πŸ“• My Experience with Conscious Parenting

A book that really made it harder for me to raise my daughter was The Conscious Parent Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children, by Dr. Shefali Tsabary. I loved the book’s message that parents should accept their children the way they are, and it was probably not meant for small kids or to be literal, but I tried to use it that way. I think when your child doesn’t use the toilet, and then they become ready to use it, you aren’t accepting what they want, you are training them to do things in a better way and somewhat change who they are. Dr Shefali mentions that “normative” things should be taught as a routine, assertively, but she doesn’t address the disodence between not trying to change your children vs changing them to do “normative things”. I aslo read Dr. Shefali’s second book, and loved it on paper. I commited myself to trying to use her method for my family, but many years later I am admiting to myself it did not work for us.

My understanding of the idea of conscious parenting is to 1. examine each situation on a case by case basis, 2. take in the moment, 3. examine your own soul and upbringing, 4. think about what to do, 5. put a space between being mad and acting (wait five minutes before punishment), 6. act to address the situation.

That all sounds fine, but it all doesn’t work for us. Examining each situation sounds great, but if you are pregnant with another kid vomiting in the toilet, how do you examine why your first child broke something in the playroom that you didn’t witness and they say they didn’t break… you don’t, you really can’t always do that. Clear, consistant rules are better for us, than a family meeting over each and every new infraction. We have tried it both ways. With clear rules my daughter isn’t scared of the punishment (you drop your icecream you have no icecream – you don’t get another, you hit your brother I talk to you about malama/caring for him and using your strength in a helpful way), she knows it is coming, she doesn’t love it, but it doesn’t give her anxiety the same as when we decided punishment on a case by case basis. It was also a huge cognitive load for me to try to think about myself and my childhood everytime anything bad happened. It was important for me to let go of a traumatic childhood, but having done that, not everything that happens to my family now has anything to do with my past upbringing. When I am mad, it is often because my valid boundaries are being violated, not because I am a raging psycho who needs to chill out. For me, especially with two kids to care for by myself, it makes things way easier if I don’t have to think about what to do when the same problem comes up, sure I have to figure out each new problem, but the set protocol really helps. For something unsafe, I grab her take her away, soothe her, then explain, I don’t ask for permission, I don’t negociate, I just take action. For emotional fits I allow the fit, but ask her to go to her space so not everyone else in the family has to be disturbed from their quiet meal/music practice/computer project/work from home phone call. The protocols allow me to be a much better person in the heat of the moment than my attempt at conscious parenting did. For a big disturbing mess I seperate her and the mess, have her wait, clean, then talk to her about malama/caring for our home or items she may have broken. I really do that. Before the protocol it wasn’t as nice, there was yelling sometimes, it didn’t really seem to change her either. Now with the protocol I get less flustered, I treat her better, my husband can help me decide on the protocol (sometimes he has good ideas). The last point about why I’m not a fan of consious parenting anymore is that when you want to modify behavior waiting five minutes unlinks the cause and effect in the brain of the child, if each time the child does something bad something adversive happens (like they get their toys taken away for the day, when they hurt someone with the toy) it’s a more powerful learning message than if that toy was taken away five minutes later when they are already thinking and possibly doing something else. Sometimes I get too angry to talk to my child about our values when she does something bad and I confine her somewhere safe while I calm down, but I don’t expect her to learn from that, I’m just keeping her safe from being verbally abused by me when I am furious. I talk to her when I am calmed down, and I tell her what our family values are. I’m trying to use ICC, inform, consequence, choice from the Four Tendencies book, so I say “when you kick the dog you are not malamaing/caring for our dog” (inform), “if you kick the dog you can not be in the livingroom where the dog lives anymore, you will go to your space” (consequence), then I let her choose to either appologize to the dog or go to/be taken to her room (choice). I don’t punish her with hitting, with screaming, with taking away toys (except if she used them as weaponds), I don’t confine her in her room as punishment (though I do for safety, while I calm down) and over the past month I’ve noticed a big improvement in her behaviour.

There are some really wonderful ideas in Dr. Shefali’s books, so much so that I tried to live by them for about three years. However I think it’s so important for parents to know that not all ideas work for all parents or children, even if you try them consistently and do a good job, since kids are different, parenting can never be a one size fit’s all eye glasses perscription. My favorite Ted Talk about parenting, Jennifer Nacif’s “the Secret to Motivating Your Child,” changed the way I saw all parenting advice forever and empowered me to start viewing my child as a person first, and child second.

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