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Conscious Parenting: What It Is and How to Do It

Parents know that raising a child is the most demanding job in the world. Maybe you had the best intentions before your child was born. You read all the parenting books and figured you'd know exactly what to do in a given situation.

And then...your child was born. And so many things probably went right out the window. If you feel off-track, you may just need to shift your mindset.

Conscious parenting offers an authentic and egalitarian approach to raising your children. Let's get into what you need to know.

What Is Conscious Parenting?

Conscious parenting is a specific approach that encourages parents to look inwards, reflect, and practice themes of acceptance when raising their children.

Instead of trying to fix or solve your child- particularly during difficult times- you examine your own role in the dynamic. Conscious parenting is continuously active and in the present moment. You learn to respond to issues as they arise, and you act as an ally for your child throughout their lifespan.

Why Is It So Important to Look Inward?

Whether you realize it or not, kids get a lot projected onto them, as they often receive the brunt of your stress and frustration. Think about it- have you ever heard yourself shouting at home, even though your child wasn't necessarily doing anything wrong? Or telling them they couldn't do something, even though you couldn't really articulate why?

Conscious parenting comes from the mindset that parents must examine their own life experiences, patterns, and behavior. Why? Because we unconsciously pass down these habits to our children. And without insight, we often repeat the very things we want to avoid.

Conscious parenting can benefit children by:

  • helping them honor and value their true selves

  • feeling heard and validated, even in times of conflict

  • maintaining a sense of calmness in the home

  • building their emotional resilience

  • promoting close parent-child relationships

What Are the Principles of Conscious Parenting?

At its core, conscious parenting is about respect, compassion, and mutual understanding. Parents are articulate in explaining their rules to their children. At the same time, they seek to be unconditionally loving without having unrealistic expectations.

Here are some of the main principles:

Parenting is a dynamic, two-way relationship: While everyone knows that parents teach their children, children also have plenty of skills and insights to teach their parents.

Parenting requires letting go of ego: It's unhelpful to have ego involved in the parenting process. It can cause further harm to a child's emotional well-being and development.

Parenting entails struggle: A parent's job isn't just to keep a child happy or complacent. Life is full of hardships, and parents should encourage their children to encounter obstacles and problem-solve them accordingly.

Parenting requires looking at the bigger picture: It's easy to lose sight of the process when focused on a specific meltdown or behavioral concern. But parenting requires looking at all the information: what triggered the event, and what other issues are occurring?

Parenting requires self-regulation: Instead of trying to impose certain behaviors or feelings on a child, parents should check their own emotions and responses. Parents should regularly breathe or take breaks if they need time to "check-in" with themselves.

Parenting requires healthy and firm boundaries: Random or overly harsh consequences can be confusing for everyone. Parents should strive to have explicit limits about what they will and will not tolerate.

Parenting means believing your child is a whole person: From birth, children are whole people with needs, values, and preferences. Parents need to be mindful of preconceived notions about what they want- rather than what the child wants.

Are There Any Risks to Conscious Parenting?

Conscious parenting isn't a straightforward, cookie-cutter approach. There isn't a checklist of to-do items for you to follow once a child reaches a particular milestone. Instead, the process is more holistic and abstract.

Parents with histories of trauma or mental illness may struggle with conscious parenting. Having children often places a spotlight on your own baggage. If you haven't worked through your issues sufficiently, practicing the self-control and self-reflection required for conscious parenting is hard.

Furthermore, conscious parenting requires accepting struggles and mistakes. While most parents know that some failure is important for children, actually embracing this philosophy is often easier said than done. If most of your friends, for instance, obsess over their child's schoolwork, you may feel some parental anxiety about letting your child study independently, even if you know they are competent to do the task.

Finally, conscious parenting doesn't have a particular roadmap. There are no specific rules for what you should and shouldn't do, and there certainly isn't a set of defined set of behavioral interventions. This lack of structure can be hard for parents who want concrete guidelines- or who need immediate parenting help during times of acute stress.

How Does Conscious Parenting Differ From Other Parenting Styles?

Traditional parenting styles tend to fall into four camps: authoritarian, authoritative, permissive/indulgent, and uninvolved/neglectful. Parents often fall into one of these camps either intentionally or unintentionally.

Authoritarian: Authoritarian parents maintain a one-way channel for communication. These parents have strict rules, and they require children to obey them. They tend to be highly involved in the child's life, but they don't come across as overly warm or loving. Children who grow up with these parents may be very successful and compliant. However, some of them become rebellious against authority figures altogether.

