Feeling exhausted and frustrated, Ms. Meyers began practicing conscious parenting. It liberated her from stress, letting her enjoy her sons.
The Guiding Principles of Conscious Parenting
- Be fully present. Conscious parenting takes time and focus. When engaging with your child, remove all distractions (smartphones, computers, TV’s) so that you can take in what they’re communicating, both verbally and non-verbally.
- See your child as your greatest teacher. In their own unique way, a youngster will point out the areas in which you need to improve as both a parent and as a human being, whether it’s being more tolerant, showing more patience, or becoming a better listener.
- Pay attention to the things that trigger you. When your child behaves in ways that push your buttons (such as whining, lying, or disobeying), they’re exposing the parts of you that need attention. If your youngster’s whining, for example, upsets you, it could be tapping into your feelings of inadequacy. As such, you may interpret it as being critical of you as a parent, rather than seeing the truth that your child is hungry, tired, or bored.
- Don’t parent out of ego. Your child wasn’t put on earth to pursue your unfulfilled childhood dreams. Let them chase their own. Don’t see them as idealized versions of themselves; see them, accept them, and love them as they truly are, faults and all.
- Don’t have their happiness as your goal. Your child needs to have a full range of human experiences, including disappointment, rejection, loneliness, and despair. Trying to shelter them from these realities is not only futile but a denial of life itself.
In this brief video, Dr. Shefali, a clinical psychologist, explains what it means to be a conscious parent.
Parenting Without a Plan
When looking back on our childhoods from an adult perspective, we can feel deep compassion for our moms and dads. We may realize how ill-equipped they were to parent us, having a near-empty or non-existent toolbox. Some never read a single book on child-rearing, let alone took classes on the matter.
Lacking any parenting philosophy to guide them, they simply reacted to each event as it occurred: spanking us when we pulled on an electrical cord, sending us to our bedrooms when we refused to eat our vegetables, giving us a time-out when we hit a sibling, and nagging us when our rooms were messy. Parenting was done on the fly as they muscled through each exhausting day, trying to do it all but not doing anything well and sometimes doing it quite badly. If only they had practiced conscious parenting, they would have saved themselves a lot of unnecessary heartache and enjoyed the child-rearing journey all the more.
Unconscious Parenting Can Damage Our Kids
Our parents' 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 and misunderstood. 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.
A Poem About Conscious Parenting
In his poem, “On Children,” Kahlil Gibran exquisitely illuminates the essence of conscious parenting. He details the delicate balance in a healthy parent-child relationship, one that melds intimacy with independence. In the following portion of his work, he describes a youngster’s innate drive to become their own unique person and forge their own distinct future:
“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls.
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you
cannot visit, not even in your dreams.”
20 Strategies for Conscious Parenting
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 their emotions, you're renouncing them. They'll shut down and shut you out, causing you and them unnecessary pain.
3. Compliment your child's kindness, persistence, and hard work and not their beauty, intelligence, and athleticism. Point out how they shine so they know that 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 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 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.
In this video, Dr. Shefali explains how enmeshment prevents a parent from seeing their child’s hopes and dreams.
Don't Let Your Ego Determine Your Child's Fate
6. When making parenting decisions, ask these questions: "Is this about me or 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 toward higher education because you're worried that 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 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 child with activities. Respect their need for downtime to recharge their batteries, engage in unstructured play, and use their imaginations.
8. Celebrate your child's mistakes. When we fail, it's a sign that we're learning, striving, and taking risks. Talk to your youngster about the missteps you've made and what you've learned from them. Make sure that your child knows everyone stumbles and it's part of being human and getting stronger.
9. Encourage creativity for its own sake. Let your child 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 imagination soar.
10. Teach your youngster to look for approval from within so they trust their own opinions and instincts and don't become a “praise junkie” who needs constant validation from others. Respond with “what do you think?” when they ask if you like their drawing, essay, or science fair project.
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 youngster to open up to you. Don't expect them to open up when it fits your 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 for hours.
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 child. 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 seen as nagging by kids.
15. Instead of nagging, let your child 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.
In this video, Dr. Shefali explains why your child's happiness should not be your goal.
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 reaction to something your youngster has 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 child: making pancakes together on Sunday mornings, going for walks after school, playing board games every Friday night, wearing your pajamas on snowy days. Let them bring out the kid in you.
18. Let your child 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 child isn'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 child 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.
Final Thoughts: A Personal Note
As the mother of two sons, I can’t overemphasize the positive impact that Dr. Shefali’s book, The Conscious Parent, has had on my life and the lives of my kids. When my firstborn was diagnosed with autism, I felt cheated because he wasn’t the child who I had dreamed about having. I was jealous of my friends whose kids were doing the activities that my son couldn’t. I started to pull away and isolate myself. Thankfully, my neighbor recommended The Conscious Parent. It changed my mindset, focusing me on what I could learn from my son (it turned out to be a heck of a lot)! It’s been a life-transforming journey ever since and I’m so grateful.
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