To practice conscious parenting is to become aware of the many ways that your children provide you with opportunities to practice patience, compassion, kindness, selflessness and being present. Conscious parenting can nurture your own development as much as it nurtures the development of your children. As you become more aware and less reactive, you don’t simply repeat the way you were parented. You are instead able to end destructive cycles, negative patterns and dynamics as you integrate new more positive ways of relating. Endeavoring to begin this practice may seem daunting, but it can actually be quite simple. Here are 10 steps to start you on your path:
(1) Foster an emotional connection: The most important task of parenting is to build and foster the emotional connection between you and your children. This connection forms a template that your children will carry into adulthood, thereby informing all of their relationships. You can foster a strong connection by striving to be present and responsive to your children throughout all the developmental stages of attachment, exploration, identification, concern, competence and intimacy.
(2) Provide safety, structure and support: Children feel safe and secure when there are daily routines and structures in place. You can support your children by setting appropriate limits and boundaries with consistency, which they will then internalize as they develop.
(3) Empathize with your children: To empathize means to reflect back the feelings your children are expressing, and to actually feel what they’re feeling – to put yourself in their shoes. This will help your children to become aware of their emotions and to feel seen and understood, while strengthening the connection between you.
(4) Remember parenting is a practice: Parenting, like any other formal practice, requires dedication and commitment. Practice may make perfect, but practice is not about being perfect. Mistakes are a part of the process, and can be useful. When you are mindful of your mistakes, you can then create positive changes. When you practice being more conscious and less reactive, you will find that your children assist you in your own development as much as you assist them in theirs.
(5) Nurture your children’s potential: Nurture your children’s joys and interests. Help them to develop the potential and gifts they were born with, and to find their unique place in the world. You don’t have to overload them with excessive private lessons and enrichment programs. It can be as simple as talking to them about their interests, being involved in their activities, and showing them that you care and believe in them.
(6) Take care of yourself: In order for your children to be healthy, you as their parent must strive to be healthy first. C.G. Jung said, “Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment, and especially on their children, than the unlived life of the parent.” Along with physical and emotional health, you owe it to yourself and your children to strive toward your own greatest potential, in whatever small ways you can manage. You are an irreplaceable resource for your children, and they will flourish when you share your best self with them.
(7) Be inclusive: Children need to feel a part of something larger than themselves; to feel that they belong and have a purpose in your family and in the world. Include them in activities and routines such as cooking, gardening, and helping around the house. Always thank them for their contribution. This will help them to feel more confident and valued as part of the family unit. Family events and rituals offer opportunities for inclusiveness as well.
(8) Create community: Today, more than any other time in history, families are often isolated. With increased social mobility, many don’t have extended family nearby for support and connection. Make an attempt to create more community, with friends, schools, or other groups. You will feel less isolated and more supported, and your children will learn the benefits of interacting within a larger, more diverse social system.
(9) Be grateful: Parenting is the most difficult job you will ever have, and it’s easy amid the challenges to forget to be grateful for all the joy and love your children bring to your life. In the midst of difficulty, it can be helpful to just stop and acknowledge how sacred and miraculous your children are, and to be thankful for how they continue to fill your heart beyond what you ever imagined was possible. This will help broaden your perspective and remind you not to sweat the small things.
(10) Work to resolve your own issues: As your children develop, they will inevitably trigger your own unresolved developmental issues. This is extremely common, for instance, during adolescence or family transitions. However difficult this may be, it is also an opportunity for you to resolve your own unconscious issues and negative patterns, and to become a more conscious adult and parent. When these old issues resurface, it may be helpful to seek the support and guidance of a therapist to help you work through them.
As you begin to practice these steps toward conscious parenting, you will soon notice the positive changes. Your children will seem more confident, relaxed and happy. Your family will begin to feel more cohesive and loving, with less conflicts. Conscious parenting can truly provide a path and foundation for the healthy development and wellbeing of your family.
© Lisa Nave 2011