A pivotal realization in my journey as a parent has been the understanding that what matters in how our children turn out can have everything to do with how we turn out as parents. 

Before delving into practical tips and strategies for dealing with our children, it’s essential to introspect and grasp the essence of being a truly conscious parent. How can we break free from ingrained patterns and cultivate the ability to perceive our children for who they are and who they can become?

I’ve come to realize that my three daughters are here to usher in my spiritual development. While I anticipated imparting life lessons and fostering their growth, it’s astonishing how, in reality, they are the ones forcing me to evolve into a better person. 

I was helped tremendously by Shefali Tsabary’s book, “The Conscious Parent.” Here are some of my favorite passages from it. Whether you’re a parent, soon-to-be parent, or simply interested in personal growth, you’re in for a treat:

A single misplaced response can shrivel a child’s spirit, whereas the right comment can encourage them to soar. In each moment, we can choose to make or break, foster or cause to freeze up. When our children are just being themselves, they are unconcerned about the things we parents so often obsess over. How things look to other people, achievement, getting ahead—none of these issues that preoccupy adults are a child’s agenda.

it’s important to separate who you are from who each of your children is. Children aren’t ours to possess or own in any way. When we know this in the depths of our soul, we tailor our raising of them to their needs, rather than molding them to fit our needs.

Even when we have the best intentions of encouraging our children to be true to themselves, most of us unwittingly fall into the trap of imposing our agenda on them.

It’s no surprise we fail to tune into our children’s essence. How can we listen to them, when so many of us barely listen to ourselves?

When we as parents have lost our inner compass, is it any wonder so many children grow up directionless, disconnected, and discouraged?

Traditionally parenthood has been exercised in a manner that’s hierarchical. The parent governs from the top down.

On the parent’s side of the equation, the problem with the traditional approach to parenting is that it rigidifies the ego with its delusions of power. Since our children are so innocent and ready to be influenced by us, they tend to offer little resistance when we impose our ego on them—a situation that holds the potential for our ego to become stronger.

If you want to enter into a state of pure connection with your child, you can achieve this by setting aside any sense of superiority. By not hiding behind an egoic image, you will be able to engage your child as a real person like yourself.

I see the ego as more like a picture of ourselves we carry around in our head—a picture we hold of ourselves that may be far from who we are in our essential being.

“Ego” as I’m using the term is an artificial sense of ourselves.

It’s the person we have come to believe we are and think of ourselves as. This self-image is layered over who we truly are in our essence.

Once we have detached from our expectations of how another person “should” behave and we encounter them as they really are, the acceptance we inevitably demonstrate toward them naturally induces connection. This is because authenticity automatically resonates with authenticity.

In fact, other than the more obvious displays of ego such as boastfulness and grandiosity, the ego tends to be mostly disguised, which is how it tricks us into believing it’s our genuine self.

A lot of our emotions are ego in disguise.

For instance, when we say, “I’m angry,” we imagine it’s our core being that’s angry. The reality may be quite different. It’s quite possible that at some level, we are actually resisting a situation that has arisen, preferring to attach ourselves to how we think things ought to be. If we then unleash our anger on others, it becomes a full-blown manifestation of ego.

To parent consciously requires us to become increasingly aware of the influence of our ego. Awareness is transformative and is the essence of becoming a conscious parent.

Our children contribute to our growth in ways that are perhaps more profound than we can ever contribute to theirs. Although a child appears in a “lesser than” form, susceptible to the whims and dictates of a more powerful parent, it’s precisely the child’s seemingly less-powerful status that has the potential to call forth the greatest transformation in a parent.

As a parent, to the degree you are able to recognize that your children are in your life to foster a renewed sense of who you are, you will discover their potential to lead you to the discovery of your own true being.

This task is to raise yourself into the most awakened and present individual you can be. The reason this is central to good parenting is that children don’t need our ideas and expectations, or our dominance and control, only for us to be attuned to them with our engaged presence. 

While we believe we hold the power to raise our children, the reality is that our children hold the power to raise us into the parents they need us to become. For this reason, the parenting experience isn’t one of parent versus child but of parent with child.

They become our greatest awakeners.

We must allow our inner being to guide us, which in our oneness resonates with their inner being.

Only to the degree we as parents are attuned to our own being will we know how to help our children attune themselves to their unique essence.

