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As working parents, it sometimes feels like there’s no energy at the end of the day for your family. After dealing with the demands of work and school, it would be nice to come home and rest. But the reality is that home life can be just as stressful — if not more so — than work. And unfortunately, sometimes our kids get the brunt of our stress.
How then, do you keep your bad mood from affecting your children? The answer might lie in conscious parenting. Learn more about this mindful approach to raising kids, how it differs from other parenting styles, and the pros (and cons) of being a conscious parent.
What is conscious parenting?
Conscious parenting is a child-rearing philosophy that encourages parents to make mindful, emotionally intelligent decisions in raising their children. Based on the bestseller book The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children by Dr. Shefali Tsabary, parents are taught to manage their own behavior, thoughts, and feelings first and foremost.
Why start with your own behavior? Well, our life experiences dictate how and why we do everything that we do — including, and maybe especially, raising children. Many of us, whether consciously or unconsciously, repeat patterns that we learned from our parents. Even more unsettling, our childhood traumas tend to inform our decision-making without us being aware of it.
Key elements of conscious parenting
There’s no “right way” to be a conscious parent, since every parent-child relationship is unique. However, there are a few key elements, or “guidelines,” to keep in mind.
1. See your child as a whole person
Kids aren’t born blank slates. From a very young age, they are whole people with distinct needs and preferences. The only way that you can learn your child's needs is to pay attention to them. You’ll likely find that what you want and what they want are often not the same.
2. Parenting is a relationship, not a transaction
Parenting isn’t something that you do “to” your child. It’s an accumulation of interactions. Like any other relationship, it requires taking actions that build trust, open the lines of communication, and develop affinity for one another.
3. Look at the bigger picture
It’s easy to get wrapped up in situations with your kids. After all, they have a habit of attracting — or creating — emergencies wherever they go. Pull back from the immediate crisis and ask “What are they really frustrated about? How can I empower them to get what they need?”
4. Be curious (and honest) about your triggers
From the moment you learn you’re going to be a parent, your kids begin messing with your emotions. They can make you laugh, cry, and want to throw things. Being aware of your triggers will make it easier to stay calm when your kids start getting on your nerves.
How does conscious parenting compare to other parenting styles?
Traditional parenting experts usually quote Diana Baumrind’s research on parenting styles. According to this, most parents fall into four main types: authoritarian, authoritative, permissive/indulgent, and uninvolved/neglectful parenting. Each parenting style is a blend of support (responsiveness) and control (demandingness).
Parents that are both supportive and demanding are considered authoritative. They can be very gentle and are often loving parents, but hold their kids to high standards.
Authoritarian parents set strict rules and expect them to be obeyed. These parents aren’t very warm and fuzzy, but are very involved in their kids’ lives and exert a lot of control over their children’s behavior.
Indulgent parents don’t like to say “no” if they can help it. They tend not to enforce rules consistently and avoid giving punishments. Indulgent parents encourage open communication and self-expression.
Neglectful parents favor a “hands-off” approach, neither getting very involved with their kids nor expecting much from them. They may believe that children learn best on their own. Neglectful doesn’t always mean abusive, but overall this tends to be the least effective parenting type.
Conscious parenting, however, is distinct from all these styles. Conscious parents are both supportive and responsive, and they may set high expectations. However, those expectations are based on what the child wants and their unique needs. Many conscious parenting experts emphasize raising children without the need for parental approval. The idea is to empower them to grow within healthy boundaries and become independent thinkers.
Benefits and drawbacks
As you can imagine, this style of parenting is fairly polarizing. Devotees of conscious parenting argue that it makes for happier families and better parents. Critics say that conscious parenting doesn’t offer enough structure. Here are some benefits — and drawbacks — of the conscious parenting method.
Benefits of conscious parenting
Conscious parenting places a high value on communication and connection. By modeling these skills for children, both parents and kids benefit. Moreover, research indicates that conversations with your child from an early age helps to boost cognitive skills and reasoning.
Because of the emphasis on awareness and choice, parents tend to become much more mindful. This is especially powerful, since life with young children tends to be rather fast-paced. Mindful parents tend to be less stressed and happier with their parenting choices.
Parents and children are both encouraged to be aware of their triggers. It’s challenging work, but engaging in it leads to increased self-awareness, compassion, and a better sense of control in parents. As an added benefit, parents that model emotional regulation raise less aggressive, less stressed kids.
Drawbacks of conscious parenting
Difficult with young children
Young kids — especially toddlers — are notoriously unreasonable. That can make conscious parenting pretty frustrating and even seem ineffective. Because little children also need more structure and involvement, you may find there’s no time to be “conscious” when they’re throwing a tantrum or dropping your phone in the toilet.
Requires high self-awareness
Put bluntly, the level of self-reflection that conscious parenting requires is pretty uncommon. Typically, people only develop that kind of introspection after years of therapy or working with a coach. Conscious parenting works best when parents have done the Inner WorkTM to be more curious about their emotional state.
One of the hardest things to do as a parent is watch your child make mistakes. Even though it sounds like a very touchy-feely way of parenting, conscious parents don’t focus on making sure their kids are happy all the time. Sometimes, letting them grow as independent, conscious beings means letting them fail — and being there to remind them it’s not the end of the world.
How to become a conscious parent
Most parents don’t fall into just one parenting style — and it’s even more rare in two-parent households to have both be on the same page. No matter your style, here are some ways you can incorporate conscious parenting techniques:
1. Talk to your kids
The next time your kids do something “wrong,” take a moment before you hand out the punishment. Ask them to explain what happened. It may not change the consequences, but it will make them feel more heard.
2. Do the Inner Work
Conscious parenting means being aware of your own emotional hurts and parenting yourself, first and foremost. In taking time for reflection, you’ll become aware of your patterns and how they impact your parenting style. Working with a coach — especially one that specializes in working parents — can help you stay calm and centered.
3. Set clear boundaries
Don’t think that conscious parents just let their kids do whatever they want. Part of this parenting style is communicating what is acceptable and why. When your children violate a boundary, reinforce it. Remind them that what they did isn’t okay and why.
4. Accept how things are
New parents — especially type-A parents — often have a hard time accepting the messiness and unpredictability of parenting. Your kids are individuals, whether you love it or not — but you can love them no matter what. Accept that while things may not be perfect, they are what they are, and move forward without making the situation, your kids, or yourself wrong for it.
At some point in our youth, we make decisions about who — and what — we want to be when we grow up. Those decisions are often based on what we loved — and didn’t love — about our own childhoods.
But the reality is that your kids aren’t you. They’re having a brand-new life experience, and developing their own opinions about how the world works. Conscious parenting isn’t about withholding punishments or letting them walk all over you. It’s about being aware of your own internal state and how it affects the way you show up for your family.
BetterUp Staff Writer