What is Aware Parenting? What Does it Mean to Consciously Raise our Children?

AUTHOR: JOSS GOULDEN
DATE PUBLISHED: 5 Apr 2023

The 10 Principles of Aware Parenting.

I am so grateful to Aletha Solter, Ph.D. the founder of the Aware Parenting Institute. Her description of the 3 aspects and 10 principles of Aware Parenting are on her website www.awareparenting.com. These 10 principles clearly outline what Aware Parenting is and how it supports our children and ourselves. They describe how we can prioritise strong, connected relationships in our families and they give parents the tools, based on strong scientific research, to support our children to be cooperative, connected to their authentic selves and loving. These principles also guide parent how to care for ourselves so we are able to release and heal the painful feelings we carry in our hearts and bodies, so that we can be the parent we want to be and have beautiful loving connections with our children.

1Aware parents fill their children's needs for physical contact (holding, cuddling, etc.). They do not worry about "spoiling" their children.

This first principle of Aware Parenting encourages us to prioritise close connection with our children, whatever their age. It is so helpful to support our children to develop and maintain close safe attachment to us when we offer them cuddles, holding, touch and closeness. This means that our relationships with our children are deeply loving, and give them a strong sense of emotional safety.

We learn to tune in and learn to "read" our children from their behaviour, seeing what their behaviour is telling us about how they are feeling, what they are understanding and thinking, and what they are needing. We do this by staying close to them and spending lots of time together, carry them, co-sleep, long-term breast-feeding and spending time listening to them and playing together. 

2. Aware parents accept the entire range of emotions and listen non-judgmentally to children's expressions of feelings. They realize that they cannot prevent all sadness, anger, or frustration, and they do not attempt to stop children from releasing painful feelings through crying or raging.

The second principle of Aware Parenting supports us to really welcome all of our children’s feelings and to listen without distraction, without fixing, without judging or commenting. Instead we offer our children empathy, acknowledgment and our loving presence while they share how they are feeling. 

We are listening non-judgementally and we don't categories feelings into good and bad - they are just all feelings. We understand that children will experience the full range of different emotions. Whatever they bring to us, we try to be there to listen and support them. 

There is a really strong cultural belief that it is the job of parents to stop our babies and children from crying. But this principle teaches us that, instead of trying to stop the tears, we listen with love and this supports profound healing. 

This principle is also so empowering for parents because it shows us that we can’t protect our children from experiencing pain, trauma and challenge and because we can always support them to release and heal when they do experience these things. 

We recognise that babies and children long to have their feelings heard, to be understood deeply by their parents so we need to understand feelings and the importance of our kids getting to express them.

And we don't just hold space for our children's feelings - we learn to welcome ALL feelings and see them as the healing releasing they are. We learn to be with rage, fear, sadness, confusion, frustration and all the other feelings.

By offering this to our children, they grow up with a rich emotional vocabulary and intelligence, where expressing emotions is normalised and where they frequently get to offload their feelings. This means they grow up to be adults who are comfortable expressing how they feel and reaching out for support when they are stressed or struggling.

3. Aware parents offer age-appropriate stimulation, and trust children to learn at their own rate and in their own way. They do not try to hurry children on to new stages of development.

The third principle of Aware Parenting supports us to learn to really trust our children, knowing that we can support them to learn in their own way, in their own time. As part of offering them unconditional love, we facilitate their learning but we don’t  rush it and we allow them to develop in their own perfect and unique way. We allow them to sometimes spend time consolidating their understanding and skills and at other times to move on to the next step in their learning. But they get to determine the pace and timing. 

We don’t compare our children to each other or to other people’s children. We observe and support their development and celebrate their differences and uniqueness. We don't force learning and trust that they will come to things when they are ready and we recognise their uniqueness in their own learning process. 

This principle is also so empowering for parents and children alike, because it shows us that we can trust ourselves and our intuition and trust their journey. 

4. Aware parents offer encouragement for learning new skills, but do not judge children's performance with either criticism or evaluative praise.

Of course all parents want to encourage their children and show them that we love them. But mainstream parenting culture and many schools often recommend and use judgements, praise and bribery to get our children to be “good” and do “well”.  We so often hear “Good job”. But Aletha Solter and other researchers like Alfie Kohn show us that praising and judging our children is detrimental to their wellbeing and our relationship with them. 

If we want our children to feel that our love is unconditional, we do not use praise or criticism to try to manipulate them into performing well at things. When we trust that our children are born with the desire and motivation to learn, we realise that praise robs them of intrinsic motivation and encourages them to seek validation externally. Criticism can make our children feel insecure about themselves and think that their value depends on other people’s approval, that they are only worthy of love when they do well at things and stressed if they make mistakes. Our children can become dependent on praise and grow into adults who are reliant on the praise of others to measure their worth. 

