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December 7, 2022

Being Firm isn’t Wrong in Conscious Parenting

The Conscious or Gentle Parenting movement is abuzz these days. Parents are searching for a better way to raise their children. We want to be both nurturing and effective, so that kids can grow with soaring self-esteem and strong self-confidence. Empowered conscious parenting is rooted in attachment science, nervous system science, neuroscience, biology, and emotional intelligence. Concepts presented in modern and “good” conscious parenting articles and websites are researched and evidence-based. The ultimate emphasis is on creating secure and loving long-term relationships. It is not about being permissive, nor is it about giving in to whatever your children want. Rather, it is about setting firm boundaries and communicating those boundaries in a way that is respectful and loving.
What The Conscious or Gentle Parenting Movement isn’t about:
Many people assume that being a conscious parent means being a pushover. This is not true. Conscious parenting is not about being permissive and letting your children get away with anything they want.
Conscious parenting is also not about being authoritarian. It is not about using fear tactics, threats, bribes, time-outs or punishing your children for not following the rules. It is not about dominating your children or overpowering them. It is about setting limits, but doing so in a way that is supportive and rooted in core values and core human needs.
How Conscious Parenting is Different from Dominant and Authoritarian Parenting:
When it comes to boundaries and limits, the main difference between conscious parenting and dominant/authoritarian parenting is the way in which limits and boundaries are set.
With dominant or authoritarian parenting, limits are usually set by the parent, with little to no input from the child. The parent’s word is law and the child is expected to follow it, no questions asked.
With conscious parenting, limits are set in a more collaborative way. The parent and child work together to come up with limits that are acceptable to both parties. The parent still has the final say, but they take the time to listen to their child’s perspective and try to find a win-win solution. This way, the child feels respected and has a sense of ownership over the rules. When the child takes ownership, you are getting what some might call more “buy-in” from the child – this is good! More buy-in means less resistance. Less resistance means more peaceful family dynamics.
Speaking Firmly when needed
Some parents who are practicing gentle parenting assume they must always communicate gently. But when a young child is endangering themselves, for example, holding a knife incorrectly while cutting a fruit, we want to be clear and firm. A firm tone of voice indicates to the child’s brain “Hey – pay attention – this is important for your safety!”
Using a very firm and direct tone, we might say “Put the knife down. I need to show you how to hold it safely.”
Nervous system expert, Irene Lyon indicates that if we went to the child very quietly and softly and said “Oh honey, no, we don’t hold it like that” as they are about to cut something, this may not create enough of a mental cue to have the child stop and notice their action. But overreacting with a loud shout and leaping for the knife in an attempt to prevent an injury can actually worsen the situation because the reaction is too big and actually startles the child into moving their limbs – hands mobilize… and then… uh-oh. Or even scares them from even trying to use a knife again in the future.
The same could be applied for a child who might be interrupting conversations, or jumping on furniture.
Sometimes speaking with a firm tone is very important. Don’t assume that gentle parenting doesn’t allow firmness to exist. Children can benefit from structure, limits, and boundaries and even firmness when necessary. Without these, a child can sometimes feel lost, confused and even doubt themselves in the outside world where they face a lot of different circumstances, tones of voice, and language.
Setting Firm Boundaries
Setting firm boundaries is an important part of conscious parenting. It is important to be clear on how we operate as a family, what values underpin our daily functioning and what boundaries are in place. Being consistent with the boundaries is important, while also understanding how we can be flexible as our children grow and change.
When setting boundaries, it is important to be clear and specific. Rather than saying something vague like “behave yourself,” say something more specific or ask a question to get agreement “Can we practice respect when we visit with aunty and her kids today? Can we practice consent by asking to play with something instead of snatching? And practice moving safely in their house – let’s avoid running up and down the stairs – do you agree?”
It is also important to explain why the boundary is in place. Rather than saying “It’s rude to snatch,” we can explain how our values of respect and leadership (or kindness, or whatever else word you choose here) mean that we ask before we play with someone else’s toys. This will help your child understand the rationale behind the boundary and make them more likely to follow it.
How to Be Firm and Loving
When following through with boundaries, we CAN be firm yet loving. This means being clear and consistent with the values and boundaries, but also showing empathy and understanding.
When your child crosses a boundary, it is important to address it with empathy. Empathy doesn’t mean we change the boundary because we “feel bad for our child.” It just means, we have empathy: “It’s hard to wait your turn to play with that toy huh? I get it. I sometimes don’t like waiting too…” Acknowledge your child’s emotions and let them know that you understand how they feel. This will help your child feel heard and seen which will make them more likely to cooperate.
If a boundary has been broken, the natural consequences that follow are simply the child’s learning opportunity. This isn’t a time to remove the learning by removing the boundary, fixing the situation or attempting to change the child’s emotions. Our kids will benefit from developing “frustration tolerance” and growing patience. This is hard for some parents trying to shift the parenting narrative (they were raised with dominant power-over parenting and now trying to gently-parent their own kids but find themselves swaying between the two extremes). It means we may get to be witness to big and hard feelings. For parents with unhealed inner wounds from their own childhood, watching their child go through big emotions is too challenging so the urge to “fix” ensues.
Allowing the natural consequences that come from crossing a boundary to flow through, can provide resilience-creating opportunities. When a boundary is crossed, try offering your child two options for how to make it right if possible. This will give them a sense of control and ownership over the situation, which will increase the likelihood of following through on a set limit or boundary in the future.
Tips for Communicating with Your Children
Communication is key to successful conscious parenting. It is important to take the time to listen to your child, to validate their feelings, and to respond in a respectful, loving way. Here are some tips for communicating with your children:
1. Be respectful. Speak to your child in a way that shows respect for their thoughts and feelings.
2. Listen. Take the time to really listen to what your child has to say. This will help them feel heard and understood.
3. Validate their feelings. Acknowledge your child’s emotions and let them know that it is ok to feel that way.
4. Ask questions. Ask your child questions that will help them express their thoughts and feelings.
5. Give them space. Don’t try to force your child to talk or push them to open up. Let them know that you are there if they want to talk, but give them space to process their feelings in their own time.
Signs Your Child Is Feeling Respected
When your child feels respected, they will be more likely to cooperate and follow the limits and boundaries. Here are some signs that your child is feeling respected:
1. They are able to express their feelings. Your child feels comfortable expressing their emotions and their opinion.
2. They understand the boundaries. Your child understands why certain limits and boundaries are in place and is willing to follow them.
3. They are willing to compromise. Your child is willing to negotiate and come up with a solution that works for both of you.
4. They are willing to take responsibility. Your child is willing to take responsibility for their actions and accept the consequences.
5. They are willing to listen. Your child is willing to listen to your instructions and follow them.
Conscious parenting can be both firm and loving.
If you would like to learn more about becoming a more conscious, confident and empowered family leader, consider checking out my parent coaching programs. With the help of a parent coach, you can learn how to be firm yet loving and create a secure and loving relationship with your child, while also understanding how your own childhood wounds impact your parenting dynamics today and what we can do to shift that. Please click the link to learn more. Thank you for reading and I hope you have found this article helpful.
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