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Before your baby arrived, you probably read an endless stack of parenting books, listened to thousands of stories from other parents, and maybe even swore to your partner that you’d do the opposite of everything your parents did.
You may have felt confident in your parenting choices for your not-yet-a-challenge-because-they-weren’t-born-yet baby.
Then, your baby arrived, sprouted quickly into a small person with their own thoughts and desires, and suddenly the whirlwind of it all left you feeling completely unprepared and confused.
Feeling pressure to make tough parenting decisions, you may have started looking for groups of fellow parents to seek out advice.
Through those groups, one newer (sometimes controversial) parenting approach you may have started to hear about is conscious parenting. What is it though? And does it actually work?
Conscious parenting is a term used by various psychologists (and others) to describe a style of parenting that usually focuses more on the parent and how mindfulness can drive parenting choices.
It’s rooted in a combination of Eastern-style philosophy and Western-style psychology. (In other words, a bringing together of meditation and self-reflection.)
Put most simply, conscious parenting asks that instead of striving to “fix” your child, parents look inward at themselves. Conscious parenting views children as independent beings (though admittedly still developing over time), who can teach parents to become more self-aware.
One of the figureheads of this approach to parenting is Shefali Tsabary, PhD, a New York–based clinical psychologist, author, and public speaker. (In case you’re wondering how popular she is, the Dalai Lama wrote the opening to her first book, Oprah has considered her one of the best interviews she’s ever had, and Pink is a fan of her books, which include: The Conscious Parent, The Awakened Family, and Out of Control.)
Shefali suggests that through serious consideration of cultural legacies — or to put it more bluntly, family baggage and personal conditioning — parents can begin to let go of their own checklists for how life should be done.
By releasing these checklists, Shefali believes parents free themselves from forcing beliefs on their children. When this occurs, children become free to develop their true identity. Ultimately, Shefali argues this will help children connect with their parents since they’re being accepted for who they really are.
Supporters of conscious parenting believe this model prevents children from having an identity crisis later in life. They also feel it creates closer bonds with children and that the conditioning and authoritative style common in many parental relationships are responsible for the large number of children who pull away from parents.
While there are many elements to conscious parenting, a few key ideas include:
- Parenting is a relationship. (And not a one-way transmission process!) Children are their own unique people who can teach a parent.
- Conscious parenting is about letting go of a parent’s ego, desires, and attachments.
- Instead of forcing behaviors on children, parents should focus on their own language, their expectations, and their self-regulation.
- Instead of reacting to issues with consequences, parents should establish boundaries ahead of time and use positive reinforcement.
- Instead of trying to fix a momentary problem (e.g., a temper tantrum), it’s important to look at the process. What led up to this event and what does it mean in a bigger picture?
- Parenting is not just about making a child happy. Children can grow and develop through struggles. A parent’s ego and needs should not prevent a child’s growth!
- Acceptance requires being present and engaging with whatever situations present themselves.
A conscious parenting approach requires parents to engage in self-reflection and mindfulness on a daily basis. This may be beneficial to more than just your parenting.
Engaging in mindful self-reflection regularly can bring
Additionally, its supporters say that conscious parenting can encourage more respectful language use (by both parents and children) as well as overall increased communication.
One of the key tenets to conscious parenting is that children are full individuals who have something to teach adults. Truly accepting this belief requires parents to speak to children with a certain level of respect and to communicate with them frequently.
Having frequent respectful conversations with adults models healthy, positive relationship skills for children to use in other areas of their life.
A 2019 study also suggests there are benefits to adults engaging children with high-quantity and high-quality language in early childhood. Researchers note the types of conversations promoted by the conscious parenting style may result in improved cognition, fewer signs of aggression, and advanced development in children.
For parents seeking a quick, clear-cut fix to parenting challenges, conscious parenting may not be a great match for several reasons.
First, it can take a long time to achieve the amount of self-reflection and internal control necessary to parent in the way called for by this style. After all, supporters of conscious parenting believe it’s necessary to release your own baggage to allow your child to be true to their authentic self, and that won’t happen overnight!
Second, conscious parenting requires that parents give their children the opportunity to struggle and fail. This, of course, means that it may be messy and take time.
Supporters of conscious parenting believe that this time and struggle is necessary for a child to grapple with important issues that will define them. However, for some parents watching it happen may be difficult if they have a chance to prevent their child from experiencing failure or pain.
Third, for parents who like black-and-white answers to handling problems with their children, conscious parenting can be troubling. Conscious parenting does not endorse an if A, then B approach to parenting.
This style of parenting requires that adults relinquish significant amounts of control to their child. (Less dictation means things may get a little fuzzier and less predictable.)
Instead of there always being a clear course of action, conscious parenting insists that parents work with children to sort through issues as they arise and stay in the moment.
Additionally, conscious parenting may pose unique challenges when parenting younger children. There are times when, for safety, a parent needs to take action immediately. It’s not always possible to pause and reflect when your first responsibility is to keep your child safe.
Finally, for some parents, the key beliefs behind the conscious parenting perspective can hit a nerve. For example, one of the more controversial lines in “The Conscious Parent” states, “Parenting is not that complicated or difficult once we become conscious because a conscious person is naturally loving and authentic.” It’s likely that most parents have sometimes — if not daily — felt that parenting is, in fact, pretty complicated and often difficult.
When considering any parenting philosophy, there may be times another philosophy makes more sense. Conscious parenting may not be the right fit for every situation or child, depending on other parenting views and the personalities of those involved.
Most parents rely on a mixture of parenting philosophies when raising their children and base their actions on a complex combination of factors.
Confused about what implementing this might look like in real life? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. So, here’s a real-life example of the conscious parenting style in action.
Imagine that your 5-year-old has been left alone and gotten hold of the scissors (every parent’s worst nightmare!) They decided to play barber shop and use their new cutting skills on their hair. You’ve just walked in and seen the result…
Instead of reacting in rage or horror, providing an immediate punishment, or placing blame on the child, as a parent practicing conscious parenting you’d take a second to breathe and center yourself. Take a moment to move the scissors to a safe location.
It’s important to take time to reflect on any triggers or emotions this event may have stirred inside yourself before expressing them towards your child. Chances are at least a little part of you is thinking about what all the other parents on the playground will think when they see your child next! Time to let that go.
3. Set boundaries
Conscious parenting does include setting boundaries (particularly when it comes to requesting respectful communication). So if your child asked to use the scissors earlier and was told that it could only occur with a parent present for safety reasons, this would be a time to mention the violation of the boundary that had been set.
However, you also need to consider how you can help your child going forward, like moving the scissors to a location they can’t access on their own. Remember: Conscious parenting strives for connection and authentic relationships while focusing on the bigger picture that long term this isn’t about ill-cut hair.
Finally, instead of getting upset that your child’s hair may not look the most professional, conscious parenting would ask that you accept the hair for where it is now. No need to mourn the past hairdos! It’s time to practice releasing your ego.
You could even use this as an opportunity to work with your child to create a new hairdo if they desire one!
It’s possible that everything described here about conscious parenting resonates with the way you think parenting should be done. On the other hand, you may disagree with it all strongly. You’re definitely not alone however you feel.
No one style of parenting works perfectly for every child (or situation), so it’s important to learn about different parenting philosophies. You never know when it’ll come in handy! Perhaps you’ll even be leading the answering crew in your next parent group.