Even when we are called upon to discipline, consciousness shows us how to do so in a manner that bolsters our child’s spirit rather than diminishing it.

A certain child enters our life with its individual troubles, difficulties, stubbornness, and temperamental challenges in order to help us become aware of how much we have yet to grow. The reason this works is that our children are able to take us into the remnants of our emotional past and evoke deeply unconscious feelings.

Because we interact with our children based on how we were raised, before we know it—and despite our best intentions—we find ourselves recreating the dynamics of our own childhood.

If you understand that the inappropriate behavior of your children is a call to increased consciousness on your part, you are able to view the opportunities they afford you to grow differently. Instead of reacting to them, you look within yourself and ask why you react. In the asking, you open a space for consciousness to arise.

The ways in which our past influences our present are indelible, yet paradoxically obstructed from plain view.

How can we guide, protect, and provide for our children in the physical world, yet rigorously relinquish all sense of domination of their spirit, unless we have nurtured a free spirit within ourselves?

The ability to see—really see—our children separate from who we are is our greatest gift to them. Conversely, our greatest weakness as parents is our inability to honor a child’s path as it emerges. To parent consciously, we have to become astute observers of our own behavior when we are with our children. In this way we can begin to be aware of our unconscious scripts and emotional imprints as they arise in the moment.

Without our realizing it, we bind our children to us by tying them to our approval, making them slaves to our judgments of them. Either we constantly starve them of our approval, or we cause them to become dependent on it. Can you imagine how it must feel for a child to be starved of our approval and fearful of our disapproval? How different this must be from knowing they are unconditionally accepted and honored.

Allow me to suggest some of the ways in which you can let your children know they are accepted simply for themselves, quite apart from anything they do:

They are resting, and you tell them how appreciated they are. They are sitting, and you tell them how happy you are to sit with them. They are walking in the house, and you stop them to say, “Thank you for being in my life.”

They hold your hand, and you tell them how much you love to hold theirs. They wake up in the morning, and you write them a letter saying how blessed you are to get to see them first thing in the day. You pick them up from school and tell them how much you missed them. They smile, and you tell them your heart is warmed. They kiss you, and you tell them you love being in their presence. Whether you have an infant or a teen, your children need to feel that just because they exist, they delight you.

Accepting our children in their as-is state requires us to surrender our ideas of who they “should” be—a surrender that’s akin to a psychic death—and enter into a state of pure communion with them so that we can respond to them as they need us to.

As we die to ourselves as we have known ourselves, we have the opportunity to be birthed all over again along with our children’s budding spirit. For this to happen, all we need do is yield to the ever-shifting adventure of parenthood. Our children will lead the way. This is why parenting a young child is our greatest opportunity for change. If we are open to it, our child acts as our guru.

Responding to them as they need to be responded to, instead of in a manner reflective of our own past conditioning, requires unequivocal surrender to the wisdom of who they are, who they are yet to become, and what they can teach us about ourselves in the process.

Our concern isn’t with “how to put my child to sleep” or “how to get my child to eat.” The principal task is to put spiritual foundations under both our child’s life and our own. This triggers a shift in the elemental way in which we relate to our children, with the result that their behavior automatically falls in line as they become aware of, and true to, who they really are. Behavioral changes are an outgrowth of a shift in the relationship.

When we accept our children for who they are, we mistakenly believe this is to passively allow them to continue with behavior that may be destructive. Passivity isn’t at all what I have in mind.

Our ability to accept our children is directly linked to our ability to accept ourselves—both as we are presently, and for what we have the potential to become. After all, how can we hope to raise our children to be freethinkers and free-spirited if we aren’t these things ourselves?

How can we raise independent, autonomous children if we ourselves aren’t independent and autonomous?

I accept I am a human being before I am a parent. I accept I have limitations and many shortcomings, and this is okay. I accept I don’t always know the right way. I accept I am often ashamed to admit my own failings. I accept I frequently lose my center worse than my child ever does.

I accept I can be selfish and unthinking in my dealings with my child. I accept I sometimes fumble and stumble as a parent. I accept I don’t always know how to respond to my child. I accept that at times I say and do the wrong thing with my child. I accept that at times I’m too tired to be sane. I accept that at times I’m too preoccupied to be present for my child. I accept I am trying my best, and that this is good enough. I accept my imperfections and my imperfect life.

