The Conscious Path to Raising a Child
by Ronica O’Hara
Lo Bannerman, a Tucson nutritionist, was making homemade cookies with her toddler. “Or rather, making a mess while stirring cookies,” she recalls. “Something in me snapped. I wanted to take control, kick her out of the kitchen and do everything the ‘right’ way.”
As Bannerman took a deep breath, a memory arose. “As a child, I was only allowed to count scoops of flour or teaspoons of vanilla. I was never allowed to fully, actively participate in the kitchen. Everything had to be perfect, and I was not ‘good enough’ to make it so. I felt this in my core. Was I passing this on to my daughter?” Bannerman recalls that, after taking a moment to reset, she and her daughter “happily made a mess, a memory and a foundation for a brighter future together.”
Bannerman, who blogs at NourishingFamilies.org, was practicing an increasingly popular approach in raising children known as either conscious, mindful, soulful, awake or peaceful parenting. Instead of focusing on shaping a child’s behavior through rules and discipline, which can bring up contentious issues of fear, ego and control, the focus is on connecting deeply with a child through love, authenticity and acceptance of the child’s innate nature.
“It’s crucial we realize that we aren’t raising a ‘mini-me’, but a spirit, throbbing with its own signature,” says psychologist Shefali Tsabary, Ph.D., author of The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children. “Children aren’t ours to possess or own in any way. When we know this in the depths of our soul, we tailor their raising to their needs rather than molding them to fit our needs.”
The transformation starts with—and hinges upon—parents understanding themselves deeply and realizing how their upbringing shapes their parenting actions. It’s not always easy, especially during housebound pandemic months. “Our children have the capacity to trigger us more than anyone else. So, when they exhibit childish behavior—which is, of course, part of their job description—it’s often hard for parents to stay calm,” says Laura Markham, Ph.D., a Brooklyn clinical psychologist and author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids.
“We see our child’s behavior (He hit her again!), and we draw a conclusion (He’s going to be a psychopath!) which triggers other conclusions (I’ve failed as a mother!). This cascade of thoughts creates a runaway train of emotions—in this case, fear, dismay, guilt. We can’t bear those feelings. The best defense is a good offense, so we lash out at our child in anger. The whole process takes all of two seconds, and later we wonder why we overreacted.”
The answer often lies in our past, Markham says. “Any issue that makes you feel like lashing out has roots in your own early years. We know this because we lose our ability to think clearly at those moments, and we start acting like children ourselves, throwing our own tantrums.”
The more deeply we know ourselves—whether through therapy, reading, journaling, meditation, mindfulness practices or simply facing head-on the hard knocks of life—the more open we are to forging a deep relationship with our children and the easier it is to calm ourselves in the moment of a trigger, psychologists say.
Correcting a child becomes then a matter of being a guide or coach, rather than a law enforcer. “Disciplining from a place of presence or awakened consciousness means having the willingness to pause, reflect, course-correct as needed in the moment, apologize, take ownership, ask for help and to drop history and reset as needed,” says Renée Peterson Trudeau, the Brevard, North Carolina, author of Nurturing the Soul of Your Family and The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal. “Most of all, practice self-compassion. You will make mistakes. Forgive yourself and move on; this is beautiful modeling for your kids.”
Jessica Speer, a family-book author in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, lives that process. Raised in a home “where anger wasn’t managed well,” she had no tools to draw on when she got triggered by her toddler’s tantrums. It was, she says, “a wake-up call that I needed help.” Diving deeply into books, mindfulness and meditation helped her to understand herself better. “Fast forward 10 years, and I still meditate regularly,” she says. “Now, when my daughter experiences big emotions, I try to ground myself so I can be there by her side. This has been so healing for both of us.”
Ronica O’Hara is a Denver-based health writer. Connect at OHaraRonica@gmail.com.