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What Is Conscious Parenting & How Can It Strengthen Your Family?

Feeling exhausted and frustrated, Ms. Meyers began practicing conscious parenting. It liberated her from stress, letting her enjoy her sons.

Conscious parenting represents a paradigm shift as adults learn from kids.

Conscious parenting represents a paradigm shift as adults learn from kids.

Parenting Without a Plan

When we look back at our childhood as adults, we often realize how stressed and frazzled our moms and dads were, juggling parenthood and careers. Some never read a book or took a class on child-rearing but just reacted to each event as it happened: spanked us when we pulled out an electrical cord, sent us to our bedrooms when we didn't eat our vegetables, gave us a time-out when we hit our sibling, and nagged us when our rooms were messy. Everything was done on-the-fly as they struggled to make it through each exhausting day, trying to do it all but not doing anything well.

Unconscious Parenting Can Damage Kids

This kind of unconscious child-rearing left many of us scarred, feeling invisible and unloved. While our external needs were met with food, shelter, and clothes, we felt emotionally abandoned on the inside. Some of us turned to drugs, alcohol, pornography, technology, and unhealthy relationships to numb our pain. Today, things have only gotten worse with higher rates of depression and anxiety among children and teens. Without deliberate, thoughtful parenting, kids often grow up into adults who struggle with a myriad of problems.

Conscious Parenting Celebrates Our Children As They Are

Unlike quick fixes such as spankings, time-outs, and groundings that are effective at the moment but not long-term, conscious parenting provides a new and potent dynamic based on mutual respect. The goal is to be fully present so we see our kids as unique beings, not as reflections of us. We don't parent to achieve our unfulfilled dreams or repair the hurts from our past. Instead, we look to our kids as guides who help us make the right decisions for them. We parent from the position of knowing that our kids are enough and don't need to be changed.

Without a doubt, though, it's challenging to be mindful parents as life comes at us fast and furious. It's easy to react in the moment, falling back into bad habits of nagging, yelling, accusing, blaming, criticizing, and name-calling. That's why it's helpful to know these 20 strategies so conscious parenting becomes automatic even when we're harried.

Honor Your Child's Authentic Self

1. Get to know your children in a profound way by spending time together, asking open-ended questions, and listening intently: “What did you think of that movie? What are you learning at school? Why did that remark hurt you so much?”

2. Don't deny your children's feelings by saying, “You shouldn't feel that way.” Feelings are neither good nor bad; they just are. When you renounce their emotions, you're renouncing them. They'll shut down and shut you out, causing both you and themselves a world of pain.

3. Compliment your children's kindness, persistence, and hard work and not their innate beauty, intelligence, and athleticism. Point out how they shine so they know you notice and appreciate their behaviors: “I saw how you helped your sister look for her lost book... you really studied hard this semester and got your math grade up...you're a good friend by listening to him when he's feeling down.”

4. Don't compare your children to other children, either in a positive or negative way: "you're a lot prettier than she is" or "I wish you were better at science like your brother." Kids want us to see them as unique beings—neither better nor worse than anybody else.

5. Encourage self-care. We honor ourselves when we sit down for meals, get eight hours of sleep, put on our seat belts, and make time for reading and relaxation. Our youngsters need to know that taking care of their mental and emotional health is paramount.

Don't Let Your Ego Determine Your Child's Fate

6. When making parenting decisions, ask these questions: "Is this about me or about my child? Am I acting out of love or out of fear?" If, for example, you have a son who's always struggled academically, you parent out of love by accepting that college is not the right path for him. If you push him into higher education because you fear he won't make enough money or gain sufficient prestige without it, you're parenting out of fear.

7. When choosing extracurricular activities, ask: “Is this something my youngsters really want to do or is it something that I want? Am I looking to re-live my childhood through them? Am I wanting to vicariously experience something that I missed out on as a kid?" Don't over-program your children with activities. Respect their need for downtime to recharge their batteries and use their imaginations.

8. Celebrate your children's mistakes. When we fail, it's a sign that we're learning, striving, and taking risks. Talk to your youngsters about the missteps you've made and what you've learned from them. Make sure your kids know everyone stumbles and it's part of being human and getting stronger.

9. Encourage creativity for its own sake. Let your children paint, draw, color, write, and put on puppet shows as a form of self-expression. Don't focus on the finished product but the joyful process of letting their imaginations soar.

10. Teach your children to look for approval from within so they trust their own opinions and instincts and don't become “praise junkies.” Respond with “what do you think?” when they ask if you like their drawing, essay, or science fair project.

Nothing feels as good as being seen, loved, and appreciated for who you are.