When we are unable to accept our children, it’s because they open up old wounds in us, threatening some ego-attachment we are still holding onto. Unless we address why we can’t embrace our children for precisely who they are, we will forever either seek to mold, control, and dominate them.

When we mold our children to meet our expectations, we resist who they are, which is to sow the seeds of dysfunction. In contrast, to accept our children for who they are at any given moment brings a feeling of release and inner spaciousness. No longer defining ourselves by our need for control, we enter into kinship.

Our children aren’t fixed entities, but ever-evolving beings who are constantly transforming themselves. If we are attached to our own sense of ourselves in a rigid way and fail to recognize ourselves as ever-evolving beings, we inevitably do the same with our children.

Few parents can allow their children to exist without seeing them as an extension of their own ego.

To gain a better understanding of the ego, recall how I noted earlier that when I suggest to parents they must change if their children’s behavior is to improve, they insist I’m mistaken. They then present various explanations for why their relationship with their children is as it is. We find it difficult to sit with the knowledge there may be a piece of us that contributed to whatever negativity we are experiencing in our life, preferring to place responsibility for our situation on factors in the world around us.

Ego is in operation anytime we find ourselves attached to a thought pattern or belief system.

In other words, living authentically allows us to cease looking at our children as blank canvasses on which we can project our image of who they should be, seeing them instead as fellow travelers on the journey, changing us as much as we are changing them.

To live authentically instead of in ego is to embrace continuous evolution, realizing we are always in flux, always a work in progress.

Anytime we feel less perfect than what we wish to be, we experience anxiety because we believe we have “fallen” in the eyes of others. Then we react in an emotional manner.

What they really need to learn is that perfection is an ideal of the foolish.

When you are comfortable acknowledging your flaws and daily mistakes, not in a self-flagellating manner but in a matter-of-fact manner, you convey to your children that mistakes are inevitable. By laughing at your errors and readily admitting your insecurities, you remove yourself from the pedestal of wonder. Setting aside hierarchy, you encourage your children to relate to you as human-to-human, spirit-to-spirit.

All we need to do is model. When our children realize we are perfectly okay with our okayness, it encourages a feeling of competence within them. By delighting in our follies, we teach our children not to take themselves too seriously. By being willing to make a fool of ourselves as we try new things, we teach them to explore life with little care for how they “look” or perform.

When we are attached to ideals, we impose these on our children, insistent that they preserve our carefully constructed persona of competence. We overlook the fact that each of our children is a being with its own calling, not realizing that only through the full acknowledgment of our child’s unique and autonomous spirit can we seize the spiritual opportunities inherent in parenthood. 

The challenge to you as a parent is to allow your child’s spirit to emerge without your domination. Can you let go of your relentless urge to have your children be extensions of yourself? Are you willing to foster the internal space in them that will enable them to flourish free of your need to project your will onto them? If these things are to happen, you will need to create an inner space within yourself that’s free of the tendency to possess and control. Only then can you meet your children as they truly are, not as you wish them to be, fully accepting them without attachment to whatever vision you may have for them.

When you relate to your children by honoring who they are at any given moment, you teach them to honor themselves. If, on the other hand, you seek to shift them from their present state, altering their behavior to meet your approval, you convey the message that their authentic being is inadequate. As a result, your children begin to adopt a persona, which takes them away from who they really are.

Letting go of your attachment to your vision of parenthood and your desire to write your children’s future is the hardest psychic death to endure. It demands that you drop all prior agendas and enter a state of pure release and surrender. It asks that you forego your fantasies of who you thought your child would be and instead respond to the actual child in front of you.

When a child never gets to witness its parents in a state of weakness or childishness, let alone as simply fumbling, bumbling humans, how can this child risk revealing its own weaknesses?

Anger is a powerful stimulant, seducing us to believe we are strong and in control. Paradoxically, when we are in the grip of anger, we are anything but in control. We are prisoners of ego.

If we are in a state of agitation, frustration, or fatigue, chances are we are going to botch the disciplining process. Many of our mistakes when setting boundaries with our children stem from our internal conflict, ambivalence, or tiredness—which is when ego often kicks in the most.

We are obligated not to displace our emotional state onto our children, no matter what the provocation.