Instead of using praise and judgements, Aletha recommends that we:

·      Celebrate with them – “You did it!”

·      Only compare their performance to their own past performance, not to others or to arbitrary standards – “you did that by yourself and didn’t need any help this time”

·      Describe what we see them doing and our feelings – “I really love watching you sing”

·      Provide nonverbal appreciation and encouragement, e.g. displaying their artwork and watching them when they are performing, building, creating

·      Ask “how do you feel about that?”  or “what did you enjoy most about that?”

In this way, our children stay connected to their intrinsic motivation and their own internal sense of worth. They grow up knowing that we don't judge them and they therefore learn not to judge themselves. 

5. Aware parents spend time each day giving full attention to their children. During this special, quality time, they observe, listen, respond, and join in their children's play (if invited to do so), but they do not direct the children's activities.

Non-directive child-centred play (also known as Special Time in a term borrowed from Hand in Hand parenting) is a powerful way to build connection with our children, to provide them with a strong sense of emotional safety and to support healing from stress and trauma. 

The key ingredient of this type of attachment play is our undivided attention for our children, following their lead. So they get to choose what we do for that period of time and we don’t answer our phone or tell them what to do - we let them guide the play, offering them our playful connection and presence. 

It is especially helpful for reconnecting after periods of separation, e.g. starting school or the birth of a new sibling and to help the rewind and reconnection process if we have spoken harshly to our children. 

Including a timer for the play is also really helpful to offer a loving limit, if we suspect that there may be accumulated feelings that are affecting how our children are feeling and behaving. It is also really helpful for us to know that we are only needing to really focus on our children in play for a set period of time. 

And explicitly telling our children that we want to do special time with them, that we know since the baby arrived, mummy has been more busy and we really want to prioritise spending time with them, will all really help our children to feel acknowledged, safe, loved and cherished. 

So whether it is 5 minutes each day, 30 minutes a week or more, incorporating this principle of Aware Parenting is such a powerful form of connection.

6. Aware parents protect children from danger, but they do not attempt to prevent all of their children's mistakes, problems, or conflicts.

As parents we want our children to be safe and happy. In Aware Parenting, we try to minimise their exposure to stress and we do our best to keep our children safe but we recognise that it's not possible to protect our children from all suffering, from all disappointment, from all discomfort and we don't try to that. We accept that there will be times when our children are upset and disappointed, when they make mistakes and experience challenges and we trust that with our support, they will be able to navigate problems and conflicts and heal from challenges. 

We see the benefit too of mistakes as rich opportunities for learning and growth, when we bring unconditional love and compassion to our children. Feeling free from judgment, blame it shame, our children know their mistakes are forgivable and that we will find a solution together. Conflicts are resolved in a way that is respectful and leaves everyone feeling loved. 

We are also able to offer ourselves compassion and non-judgement when we make mistakes too. And we model this to our children. We are so empowered again by the resilience of the human spirit when we are receiving compassion and connection and all the beautiful tools of Aware Parenting to navigate the ups and downs of life.

7. Aware parents encourage children to be autonomous problem-solvers and help only when needed. They do not solve their children's problems for them.

We step in and help them when they need our help, but we don't try to solve their problems for them. We are by their side supporting them, but not taking over and instead we are allowing them the opportunities to learn to solve their own problems with our loving support. We offer help when it is needed and as they get older, we can ask "Do you want advice and solutions or do you want me to just listen?"

This again requires us to trust our children and to trust ourselves, which is often hard when we were not raised with trust and our culture does not support or encourage us to believe that neither us nor our children are trustworthy. So the more we are getting to express our feelings, share our fears, cry about everything that we are worried about, share our feelings about wanting our children not to experience frustration or disappointment, the easier it becomes to get out of the way, to allow them to face life's ups and downs and challenges and to know that we trust they will find solutions themselves, with our loving support.  

8. Aware parents set reasonable boundaries and limits, gently guide children towards acceptable behavior, and consider everyone's needs when solving conflicts. They do not control children with bribes, rewards, threats, or punishments of any kind.

In Aware Parenting we learn to look underneath the behaviour to see how to support our children. We offer loving limits when we can see that our children have accumulated feelings getting in the way of them being balanced, relaxed or cooperative, offering empathy and presence while we hold the limit. As Marion Rose (Level 2 Aware Parenting Instructor) says, we say "No" to the behaviour and "Yes" to the feelings underneath. 