Nothing feels as good as being seen, loved, and appreciated for who you are.

Connect With Your Child in a Deeper Way

11. Make dinner time sacrosanct with no screens and no interruptions. Playing the game “pit or peak” is a terrific way to start the conversation flowing as each family member tells about the worst thing that happened that day and the best.

12. Discover opportunities for getting your youngsters to open up to you. Don't expect them to communicate in line with the gaps in your busy schedule. Some kids like to talk while in the car. Others like to talk during meals or when taking a walk. Most don't enjoy conversing at the end of the school day when they're tired, hungry, and need some solitude after being surrounded by their peers.

13. Read to your kids. Literature is a fabulous tool for getting to know them in a profound way. Connect the story and characters to their lives. Ask questions and let them predict what will happen next. Choose books that deal with difficult issues (lying, stealing, divorce, racism) and use them as a springboard for meaningful conversation.

14. Don't nag your children. It doesn't work, and it hurts the relationship by focusing on the negative (what they are not doing) rather than the positive (what they are doing). Saying something more than twice is interpreted as nagging by kids.

15. Instead of nagging, let your children suffer the natural and logical consequences of their actions. If they don't do their homework, they get a bad grade. If they don't put their clothes in the hamper, they won't get their laundry done. If they don't clean the hamster's cage, they'll have the pet removed from their room.

See Your Child as Your Teacher

16. At the core of conscious parenting is a paradigm shift: seeing your children as your teacher. When you have a negative reaction to something your youngsters have said or done, ask: “What is it from my history that makes this hurt so much? Why does it trigger me? What can I understand about myself from this?” See parenting as a journey of self-discovery.

17. Establish rituals with your children: making pancakes together on Sunday mornings, going for walks after school, playing board games every Friday night, staying in your pajamas on snowy days. Let them bring out the kid in you.

18. Let your kids learn from their struggles. Contrary to popular belief, it's not our job as parents to shelter them from hardship. Pain is not only inevitable, but it's valuable; it transforms us.

19. Keep in mind that your children aren't an extension of you. They weren't put on earth to fill a void in your life.

20. Finally, celebrate the journey that you and your children are taking together. When you learn to accept them for the people they are, you learn to accept yourself in the process and that's truly liberating.

This book will have moms and dads looking at parenting in a radically new way

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: So I struggle with this. My 6-year-old won't listen to me. She favors her mom. I get told that I'm mean when I tell her she needs to listen. When at a school function, my child was doing whatever she wanted with her friends, and I overheard a comment that I need to discipline my child better. How can people use our children's behavior against us and not expect us to be the more strict and stern parent, especially when now it's the truth versus opinion? What do I do to have a better relationship with my daughter?

Answer: You're a wise and perceptive father to see this problem now and want to change it. When your daughter is a pre-teen and teen, she'll be more heavily influenced by her peers and you won't have nearly as much influence. If you build a strong bond with her today, you can save both of you much heartache in the future. If there's mutual love and respect between the two of you, she'll want to please her daddy. When it's time to date, she'll reject guys who treat her poorly because she has a father who holds her in high regard.

There may be an unhealthy dynamic at play here with your daughter and wife teaming up against you. Pay close attention to what your wife is doing and saying (consciously or unconsciously) that makes your daughter perceive mom as the good one and you as the meanie. Is she babying your daughter, always siding with her, or over-empathizing with her feelings rather than presenting a unified front with you? If that's the case, the two of you should take parenting classes together so you get on the same page. The investment of time today will pay off in a big way as your daughter grows older and potential problems are much weightier.

You and your daughter should do a weekly activity together without your wife. This sacred father-daughter time could involve taking a hike together, riding bikes, going fishing, taking taekwondo classes, or doing whatever you think will strengthen the connection. A 6-year-old girl will be utterly enthralled by this special one-on-one time with her dad and it will make her feel cherished.

As for what happened at the school, it's important to keep in mind that these kind of events are new to little kids. They often don't know what's expected of them unless parents communicate it in advance. After all, your daughter has only been on this planet for six short years! Before you attend an event at the school, at church, or in the community, talk to her about what to expect and how she should behave. If she's disruptive, tell her that you'll remove her. Then (most importantly) follow through by taking her by the hand, escorting her out of the building, and going home.

With conscious parenting, though, the aim is to prevent situations like this from happening. I can't recommend enough that you read “The Conscious Parent” by Dr. Shefali. It will make you look at your parenting journey in a whole new light. As Albert Einstein said “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it” and this is certainly true with parenting.

© 2018 McKenna Meyers