Helen and Sam are small business owners who are also raising two children. Still reeling from the massive economic hit they took when COVID-19 temporarily shut their doors, they grow ever more concerned about their 10-year old daughter who is struggling with the social isolation related to her virtual homeschooling, and their 12-year old son’s erratic and often-angry outbursts.
Like many parents around the world, Sam and Helen are trying their best to keep it together and wonder:
“What do our children need most during these turbulent and uncertain times?”
Helen and Sam are not alone.
I am a strong proponent of conscious parenting. Rooted in mindfulness and highly contingent upon a high degree of self-awareness, conscious parenting is a style of parenting that is “wide awake.”
To parent this way, we refrain from sleepwalking through our parenting, which can happen when our inherited patterns and internalized family dynamics run the show. When we parent consciously, we are intentional about how we communicate with our children, behave around our children, and the ways we structure family life. When we parent consciously, we are aware that there is no roadmap available to aid us in traversing the tricky terrain of parenthood. As such, conscious parents are highly self-compassionate and easily forgive their own missteps.
When I teach about conscious parenting, I describe it this way:
Conscious parenting is parenting from a place of keen self-awareness and an awareness of the needs and feelings of our children. It requires a strong willingness to be present, to stay engaged, and to remain connected — no matter how challenging things can be.
Conscious parenting is a beautiful way to parent. However, amidst the fear, chaos, myriad losses, and uncertainties of the last eight months, the last thing on the minds of many parents is analyzing how they are parenting!
It’s important to note that few, if any of us have ever received special training in how to parent — let along how to parent through crisis! It's no wonder that Sam and Helen are worried about their children. When they asked me for help as to how they might better tend to the needs of their children, I shared the following three tips borrowed from my mindfulness-based approach to conscious parenting. I hope you will find these tips helpful.
Tune in. Although conscious parenting is child-centered, when we parent consciously, we always begin with ourselves.
“How am I feeling?
How am I doing with all that is going on right now?”
Our children are like sponges. They absorb our fears and anxieties, despite our best efforts to hide them. Children are highly attuned to our energy and the energies of those around them. They might not be able to articulate this, but they do “feel” us — and in many ways, they know more about us than we know about ourselves in any given moment. We must never forget this.
That said, it is important that we tune into how we are thinking and feeling throughout the day. A powerful mindfulness-based practice to support tuning in is to pause three times per day, take one to three deep breaths and ask:
“What am I feeling right now?
Where in my body do I feel this?
What is this feeling connected to? A reaction to?”
Don’t fret too much about the answers to these questions. Instead, just feel into whatever is happening inside of you as you gently ask the questions. You might notice that as you tune in, any anxiety, fear, frustration or reactivity you feel might begin to diminish a bit.
Another quick tip related to “tuning in” is to explore what lies beneath your anger, frustration, irritation and agitation. Often, when I pause and explore, I see that whenever I am feeling any of these things, I am actually feeling scared, somewhat helpless, and at times, hurt.
For example, Sam found himself feeling triggered and angered each time his daughter would cry and tantrum about hating homeschooling. When he tuned in, he realized that if he was willing to be honest, his reactivity was about how afraid he felt about the impact that virtual schooling was having on his daughter’s social life as a fifth grader. His anger was not about his daughter but rather a disguise for how scared he felt for her.
When we practice tuning in, we often realize that most of our triggered states are tied to deep vulnerabilities that are painful for us to face. It is often easier to be angry or agitated than it is to pause and to say:
“This situation with my daughter really scares me. I feel helpless to change what is and I hurt for her.”
Listen—with your eyes. Studies indicate that 70-96% of all communication is non-verbal in nature. As such, the emphasis that we put on spoken and written communication has always astounded me. So much of what we communicate is expressed through eye contact, facial expression, tone of voice, cadence, rate of speech and in our body language. When we parent consciously, we open our understanding of listening to include all that the body is “speaking.”