Our children pick up a great deal from how we embrace them each morning, how we react when they break our favorite vase, how we handle ourselves in a traffic accident, how we sit and talk to them, whether we really look at what they show us, and whether we take an interest in what they say.

How often do we say, “This moment between us is perfect as it is,” realizing the wholeness of life itself.

Through our children, we get orchestra seats to the complex theatrics of our immaturity, as they evoke powerful emotions in us that can cause us to feel as though we aren’t in control—with all the frustration, insecurity, and angst that accompanies this sensation. Of course, our children don’t “make” us feel this way. They merely awaken our unresolved emotional issues from our childhood.

Because we weren’t taught by either our parents or society to access our inner stillness and find the roots of our pain and pleasure within ourselves, we are reactive to external circumstances.

The more helpful response to being triggered is to recognize your emotional charge as a signal that something is amiss within you.

Parenting affords us a wonderful opportunity to tame our reactivity. Each of us is triggered on a daily basis by all kinds of things. The reason for this is that the ideal view of ourselves to which we are attached—our ego—is being shaken, which is threatening to us.

To be in a state of consciousness means we approach reality with the realization that life just is. We make a conscious choice to flow with the current, without any desire to control it or need for it to be any different from what it is. We chant the mantra, “It is what it is.” This means we parent our children as our children are, not as we might wish them to be.

Our inability to embrace our reality in its as is form keeps us stuck. For this reason, not resistance but acceptance of our reality is the first step to changing it.

Do you see the simplicity of embracing the as is of parenting? Even if your children are in pain, distress, or pitching a fit, can you accept this state as natural and therefore whole? Can you recognize the completeness of it, just as it is? Once you have accepted your children’s as is state, even when this means their tantrums, with your acceptance there arises a pause. From this pause emerges an understanding of how to respond, rather than react.

Many of us assume that when we are angry or sad, we are feeling our feelings. On the contrary, we are often merely reacting. Truly feeling an emotion means being able to sit with the incoherence we experience at such a time, neither venting it nor denying it, but simply containing it and being present with it.

When our children are permitted to feel their feelings, they are able to release them amazingly quickly. They come out of the pain understanding that pain is just another sensation. The anticipation of the pain is often more intolerable than the actual pain. When our children experience their pain in its pure form, without fueling it with resistance or coloring it with a reaction, the pain transforms itself into wisdom and perspective. 

Once their emotions have been processed, children feel no need to hold onto them long after they have passed in the way adults tend to do. They intuitively know that, like the ebb and flow of the ocean, pain comes in waves—and just as it comes, it also leaves. The reason we adults feel like it stays forever is that our thoughts have become embroiled in it based on a vestige from the past. It’s in the mind that the pain continues to exist, not in the actual situation. This is because we don’t let go.

The process of losing our reactivity accelerates as our awareness deepens.

It’s vital to accept unequivocally that we are going to unleash our unconsciousness from time to time. The conscious parent knows how to use the emergence of their unconsciousness in a manner that’s ultimately healing. They know how to recognize a reaction, albeit after the fact.

They live by the dictate, “I expect to be triggered, entangled, overwhelmed, and to engage in egoic parenting at times. However, I will use the lessons embedded in these occasions to evolve as a person and to help my children evolve as well.”

Our children don’t intend to trigger us; they are just being who they are. Being triggered is an inevitable part of any relationship, so there’s no room for blaming ourselves or anyone else.

Whenever we make personalized interpretations of others’ behavior, we risk plunging ourselves into cauldrons of roiling emotion. Were we to make depersonalized, neutral interpretations, we wouldn’t suffer the consequences of negative emotions.

When we experience anxiety, something from deep within us has been triggered. If we are aware from moment to moment, we ask ourselves, “Why am I being triggered right now?”

Anxiety is a natural emotion there’s no escaping. Rather than seeing it as something we need to control, we are asked to accept that it’s natural and quietly witness it. Sitting in our anxiety, simply allowing it to exist, is a core practice of this journey.

No one wins when we come from our unconscious reactive state. Emotional drama can only lead to suffering. So much of our pain is self-created. Unless we learn to break free from our negative interpretations, we will forever be mired in one destructive emotional pattern after another.

The fact is, I am in a mood at such a moment, and I am allowed to be in a mood, though not to take it out on others.