We gently guide our children towards what we consider to be acceptable behaviour, but we do so by lovingly giving them information, meeting their needs, listening to feelings and connecting with play, as we recognise our children's inherent goodness and know that they don't need to be taught how to behave. So we also don't control their behaviour with bribes, threats or punishments, all of which disrupt our relationship, cause disconnection and cause our children to be fearful of us, extrinsically motivated and reliant on external value judgements of others and hiding their behaviour from us to focus on not getting caught. 

We show our children that they are worthy and loveable however they behave and we support them back to more enjoyable behaviour with love and compassionate connection. 

We use respectful communication, family meetings and peaceful conflict resolution when we experience the inevitable moments of conflict and stress in our families.We learn to look underneath the behaviour to see how to support our children. We offer loving limits when we can see that our children have accumulated feelings getting in the way of them being balanced, relaxed or cooperative, offering empathy and presence while we hold the limit. As Marion Rose (Level 2 Aware Parenting Instructor) says, we say "No" to the behaviour and "Yes" to the feelings underneath. 

9. Aware parents take care of themselves and are honest about their own needs and feelings. They do not sacrifice themselves to the point of becoming resentful.

This is such a crucial aspect of Aware Parenting. Taking care of ourselves is central to Aware Parenting and many of us need to re-learn how to ask for and receive support, and how to explore what our needs are. 

We often need support to work out what our unmet needs are and we need help to find ways to meet those that are not being met. Most of us as children did not get to express our needs, or to have them valued and met so many of us had to disconnect from them, and to feel like our needs didn’t matter.

But parents cannot give from an empty cup. We cannot be compassionate, connected and loving to our children if we feel overwhelmed, resentful and exhausted. 

So we reach out for support, we offer ourselves compassion, we acknowledge how hard it is to be raising our children in our nuclear families without the support we need and we find ways to support ourselves as best we can. We give ourselves permission to care for ourselves, we take time to do things we love, to laugh, to cry, to spend time in nature, to meet our needs for connection, for autonomy and choice, for rest etc. in whatever small ways we can. 

Aware Parenting recognises the importance of everyone’s needs being met and when we find ways to take care of us, we have more capacity to take care of our children.

10. Aware parents strive to be aware of the ways in which their own childhood pain interferes with their ability to be good parents, and they make conscious efforts to avoid passing on their own hurts to their children.

I think this is the most important part of Aware Parenting.

We reach out for support. We learn how to recognise when we are responding to our children from a place of childhood pain and we take steps to explore our core beliefs to identify when we are responding from our cultural conditioning or childhood beliefs that may no longer serve us. We get help to reparent ourselves with support using the strategies of Aware Parenting, learning to be compassionate to ourselves.

When we are healing, it’s not that we have to go back and spend time dwelling on every single incident of our childhoods or every negative painful experience we had. Healing is when we become aware of the times that our childhood pain and unhealed trauma is being touched in the present. Healing is when we recognise that our childhood pain is coming up and impacting our ability to be the parent we want to be.

From this place of awareness, we explore the emotions that are arising in the present as a result of what happened to us in the past. We choose to spend some time with these feelings, to give some love to them and get curious about how these emotions are affecting our life in the present.

We get support to be able to give attention and love to them, to offer them reparative experiences, to have the opportunity to imagine things being different, to feel in our bodies what it might be like if things had been different.

Finding ways that support us to do this work allows these parts to heal so they no longer intrude into our present from the past. And this healing is an on-going, lifelong journey, where every healing process enables the next step of healing, which was closed before. So we need each step to open another one. It’s an organic process that slowly frees us more and more. And each step also frees our children from more and more of the burden of our pain.We reach out for support. We learn how to recognise when we are responding to our children from a place of childhood pain and we take steps to explore our core beliefs to identify when we are responding from our cultural conditioning or childhood beliefs that may no longer serve us. We get help to reparent ourselves with support using the strategies of Aware Parenting, learning to be compassionate to ourselves and receiving support and healing with whatever modalities work for us. 

Your parenting coach and mentor

About Joss Goulden

I am a trauma-informed Parenting Coach and a Level 2 Aware Parenting instructor, certified with the Aware Parenting Institute. I have been practising Aware Parenting for 17 years and am the mother of 2 children, aged 19 and 17.

I am also passionate about Homeschooling and Natural Learning. I have homeschooled my 2 children and I have been supporting families with Homeschooling and Natural Learning for many years.
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I am so passionate about sharing this beautiful approach with parents. I believe that Aware Parenting is THE solution for so many of the challenges facing the world. - Joss Goulden, Aware Parenting Instructor
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