What Is Conscious Parenting?
(2021 • 07 • 15)
You’ve heard us mention it many times, but what exactly does ‘conscious parenting’ involve?
If you’ve been part of our MEfamily for any length of time - even if you’ve just read our website - you’ll have certainly come across the term ‘conscious parenting’. With our focus on mental and physical health, this parenting philosophy is a key element of everything we do… so what exactly does it involve?
Put simply, ‘conscious parenting’ is a style of parenting popular among psychologists that combines practices from Western psychology and Eastern philosophy. It takes its name from the idea that parents should become ‘conscious’ of their own learned behaviours and emotional baggage, promoting mindfulness and self-reflection on the part of the parent, rather than focusing on ways of dealing with children’s behaviour. By doing this, it aims to promote the development of healthy behaviours and protect against unhealthy ones from the offset, rather than trying to fix them when they show up.
Our relationship with our parents has a drastic effect on many aspects of our adult selves, including our neurobiology; so much so that a bad relationship can manifest itself in a way that can be clearly seen on a brain scan. After all, there’s a reason for the cliché that everyone talks about their parents in therapy: it’s true!
Conscious parenting aims to combat this: a key element of its philosophy is learning to let go of your own expectations, beliefs and ego when interacting with your child. In this way, you can give your children the support and space to grow into and accept their own true selves, and thus lead happier, healthier lives. As clinical psychologist and author of The Conscious Parent, Shefali Tsabary notes:
“We don’t hurt our children because we’re evil or ill-intentioned - certainly not out of a lack of love. We hurt our children for one reason only: it’s because we are hurting ourselves and we barely know it.”
So, as an example, say you came from a family that placed a high amount of worth on academic achievement. You yourself may have pushed yourself to achieve high grades, skipping out on social events or hobbies in order to study. As a parent, you may feel the urge to encourage your child to do the same. However, if you are parenting consciously, you may be able to reflect upon your relationship with academic achievement, and realise that it is not the only route to happiness and success in later life - rather, your desire to push your child towards this path is born of your own harsh inner critic. Thus, if your child wanted to play instead of engaging in extracurricular activities, you would let them!
Another key element of conscious parenting is viewing your relationship with your child as one of equals, rather than authoritarian. This can encourage the development of good self-regulation skills and heightened self-worth in children, along with a closer bond between parent and child. Tsabary, in The Conscious Parent, views parents and children as two people on the same path, but at different stages, each able to teach and learn from the other. She even goes as far as to say:
“Our children contribute to our growth in ways that are perhaps more profound than we can contribute to theirs...It's my experience that the relationship between parent and child exists for the primary purpose of the parent's transformation and only secondarily for the raising of the child."
This relationship of mutual respect in turn encourages respectful language, open communication and for parents to find and help with the root problem behind ‘acting out’ behaviours, rather than chastising the behaviour itself.
So, now that we’ve gone over these key ideas, what are the elements that make up conscious parenting?
- Recognise and let go of your own expectations, beliefs, ego and emotional baggage. Instead, let your child show you who they want to be.
- Instead of trying to alter your child’s behaviour, focus on your own actions, language and emotional responses.
- Create clear and consistent boundaries, and openly discuss why they are in place. If your child crosses these boundaries, reiterate them and find the cause of the transgression: children are never ‘bad’ for the sake of it.
- Before responding to a situation, take a moment to reflect. What emotions has this triggered in you and why? Why has this situation arisen? How can you help your child to learn from this?
- Before making a decision to do with your child, reflect upon the emotions and preconceived ideas that may be affecting your judgement.
- Your child is an equal. Always listen and use respectful language. Try to avoid simply prohibiting behaviours ‘because you said so’, and instead discuss and explain why they may be unhealthy or hurtful to others.
- Accept that your child will feel pain and face a multitude of struggles in their life. Your role is to be there to support them through it and give them the space to learn, rather than taking the pain away.
- And, lastly, remain present.
Now, we know that, for many, conscious parenting may sound incredibly difficult. The level of self-reflection required can be very difficult to achieve, and turning the spotlight onto yourself when your child is struggling can be painful. Also, this style of parenting is not going to be a quick fix when your little ones are drawing on the walls!
However, even taking baby steps towards being a little more conscious of your own learned behaviours whilst parenting can have wonderful benefits for both yourself and your child. Here are just a few:
- Allowing your child the space to make their own decisions and become their true self can lead to greater health and happiness in later life, including encouraging healthy emotion expression and higher levels of assertiveness.
- Early building of mutual trust and respect can build stronger, closer relationships.
- Engaging in regular mindful self-reflection has been proven to have a number of benefits, including improvements to self-regulation, anxiety and stress levels, sleep pattern, attention span and blood pressure. This, in turn, can lead to more consistent and positive parenting.
- Many aspects of conscious parenting encourage the development of good self-regulation in children, which has been shown to develop through positive parent-child relationships: this important skill must be modeled to be learned, and the mindful practices of conscious parenting encourage greater self-regulation on the part of the parent!
- Sensitive, supportive parenting has been linked to greater academic achievement.
- Studies have shown that children of those who parent with mindfulness engage in more prosocial behaviours, such as sharing.
- Explaining risks and reasons rather than prohibiting behaviours enhances children’s understanding of the world, and helps them to make more informed decisions.
- Conscious parenting can increase respectful language on the part of both parent and child, and can improve overall communication.
We at MEplace are huge advocates for conscious parenting for its encouragement of good mental, as well as physical, development. Parents hold so much power over their children’s futures, so I hope the information in this blog helps you to develop your own parenting philosophy, no matter what stage of your journey you are on.
Content Creator at MEplace