I believe that not only do our children not need to earn our trust, but they need to know that we trust them implicitly because we see them as fundamentally trustworthy. Just by their presence, our children have earned the right to be trusted.

We frame all mistakes as emerging out of a pure place. If this is so, where is there any room not to trust our children?

As parents, we communicate trust or distrust in the subtlest ways. The questions we ask our children, the lectures we give them, and the unsolicited advice we dish out all convey trust or distrust. For instance, when we repeatedly ask our children how they are doing, believing they must be going through something or other, we unwittingly communicate our own anxiety and hence our mistrust of life.

The less we check in on them in an anxious manner, the more we communicate the message that we don’t need to check in with them all the time because we know they are fully capable of taking care of themselves and will ask for help when they need it. When we make decisions for our children without giving them the chance to chart their own course, we communicate to them our own powerfulness and their helplessness, which fosters a distrust of themselves.

We solicit their ideas and show respect for these ideas, even if we can’t always incorporate them into our plans, we communicate a deep reverence for their ability to contribute to the discussion at hand. Our children can sense when we have a true, deep respect for their opinions and choices.

As our children see that their presence is both meaningful and important to us, they learn to trust their inner voice.

They learn to trust themselves as we tell them, “I admire the way you put your thoughts together,” and assure them, “I trust you to do the right thing.”

“Why am I feeling triggered?” you ask yourself. Perhaps you come to the realization that you feel helpless in some area of your own life that’s unrelated to parenthood, and your child is simply activating this feeling. Our thoughts and emotions are a reflection of our inner state and require observation, not reaction.

The choice of question differentiates a victim from a survivor. The victim whines, “Why did life give me this struggle?” The survivor asks, “How can I use this struggle for higher evolvement?” It’s a matter of not allowing our identity to be defined by the events in our life. Instead, we understand that it’s how we either respond creatively or react negatively that defines our fate.

When we teach our children to find the emotional lesson behind every experience, we teach them to own their life with zest. When we frame our experiences in a manner that allows us to extrapolate higher meaning from them, we view all of life as a wise teacher. Even the worst of life’s offerings are regarded as a call to become our highest self, so that our weakest of moments become our most transformational.

“What isn’t fair?” he asked. “That my son is who he is? He is my child, and I accept him completely. If he is difficult, this means I need to be more patient. If he is scared, I need to be gentler. If he is anxious, I need to be more comforting. I give him what he needs from me because this is what I’m here to do.”

In the infant stage, the primary spiritual agenda revolves around oneness and togetherness. This is when the deepest bonding takes place.

The parent’s mindset, including fantasies, fears, inhibitions, and courage, are registered in the infant’s body at a cellular level.

Infancy is about psychological security and physical comfort.

Though a toddler’s fears are primarily imagined, they are perceived as so very real. A toddler has the most remarkable ability to remember what it wants and to persist until its demands are met. If we fail to sow the seeds of containment when our children are toddlers, we will find it all the more difficult to do so when they are twelve.

In middle school, your children belong less to you now than they ever did. They are growing and need the space to do so, which requires you to retreat from your dominance and emerge in your kinship. No longer can you be the ever-powerful parent, but must instead become an ever-present partner. Your children need you to hold their hand, but without leading the way. They need you to be there when they cry but cannot explain why they are crying. They need you to respect their privacy even while they cling to you.

Each friendship will leave a mark on their personality as they morph into who they think they need to be in order to fit in. Your task is to sit with them and be the container for their angst, holding hope while never minimizing what they are experiencing.

It’s essential you don’t try to “fix” their life, but simply understand the chaos of these years. In this way, your children learn to manage their emotions and create their own coping strategies. It’s as if you were to say to them, “Even though you feel anchorless, abandoned by your body, lost to your soul, I will sit here with you and reflect your essence.”

Your spiritual obligation is to reflect back to them the normalcy of their state and admire their shining courage.

If you were too strict with your children, the teen years are a time when they break free. If you were too permissive when your children were growing up, so that they failed to learn containment, they now go wild. If you were neglectful of your children or absent, they now refuse to connect with you.

In such circumstances, parents are asked to endure the pain their teens inflict on them, knowing this is a reflection of the parents’ failure over the years to connect with their child as a real person like themselves. The parent has to be willing to admit, “I haven’t been there for you, so please teach me what I need to do to repair our relationship.”