Often, I had a good sense of my daughter’s emotional state by tending to the sound of her feet as she descended the staircase in the morning. Her pace and the pressure of her feet against the wood stairs, paired with her facial expression and body language, helped me to assess the degree to which her “I’m fine,” in response to my “How are you feeling this morning?” question was authentic or not. To really connect with my daughter, I had to be present, pay attention, and “listen” beyond her spoken words.
To parent consciously, this means that I must look at my child. I must lift my head out of my laptop and make eye contact. I must slow life down a bit to tend to the nuances of her expression. I must attend to her silences and what they might mean (silence is a powerful form of communication). I must use more than my ears to listen. I must use my eyes and I must be present enough to listen from all of me — not part of me — so that I can hear all of her.
To be clear, this sort of deep, wide-awake listening takes time and effort. In this way, listening is a practice and it helps if we set an intention to listen well. Your commitment to listening deeply as a parent will contribute to a strong, healthy relationship with your children.
Invite feedback. As parents, we are constantly giving our children feedback. We do this each time we applaud, praise, nudge, criticize, correct, discipline, evaluate, and at times, condemn. Many of us grew up with parents who provided all sorts of feedback — conscious or not! In this way, many of us parent from the belief that giving feedback is part of our job!
However, just as it behooves leaders to “invite” feedback from those they lead, it is quite helpful to invite feedback from our kids about how they experience our parenting. Imagine this! Doesn’t it make sense that I might come to parent better if I ask my kids for their thoughts about how I am doing?
Conscious parents not only encourage their children to provide feedback, they desire it. When I am wide-awake in my parenting, I know that like most things, parenting is a practice too, and if I invite feedback, I can only get better. Who knows our parenting better than our kids?!
Setting a safe, open, and loving context for inviting your kids to give you feedback is critical. It’s important to let your kids know that you value their opinion, that you want to do your very best as a parent, and that you understand that just as they are growing as people, you are growing as a parent.
Setting guidelines about feedback is also important. Feedback is always to be conveyed in the spirit of helping parents to grow — not to demoralize them, lash out, or be disrespectful. Although many of us might find our children’s feedback a bit triggering and uncomfortable, it is incredibly valuable to hear their voices.
Additionally, when we create opportunities for them to give voice to how they are experiencing our parenting, we are providing them with the training ground necessary to learn how to give feedback to others in supportive and loving ways.
Here are some questions you might ask of your kids as way to invite their feedback:
“Hey — I have been thinking. I give you lots of feedback about things. And just as you are growing — so am I. And I want to get really good at this parenting thing!
So, I am wondering, how am I doing?
What do you really appreciate or like about the way I parent?
What is not going so well?
Do you have any thoughts about things I might do differently to parent you better?
I am really open to hearing it all!”
Your child might look at you as if in a state of shock should you issue an invitation for feedback. However, if you continue to invite it and do not react defensively or punish their feedback, you will consciously create an environment within your family where feedback can be freely given and received.
These are just a few of many tips to practice conscious parenting. During these trying times, our children deeply need us to be present, engaged, and they crave a deeper connection to us. Trust me — they have likely been “telling” us this, but like Helen and Sam — and so many of us — we are likely not paying attention to all that they are “saying” beyond their spoken words, tantrums, and silences.
As mentioned earlier, conscious parenting is a practice. We will have our wild successes, epic failures, and mundane, neutral days as we traverse this path. However, staying awake, intentional, and mindful as we parent can illuminate the path in ways not otherwise possible.
Look for more on conscious parenting in upcoming blogs and look forward to the Conscious Parenting short course to be offered on the new, studio BE virtual platform in January.
Until then — be kind to yourself as parents. Aim to stay attuned to yourself and your children. Stay awake, present, and engaged. And no matter the chaos swirling around you — commit to staying connected.
Dr. Christine E. Kiesinger is Vice President of Development and Lead Trainer of Emotional Intelligence and Conscious Communication for studio BE.
Feature photo by fizkes/Adobe Stock