November 10, 2015 / Nivedita Chalill – Counsellor and Founder of Arth, a mental health initiative that offers Counselling and Arts Based Therapy in Mumbai
A few weeks ago, a visibly pregnant friend Sameeksha and her husband Sachin met me. She says ‘We need parenting tips.’
I laugh and ask if they are serious.
He says, ‘We only want our child to be healthy and happy so if we need to learn anything, this is a good time. So do you have any tips for us?’
I simply said ‘Conscious Parenting’.
And what better way to celebrate Children’s Day than by reflecting on our own behavior as parents. Not to judge and condemn, but rather with kindness and compassion, so we may transform our own lives and those of our children.
Conscious parenting simply means being conscious or aware of our parenting choices to ensure that our actions as parents are driven by our own beliefs of what our children need to thrive. This means that we first need to be aware of our beliefs and then use them to create a coherent parenting strategy that works for us.
How do we do this?
Imagine this: a child is having a tantrum and breaks a plate. You fly into an uncontrollable rage and are shaking with anger as you tell your child to learn to control his own behavior. Is this helpful?
If you stay conscious and aware of your parenting in that moment, you will recognize the discrepancy in that situation: preaching self-regulation, while being unable to practice the same. You may also recognize the discord between what your child needs at that time and what your response is.
Does this mean that we don’t set boundaries, or be strict?
Not at all. Just that, as parents we stay aware of the boundaries that we impose AND why we impose them. And then we stay conscious of how we enforce them including the language we use.
But…just look at our lives today! Where’s the time for all this?
As a parent and a mental health professional, I understand that our lives have become increasingly complex with most of us stretched thin between multiple demands related to work, home, managing children along with their schedules and needs, care-giving responsibilities, traffic woes, escalating expenses, the onslaught of technology and so on.
As parents, we are also under tremendous pressure to do our best and bring up healthy children who are happy, confident, and intelligent, all the while wondering if we are on the right path or if our kids are missing out on something critical.
And I think BECAUSE of all these reasons, conscious parenting becomes even more relevant.
Ok, so what should I do?
Think of parenting as a journey ‘with’ your child and your spouse. As parents, we don’t ‘know it all’, and we must start by assuming the best, or at least in the face of a situation, giving your child the benefit of doubt.
First, become aware of your own parenting style. Typically, our parenting styles vary depending on our own experiences as children, past experiences, personality, living situation, values, social support and a range of other factors.
Second, when you consider your own parenting behavior, reflect honestly and select those behaviors that may not be helping your child. For instance, if you lose your temper every time your child throws a tantrum or, if you say very harsh words when you are upset, review a few past situations and ask yourself: ‘What was I trying to accomplish with that strategy in that particular situation’ or ‘Was that choice I made the best for them in that situation?’
Third, explore where this behavior comes from. Just a small note here – most of us have had harsh experiences that have left us wounded or hurt. We often carry this baggage with us and it continues to shape our perception and our experiences. While we observe and select our own behaviors to work on, please do so with compassion and honesty. And if the hurt seems to run too deep, or the wounds have not healed and you are unable to deal with them, please approach a mental health professional.
Fourth, as you examine your own understanding of a situation and response, look at triggers and patterns so you can decide how best to change. In some cases, relabeling the issue may help. For instance, is a child’s problem behavior in a classroom a deliberate attempt to anger the teacher and embarrass us, or is it a sign of boredom? Given our position as parents, it is easy to label something as a ‘problem’, but staying open and honest may lead us to understand that the ‘problem’ emerged to ‘solve’ something else, in this case to amuse / entertain the child.
For some parents, learning to self-regulate their own emotions may be necessary. In some families, there may be a marked difference in the parenting styles of both parents that sometimes may confuse the child. (Although I should clarify that differing parenting styles can be of tremendous benefit as well.)
Change is often not easy, you may want to enlist the support of your spouse, friends or your child on this path towards becoming a more ‘conscious parent’.
I write this article as a mental health expert, but as a parent I offer it with some humility since I am well aware that there is no ‘one size that fits all’.