“Don’t use your children as the receptacle of your frustrations.” When your child exasperates you, you are wise to hold an internal conversation in which you ask yourself, “Why am I being triggered right now?” 

If at times you lose your patience and project your frustration onto your children, either through harsh words or a clenched jaw, take a deep breath and forgive yourself. Then let it go and begin over. Guilt is a murky emotion that coagulates our true voice, leaving us with the aftertaste of inadequacy and insecurity.

We have been raised to live in a state of constant “doing.” The truth is, many a modern child’s hectic schedule is more about the inability of parents to sit still than the child’s need to do so much.

The modern mind is so busy, we have lost our ability to meet a person or a situation with neutral energy. Instead, when we face an “other,” be it a person or an event, we immediately impose on the individual or the situation our preconceived ideas of right and wrong, good or bad.

Anxiety fuels a need to be “perfect,” which leads to a compulsion to “fix” ourselves, all of which is driven by a longing to garner everyone’s approval of us.

Worrying gives us a reassuring sense we are “doing” something, fooling us into imagining we somehow have some control over things. By engaging in mental “doing,” we feel we are taking action. However, since worrying is focused on the future, on things not yet developed, it deflects us from initiating positive action in the present. The truth is, worry is a mask for our fear of being “present” in our present. 

The inability to value the spaciousness of free time is learned. Our children pick up restlessness by osmosis as we teach them to rely on being busy all the time.        

What do you have a right to expect from your children? I identify three elements: respect for themselves, for others, and for their safety. Beyond these basics, your children own the right to manifest who they want to be, even if this isn’t what you wish for them.

What are some of the things you can hope for your children? Allow me to suggest a few: Not that they will be a good achiever, but a good learner. Not that they will obey you, but that they will respect you. Not that they will blindly follow your dictates, but that they will seek your counsel. Not that they will be a star, but that they will master the art of being. Not that they will follow your vision, but that they will create their own. Not that they will achieve “success,” but that they will live a life of purpose.

Not that they will find direction, but that they will find meaning. Not they will be your puppet, but that they will be your spiritual partner. Not that they won’t experience pain, but that they will find the means to become whole. Not that they won’t fail, but that they will find the courage to start again. Not that they won’t hurt others, but that they will find the grace to ask for forgiveness. Again, the first step to releasing your children from the snare of your unrealism is to free yourself from your own.

To help your children realize the abundance they already exude, you can tell them such things as: You inspire me. I am in awe of who you are. I am amazed by your spirit, which knows no bounds. You take my breath away. Your capacity for kindness is huge. You are a true person. Your ability to imagine and create is extraordinary. You are blessed with so many talents. You are rich from within. You have so much to teach me. I learn how to be a better person from you. 

When you celebrate your children for their ability to be true to themselves, you encourage them to trust. You inspire them to follow their insight and have faith that they will be held if they fall. 

When we own that our fears about our children’s future are our own fears and not really about our children, we don’t feel the need to project these fears onto our offspring. Consequently, we encourage them to live in a manner that’s oriented to their authentic being. 

Because of your silent connection with your intrinsic being, you find yourself able to support the emergence of your children’s true being. Having learned to live from an authentic place, you are no longer threatened when your children speak their truth and live their life authentically.

The more we make it a point to reflect on aspects of our existence for which we are grateful, the more our children learn to do the same.

Creating a daily or weekly ritual at the dining table, in which each person has the chance to express something they are thankful for, helps our children develop reflective skills, which in turn enables them to extract beauty from life.

The role of a parent isn’t to dictate, but to support the development of a child’s inherent being. This is why, if we wish to connect with our children of any age group, we need to find a way to match their emotional energy. 

Whether children are six or sixteen, they yearn to have a meaningful connection with their parents. If the relationship is about autonomy, empowerment, kinship, emotional freedom, and authenticity, what child would reject their parents?

Why do we feel we must constantly advise our children, always impart some gem of wisdom, give our opinion on everything? I suggest the reason lies in ourselves, not in what our children require. We are simply unable to be and allow. We can’t accept the as is of the situation.

Engaged presence involves simply being a witness to your children’s experiences, allowing them to sit in what they are feeling without any insinuation that they need to move beyond this state. Rather than “psychologizing” your children, simply allow.

