-all quick fixes. Parents looking for a fast and tangible solution might dislike this, but it’s essential to look past the bandaids. Good parenting is a lifelong journey that requires connecting with your children from a place of authenticity, unconditional love, and acceptance instead of control and anger.
Like with any parenting advice, though, it needs to work for you.
What is Conscious Parenting? Pros and Cons
Obviously, there are benefits to staying calm when angry, especially if you’ve lost your temper with your child before and regret it.
Conscious and mindful parenting benefits include:
- Reduced depression, anxiety, and rebellious behavior in children: After analyzing the study linked above, the research team discovered that this form of parenting works like dominoes (i don’t mean the pizza!!). Parents who utilized conscious techniques displayed less critical parenting behavior and displayed more favorable parenting behavior. By modeling this behavior for their children, the children began to display these traits.
- Less drug use in children: Another study sought to understand how keeping an open mind could impact parent-child relations. This study revealed that mindful techniques led to fewer hostile emotions from both parent and child. Likewise, both parent and child felt more positive emotions with one another, compared to parents who reacted out of anger. Positivity in the parent-child relationship led to less drug use in kids.
- Facilitates a long-lasting relationship between the parent and child
- Encourages children to display better behavior by being a better-behaving role model for them. Rather than learning to handle conflicts instinctively, children will learn to slow down and process a situation before reacting.
- Teaches parents how to handle conflict better: Parenting is one of the most challenging things you’ll ever do, but your kids aren’t the only ones who learn how to cope less emotionally. By understanding your own feelings, you will learn to react to non-parenting conflicts better, too.
Clearly, there are benefits to putting aside your mental baggage and separating yourself from your emotions. But if you’re not careful, you could end up doing the same thing with your positive thoughts as well.
Pablo Briñol led an author team in a Psychological Science paper that found something interesting. When the study participants discarded a physical representation of their thoughts, they didn’t use them as much in their decision-making processes later.
This finding is relevant because the effect occurred even if the participant wrote down something positive and then threw it in the trash; they seemed to discard the thought mentally, too. It turns out you need to be mindful of being mindful, also.
What are Some Conscious Parenting Examples?
If you’re still not sure what it means to keep an open mind when parenting, you’re not alone. Here’s an example you might come across in real life that can help explain it.
Imagine that you left your 5-year-old daughter in the other room, and she managed to find the scissors. She overheard you mention getting a haircut the other day and thought she’d save you the trouble!
First thing’s first: Instead of immediately thinking of discipline and punishing your child or reacting out of rage, take a moment to breathe and ground yourself in reality. Her hair won’t get any worse in the next few seconds. Put the scissors somewhere out of reach.
Before you react, take another moment to think about the emotions you felt when you saw this new haircut. Focus on helping your child make good decisions next time rather than feeling anger. At least a small part of you is likely worried about how other parents will react. Forget about that for now.
3. Establish Boundaries
Though the goal is to avoid an immediate punitive reaction, you still get to set your boundaries with your child. If your daughter previously asked to use the scissors and was told she had to wait for a parent, now is a good time to mention that she had failed to do so. Moving the scissors out of reach helps your child proceed with this situation.
4. Accept the Situation
Remember, this isn’t even about the hair. It doesn’t matter that it looks unprofessional, because this is what her hair looks like whether you approve of it or not. Strive for an authentic connection with your child, and clean up her hair. This could even be a fun opportunity to create a strange (intentional!) hairdo in the future!
How Can I Learn More?
If you’re interested in learning more about this growing parenting movement and how it can help you connect with your kids, you can always go straight to the source: Dr. Shefali literally wrote the book on it. This could be an important read for any parents wanting to focus in on this parenting style.
Beyond that, there’s more trial and error involved than you’ll get from reading more. Be conscious in your approach and take each day one at a time.