Raising kids is no small achievement. It often takes a village (and quite a bit of resources) to make sure your kids grow up healthy, wealthy and wise. But while you’re working to keep the family afloat and make sure your kids are cared for and behaving, how often do you reflect on how you’re doing as a parent? And, more importantly, do you ever stop to check in on your own well-being and how your physical and mental health affects the health of your kids?
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You may be asking yourself, “Who even has time for themselves?” when so much of your time and energy is focused on your kids. But conscious parenting can actually improve your relationship with your kids and help you feel confident in the way you’re raising them.
Conscious parenting is the practice of being mindful and aware of who you are as a parent. By being mindful of who you are, you can better understand the ways your physical well-being and mental health affect your relationships with your children. As a conscious parent, you can learn how to better react to situations in more positive and productive ways, while also making sure your needs are met along the way.
“With conscious parenting, it’s not just about parenting our children, but also about learning who we are as parents,” says psychologist Chivonna Childs, PhD. “Conscious parenting is about taking time for self-reflection. It focuses on how to be a better parent as opposed to solely parenting the child.”
Dr. Childs provides strategies for being a more conscious parent, along with tips for making it a positive experience for everyone involved.
Conscious parenting starts with being intentional. But where do you even begin? Well, you can start by setting a few new routines that are focused on making your connection with your kids more genuine and by taking a beat when problems arise. Here are a few helpful tips:
A lot of times, family check-ins are reserved for big, serious conversations or holiday gatherings, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Maybe set aside some time once a week or a couple times a month to sit down face-to-face and have open and honest conversations about how each family member is doing, how they’re feeling and what’s challenging them. You can even set up this time to occur around the dinner table — but make sure phones are put away, TVs are turned off and digital devices are shut down. By hosting these check-ins with your kids, you’re being intentional about holding space for their needs while also holding space for your own concerns.
“Have everyone go around and answer the same questions,” advises Dr. Childs. “Setting aside this routine teaches us empathy and teaches us to care for one another. It teaches that there are other people in the world beyond ourselves that we should be concerned about. And it says to the child, ‘I matter; mom matters; dad matters; and my siblings matter.’”
Kids can be quick to anger, and when pressured or under a lot of stress, the same can be said for parents. If conflict and emotional regulation is a persistent issue, try calming activities like deep breathing exercises, meditation or yoga. Even a short walk in the neighborhood or a nearby park can help calm someone down when tempers run high. Practicing and teaching calming techniques helps with conscious parenting by increasing everyone’s awareness of how they’re feeling and addressing those feelings in positive, empathetic ways.
“Children have a hard time managing their emotions sometimes because they’re new to this world,” explains Dr. Childs. “Teaching things that help resonate with the family and calm the family can be enjoyable, too. Being out in nature and doing things that help you take care of your mind-body-spirit connection can strengthen your family’s connection.”
If you’re overwhelmed with stress or anxiety, or you’re dealing with depression, it may be important for you to find healthy coping strategies by working with a therapist. If you want to be a conscious parent, you have to take care of yourself in addition to taking care of your kids.
One study suggests a parent’s poor physical health and increased health concerns led to more negative parenting styles and an increase in disruptive child behavior. It’s like putting on your oxygen mask first during an airplane cabin pressure emergency — by taking care of your needs, you can better take care of the needs of others.
“You can’t pour from an empty cup, so please take care of yourself first and then spread that love to your family,” notes Dr. Childs. “By taking care of yourself, you can take care of other people, and this is a teachable act that your kids will also pick up on over time.”
Your kids don’t have to rule the roost, but they should have a voice in what’s happening by expressing how they feel. This means including them in conversations about your choices for rules and discipline. Helicopter parenting and telling them to do things “Because I said so” only increases conflict. By explaining why things are the way they are, asking them how they feel about it and meeting them where they’re at, you can acknowledge each other’s feelings with respect and empower them to think critically about their actions. This not only extends to angsty teens, but also to toddlers: One study suggests gentle encouragement and warmth toward a toddler’s fear of socializing helped encourage shy toddlers in social situations because it promoted emotional regulation and self-awareness.
“At some point, your job is to launch your children into the world as responsible, loving, compassionate adults. Have conversations with them at their level so they understand that,” encourages Dr. Childs. “You’re informing them why things are the way they are and you’re explaining why you’re doing what you’re doing. You’re making them aware of the stance you’re taking and why you’re taking it.”
No one’s perfect. Parenting is a lifelong skill that continues to evolve as you and your kids grow older. Understanding that mistakes will happen and responding to those mistakes with positive reinforcement and guidance is most beneficial.
And if you’ve implemented calming techniques and developed a routine where you and your kids can talk openly about how they’re feeling, these activities will have ripple effects that make mistakes easier to manage and confront together.
“Conscious parenting means we’re trying the best we can with what we have to consciously give our kids everything they need to make the best decisions,” says Dr. Childs. “Kids are going to make the choices they make, no matter what we say or do. But it’s important to be mindful that you’ve given them a good foundation to go from.”
Example one: You took your child’s tablet away because they were throwing a fit about getting ready on time to go to school. Instead of furthering their punishment, you sit down and speak calmly to your child, asking them how they’re feeling, why they’re upset and what caused their initial outburst. You also explain how you feel anxious and upset when they’re making it hard for you to get ready in the morning. By explaining both sides of the situation, your child better understands that their actions were not OK and that their discipline was warranted.
Example two: Your teenager asks to go to a friend’s house for a small sleepover. When you ask for details and whether parents will be present, you discover the parents are actually out of town. You explain to your child that this makes you uncomfortable and you offer other options instead: Your teenager can go to their friend’s house but they must be home by 9 p.m., or they can have their friends over instead while you’re home. When your teen appears upset by their options, you sit down with them and ask them to explain why they’re upset. Maybe you both can come to terms with a compromise that works for both of you.
There are several parenting and attachment styles, and they work differently for everyone. In most cases, healthcare providers suggest gentle parenting is most effective, as it teaches empathy, understanding and respect. Regardless of your parenting style, conscious parenting is a state of mind that informs our parenting style and the way we see ourselves as parents. If you want to improve your abilities as a parent and become more aware of how your actions are affecting your relationship with your child, becoming a conscious parent can help.
“We’re their first introduction to love, the world and authority. We’re their first teachers and we need to be able to teach them positive lessons,” encourages Dr. Childs. “Conscious parenting allows us to do that.”