Authoritative: Authoritative parents can be supportive and loving, but they often hold their children to high standards. They can also be strict, but they tend to be compassionate in doing so. Research shows authoritative parenting is most effective in raising confident and responsible children.

Permissive/indulgent: Permissive parents are very loving and almost seek to be their child's best friend. They avoid saying 'no' as much as possible. They prefer allowing for autonomy and self-expression without excessive punishments. Children of permissive parents enjoy tremendous freedom, but this can lead to problems with impulsivity, selfishness, and poor self-regulation.

Uninvolved/neglectful: Uninvolved parents tend to be the most emotionally absent. They believe that children should be independent and that they learn best without direct parental guidance. They don't have many expectations for their children, and they offer limited nurturing or guidance. Children with this upbringing often grow up self-reliant and self-sufficient. However, they may experience problems with social attachments and emotional regulation.

Conscious parenting: Conscious parenting most mimics that of authoritative parenting. Most conscious parents support their children but are firm with their boundaries. However, conscious parenting is rooted in making expectations based on the child's specific needs and wants. Children should be raised without any need for parental approval. Ideally, they should thrive within the constraints of safe boundaries.

What Does Conscious Parenting Actually Look Like?

Since conscious parenting is so abstract, how do you actually implement these principles in real time? Here's a situation to consider.

Let's say your teenage daughter just got her driver's license. She comes home an hour after curfew. You spent nearly every minute of that hour trying to reach and locate her, but her phone was dead.

Step 1: Pause and breathe: Avoid reacting immediately or doling out an impulsive punishment. Take a moment to breathe and ground yourself into the here-and-now.

Step 2: Reflect: Internally acknowledge any emotions and thoughts that you're feeling before sharing them with your daughter. Maybe you feel upset and betrayed that she disregarded your firm rule. Maybe you still feel anxious because you spent an hour worrying if she was okay. Perhaps you're wondering if you should take the keys away forever.

Step 3: Set or reinstate boundaries: Remind your daughter of the specific limits you had about the car and curfew. Explain how she explicitly violated your rule. In remembering the big picture, consider future implications for this behavior. The short-term problem is her being late. The long-term problem is her safety and respecting your house rules. How can you two work together to ensure she doesn't make this mistake again?

Step 4: Lean into acceptance: Acceptance is the final stage of any conscious parenting intervention. Aim to accept the situation, even if you don't necessarily like it. Doing so releases your ego and encourages your daughter to reflect on her own role in the dynamic.

What Are Some Other Ways to Practice Conscious Parenting?

Conscious parenting isn't an all-or-nothing mindset. It's okay to take some principles from this philosophy and other philosophies and blend them into your everyday life. In addition, even in a united, two-parent household, you and your partner may not always agree on the best parenting practices. That said, here are some tips to consider.

Learn what's going on with your child: When your child misbehaves, don't just jump quickly to blaming or punishment. Instead, ask them what happened. Take the time to really listen to them. Even if it doesn't change the outcome or consequences, it allows them to feel validated.

Define your boundaries: Conscious parenting does not mean allowing your children to run the house or violate your rules. Instead, you need to clearly define what is and isn't permissible. And when your child cross boundaries, reinforce consequences every single time. Even if this feels challenging, children need consistency and predictability.

Parent the child you have: Some parents feel wistful or even disappointed about their child's personality. They may wish their child liked a certain hobby or embraced a specific subject in school. But conscious parenting requires accepting your child for who they are- totally and wholeheartedly.

Aim to let go of perfection: You won't always act perfectly with your children. Sometimes, for example, you will lose your cool or become impatient. This is part of being human! But when this happens, practice owning up to what you did wrong. This models that you're willing to acknowledge your wrongdoings, and it can encourage your child to follow suit.

Seek your own therapy: When children display behavioral problems, parents may turn to the professionals for answers. But what about getting your own tools and support? As mentioned, baggage often unknowingly gets passed down. Working on your trauma or parenting issues can strengthen the entire family unit.

What If Conscious Parenting Doesn't Work?

Keep in mind that there is no "perfect" approach to conscious parenting. That's because perfect parenting doesn't exist. Every child is different, and they all have unique needs.

Subsequently, all parents make mistakes and wish they had behaved differently at times. But learning from your mistakes, holding yourself accountable, and striving to have an authentic relationship with your child is one of the best gifts you can give them.

This is an ongoing process. You will both learn and grow along the way.

At The Resurface Group, we believe that families play an integral role in a person's mental health. With that, we help unite and connect families. We are here to help you! Contact us today to learn more.

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