Conscious parenting is connection-based parenting, where we prioritize relationship and mental health over parental dominance. Still, "conscious parenting" sounds rather funny, doesn't it? It's as if the alternative is unconscious parenting, and that's what I do when I'm asleep. That aside, there's a lot of confusion about what conscious parenting is and why it's such an important shift for parents and children alike.
One thing to know for sure, though: conscious parenting isn't a fad. It isn't going anywhere. In fact, I daresay it's changing the world.
Some people assume that conscious parenting is permissive parenting. Some even call it "lazy" parenting. Much to the contrary, conscious parents are well aware of the importance of healthy boundaries that are appropriate for the child's age. And parenting this way can be incredibly hard work.
A conscious parent often spends a lot of time in self-reflection, working to understand their own behavior and patterns from their family of origin. They also get curious about children's behavior to learn what's developmentally appropriate, how to be peaceful despite triggers, and how to raise emotionally intelligent kids.
This parenting style requires parents to look at the bigger picture of their relationships rather than addressing children's behavior only at a surface level. The parent works to understand the child's needs and underlying motivations.
Conscious parenting is not the "easy way out." In fact, practicing conscious parenting requires a much deeper level of support and self-reflection than do many other parenting styles.
As a conscious parent, we know that kids are going to emulate whatever they experience firsthand. If they experience respect, they'll have respect to pay forward. Children learn respect from an early age because we've been mindful about how we act towards them.
If kids live in a naturally loving home, they'll share that love with others. They'll act out what they know from their own awareness of what they've encountered in life, much more than what we teach through words alone.
Example of what it can look like:
Instead of, "Don't use that tone with me," we make sure we haven't instigated using a negative tone with our child. We're willing to look in the proverbial mirror.
This does not mean we welcome all behavior; we still get to have healthy limits and loving boundaries. However, we accept all feelings as messengers. Additionally, we model what to do with those big feelings.
A child is having a meltdown. Rather than sending the child to their room, we might say, "All of your feelings are safe here" and invite them onto our lap for a hug.
Moreover, knowing emotions are messengers, rather than running from or avoiding them, we can ask, "What's this feeling here to tell us? What are we needing?" We get to the root cause of the big feelings (or big behavior) rather than just addressing it at the surface level.
Naturally, in any relationship with other humans, there will be times of conflict. Conscious parenting does not mean everything will be perfect all the time (if only!). When a conscious parent feels upset, though, we don't take it out on our children. We work to avoid passing along our stress and unresolved trauma.
Instead, we model healthy conflict management skills and self-control. We avoid blaming and shaming. When we mess up, we fess up. We repair our wrongdoings and apologize.
Instead of yelling at a child for spilling their drink on our papers, we pause, take a breath, and remember that accidents happen. To our child, we might say (modeling emotional authenticity), "I feel frustrated about the papers, but I know it was an accident. Let's grab a rag and wipe up the spill together."
Then, we go about the task peacefully, using whatever calming tools the parent needs to avoid taking out our frustration on our child. We model emotional regulation and self-control.
Self-awareness and self-regulation skills take practice and certainly don't happen overnight. However, we're willing to muster the internal control to stay calm and peaceful.
Rather than trying to mold our kids to meet others' expectations of them, children are encouraged to be themselves and pursue their own passions.
We might have a child who wants to wear yellow and green plaid pants with a rainbow shirt. Rather than telling them they look ridiculous, we realize that many children love expressing themselves creatively, including in their clothing choices.
We might choose to worry less about what people will think, and forgo the "cute" outfit we picked out because our child is happy.
Rather than giving children our unsolicited advice and expecting them to follow through in their life, we collaborate with them whenever possible.
Instead of, "I signed you up for piano lessons because it's important that you learn to play an instrument," we might say, "There are all sorts of benefits to playing an instrument, and I think you'd like it. Do any particular instruments appeal to you?"
The parenting choices we make intentionally usually requires a significant paradigm shift from believing that adults should control their children, to viewing effective parenting as a journey of growing up together.
Conscious parents rarely, as new parents, believe they naturally know what their kids need "because the parents are the adults and the children 'should' listen to them." Instead, they take cues from their children as individuals and tailor their support accordingly.
