20 Ways to Become a Better Parent Starting Today
Parenting Without a Purpose
When we look back at our childhood as adults, we often realize how stressed and frazzled our parents were, juggling parenthood and careers. Some, like my own mom and dad, 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.
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, inside we felt emotionally abandoned. Some of us turned to food, drugs, and unhealthy relationships to numb our pain. Today, this problem has only gotten worse with higher rates of depression and anxiety reported among teens and even young children. Without deliberate, thoughtful parenting, kids often grow up into adults who struggle with a myriad of problems.
What Is Conscious Parenting?
As a child, I overate to deal with my sadness and loneliness and continued that pattern as a grownup. My parents didn't have the time or energy to deal with my messy emotions so they ignored them. Eating became my way to deal with frustration, confusion, and depression. The holidays were the worst as I binged on all the tempting foods that surrounded me. I stuffed my face to make up for the emptiness I felt, surrounded by relatives who supposedly loved me but didn't spend any time getting to know me. Even as a kid, I knew how phony it all was. After decades of out-of-control eating, I finally put food in its proper place. Through that experience, I learned the importance of parenting in a thoughtful and deliberate way so my kids wouldn't suffer as I did.
Along with many other moms and dads, I discovered “conscious parenting,” striving to be fully present when interacting with our children. We aim to see our youngsters as they truly are—mind, body, spirit—and celebrate their uniqueness and abundance. We don't parent to achieve our unfulfilled dreams or repair the hurts from our past. We look to our kids as guides when making parenting decisions, knowing they are enough and don't need to be changed or fixed.
It's a challenging task, though, to be a mindful parent day in and day out as life comes at us fast and furious. It's so easy to react in the moment, falling back into bad habits of nagging, yelling, or accusing. That's why it's helpful to keep these 20 ways to become a better parent in mind throughout our hectic days:
Honor Your Child's Authentic Self
1. Get to know your child 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 child's feelings by saying, “You shouldn't feel that way.” Feelings are neither good nor bad; they just are. When you renounce your child's emotions, you're renouncing her. She'll shut down and shut you out, causing both of you a world of pain.
3. Compliment your child's kindness, persistence, and hard work and not her innate beauty, intelligence, and athleticism. Point out how she shines so she knows you notice and appreciate her 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 child 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 somebody 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 children 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 the question: "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 college because you fear he won't make enough money or gain sufficient prestige, you're parenting out of fear.
7. When choosing extracurricular activities, ask: “Is this something my youngster really wants to do or is it something I want? Am I wanting to relive my childhood through her? Am I wanting to vicariously experience something that I missed as a kid?" Don't over-program her with too many activities. Respect her need for downtime to recharge her battery and use her imagination.
8. Celebrate your child's mistakes. When we fail, it means we are learning and striving. Talk to your youngster about the ones you've made and what you've learned from them. Make sure your kid knows everyone makes them and it's part of being human.
9. Encourage creativity for its own sake. Let your child paint, draw, color, write, and put on puppet shows as a form of expression. Don't focus on the finished product but the joyful process of letting her imagination soar.
10. Teach your child to look for approval from within so she trusts her opinions and instincts and doesn't become a “praise junkie.” Respond with “what do you think?” when she asks if you like her drawing, essay, or science fair project.
This Book Makes You Look at Parenting in a Whole New Light, Making the Bond Between Adult and Child Deeper and More Joyful
When my son was diagnosed with autism, I felt cheated. He would never be the child I imagined—playing baseball, learning guitar, and building a tree-house with his friends. There were times when he embarrassed me in public when he flapped his arms and got frightened by loud noises and bright lights. But Dr. Shefali's book changed my entire perspective on parenting and helped me understand the journey that my son and I were taking together. Yes, I was his teacher in many ways, but he was also mine. Whether you have a child with special needs or not, this revolutionary book will help you connect with your youngster in a deeper way that will help turn parenting into a beautiful experience that will enrich your life.
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 child to open up to you. Don't expect your youngster to communicate according to 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 child. Literature is a fabulous tool for getting to know your child. Relate the story and characters to your youngster's life. Ask her questions and let her predict what will happen next. Choose books that deal with difficult issues (lying, stealing, divorce, racism) and use them as a springboard for conversation.
14. Don't nag your child. It doesn't work, and it hurts the relationship by focusing on the negative (what your child isn't doing) rather than the positive (what she is doing). Saying something more than twice is interpreted as nagging by your child.
15. Instead of nagging, let your youngster suffer the natural consequences of her actions. If she doesn't do her homework, she'll get a bad grade. If she doesn't put her clothes in the hamper, you won't do her laundry and she'll have no clean clothes to wear. If she doesn't clean her hamster's cage, you'll take the pet out of the room.
See Your Child as Your Teacher
16. At the core of conscious parenting is a paradigm shift: seeing your child as your teacher. When you have a negative interaction to something your youngster has said or done, you 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 situation?”
17. Establish rituals with your child: 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 your child bring out the kid in you.
18. Let your child learn from her struggles. As parents, it's not our job to shelter our kids from hardship. Pain is not only inevitable, but it's valuable. It transforms us.
19. Always keep in mind that your child is not an extension of you. She wasn't placed on earth to fill a void in your life.
20. Finally, celebrate the journey that you and your child are taking together. When you learn to accept your child for the person she is, you learn to accept yourself.
© 2018 McKenna Meyers