Although conscious parenting doesn't put children in the inappropriate position of leading or supporting their parents, we do model healthy vulnerability. We realize, when met with adversity, that it's alright to say to our child, "I'm not sure what to do here. Let's think about this together and come up with a good plan." We can be confident and vulnerable.
Raising children really seems to come naturally to some parents, doesn't it? Although there may be some truth to that perspective, I've never met a conscious parent who didn't have some significant inner work to do.
There are exceptions, of course, but many conscious parents are actively choosing a parenting approach that differs from that which they experienced growing up. Breaking generational patterns is not for the faint of heart.
Our own parents might criticize our parenting style and say we're being "too soft" with our children. Rather than caving under pressure and doing what other parents have done, we can be brave enough to say, "Thanks for the advice. I'm choosing a different path that feels right to me." This bravery requires that we show up for ourselves, questioning what we've known before and peacefully challenging it. Here are more ways to handle advice that doesn't feel right.
If we want to be a better parent, we need to do better--in some cases, better than our family of origin. That doesn't mean we love our parents any less. It simply means that we have some new tools that perhaps they didn't know about at the time. Raising kids requires an evolution of knowledge.
Indeed, it can be incredibly hard work to break generational cycles and unhealthy patterns. Over time and with practice, though, it's absolutely possible. You're likely to find that conscious parenting actually results in reduced stress as a parent because there's more harmony in the first place. Through your peaceful example, you can absolutely help your child become the kind of person--kind, loving, respectful--that you want them to be. Punishment isn't necessary.
You'll help your child's sense of right and wrong grow because they're watching you as a role model. When we're mindful of our own emotions and behaviors, our children benefit.
Related mini-course: The World Is Tough, So Shouldn't We Toughen Up Our Kids?
Most parents genuinely want to do well for their children, and if they're punishing them, they believe it's the best path to raising children who thrive in the world.
This is a tricky and misguided message, though. Many of these same parents were punished when they were children, and they believe they "turned out fine."
However, my compassionate inquiry is, "Is there something better than 'fine' to which we can aspire?" I address this topic more thoroughly in this article about spanking and punishments. In short, though, when we bring awareness to our children's mistakes by punishing them, the focus moves away from the teaching and into fear. We don't want to parent our child from fear.
There's plenty of research about parenting styles, and historically, the authoritative parenting style came out on top as being most beneficial.
Authoritative parenting encourages parents to offer high degrees of warmth while they also have high expectations for their children. Although that doesn't sound "wrong" at face value -- in fact, there's plenty that's right about it -- some parents focus too much on positive reinforcement tactics for the sole purpose of furthering their children's achievements. Some take the "expectations" part too far and the child gets lost in the process.
If we want our child to thrive, we need to couple that warmth with focusing on what's really important to them, rather than just what's important to us. A child's growth depends not only on warmth and direction from the parent, but also on the child's ability to feel a sense of self-agency (which means, "I'm in charge of myself.")
Conscious parenting considers and respects the whole child.
Traditionally, only the most commonly recognized parenting terms--authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and neglectful (explained here)--showed up in most books.
By contrast, however, we now have more terms than we know what to do with -- helicopter, snowplow, lawnmower, bulldozer, elephant, tiger, dolphin, positive, gentle, peaceful, respectful, and the list goes on.
Do the differences in nomenclature matter? When we're talking about conscious parenting, not really. There's no "quiz" you need to pass; there's no certain way you need to live your life on a daily basis.
My personal brand of conscious parenting is called peaceful discipline, and I've written a book about it. As far as I'm concerned, if you can your kids can both go to bed most nights feeling good about your relationship, that's the end goal. We don't need to overcomplicate it.
I've heard from parents I've coached around the world that their children's lives are positively transformed by conscious parenting. Not only do they agree that conscious parenting works, but the children feel more connected, more joyful, and more peaceful toward their parents, too. Here's what my own child has to say about it.
At the beginning of this article, I noted that conscious parenting just may be changing the world. When you have a movement of responsible adults who want to be better parents through connection rather than control, we create a more peaceful world. Peaceful parents raise peaceful kids. It's a virtuous cycle.