We are talking about empathy. The core of empathy lies in being able to allow the individual to experience their experiences in their own way, with us bearing witness.

In other words, empathy involves validating our children’s sense of being, which entails communicating to them that they have every right to their feelings. We don’t have to agree or disagree, but simply to allow their feelings to exist. We aren’t invested in denying, shaping, or changing our children’s feelings. Rather, we not only let them know they are being heard, but we also pay attention to what they are saying beneath their words.

Our tendency is to reprimand our children when they are in the grip of strong emotion. Hoping that through the power of our wanting, our children’s emotions will magically disappear so we won’t have to deal with their rawness, even ugliness, we counsel, “Don’t be angry,” “You shouldn’t be jealous.”

We think we need to teach our children not to be afraid, not to be angry, or not to be sad. But why shouldn’t they be scared if they are scared? Why shouldn’t they be sad if they are sad? Why would we ask them to dishonor their feelings? We help them most not when we try to banish their emotions, but when we equip them to navigate such emotions.

If you want your children to learn from their mistakes, any sense of “wrongness” needs to be removed, so they realize that no matter how much they mess up, they are still okay. There can be no imposing of guilt or blaming.

When we presume we understand the motivation behind our children’s actions and judge them negatively, we trigger in them a sense of helplessness. Sometimes in blatant ways and at other times in the subtlest of ways, we pile feelings of inadequacy upon them.

Little do we realize they are tired of living in shame, tired of being thought “bad.” If our children turn their sense of helplessness inward, they are likely to retreat into a shell, internalizing the belief that they are “bad.”

A child who is respected and whose feelings are honored when it makes a mistake doesn’t turn around and dishonor another person.

The way to handle our children’s mistakes is to ask ourselves how we would want our friends to handle ours. Would we want to be lectured to death?

The conscious approach is to wait until all emotional reactivity has died down and everyone is in their right mind, then sit with our children compassionately, process their mistake with them entirely free of judgment, and show them how they can extract a lesson for the future.

Unfortunately, when addressing our children’s negative behavior, we often don’t take the time or exercise the patience required to get at the why, but instead deal with the what. Yet only through an understanding of the why can we help our children create the pathway to change.

We don’t have to belabor the point, but simply note it and move on.

To not take mistakes personally is to recognize that behind every mistake is a good intention, though sometimes this intention doesn’t readily present itself. As parents, we need to search beneath the superficial mistake and uncover the original good intention of our children. This encourages them to have faith in their innate goodness.

One of the reasons children fear their mistakes is that when we admonish them, we unknowingly strip them of their sense of competence. The premise behind conscious parenting is that our children are inherently well-meaning and want to do the right thing.

Authenticity springs from a strong connection to our inner being. For a child, this means learning to recognize their own inner voice, which will teach them how to expand their presence in the world. As children increasingly relate to their inner being, they learn not just to accept themselves, but also to embrace their own will and manifest this in the world. They develop the ability to forge a meaningful connection with others, as well as with life itself.

Our children need to learn both the art of connection to themselves and connection to others, which are the two pillars of all relationships. The ability to relate to another is linked to our ability to connect with ourselves, which is the springboard of authenticity and the key to our ability to maintain meaningful relationships.

Don’t avoid conflict—value it. By learning to view conflict as a way to experience the value in “losing,” the beauty of creating a negotiated solution, and the foolhardiness of living in a rigid world of either-or, you teach your children to engage life as it truly is: full of complex, competing demands, and rich with unpredictability.

When an issue isn’t a matter of life or death and yet we insist on our way of doing things, we may imagine we are teaching our children respect for rules, whereas in reality we are teaching them to be like us—rigid and unyielding. This is why conflict continues relentlessly. 

Our children need to be allowed to say “no” to us in an ever-flowing dialogue in which two spirits exchange views. When our children see us use our power to lay down the main rules, but also see our willingness to give up power so that they can flex their full personhood, behavioral shaping becomes a truly spiritual exchange between parent and child.

Our children learn there’s give and take in relationships, and that matters can be negotiated—a vital skill for functioning effectively in the adult world. Flexible rules might cover what clothes to wear, food to eat, interests and hobbies to pursue, books to read or movies to watch, friendships to keep, and how free time is spent. Through a healthy balance of main and flexible rules, our children learn how to have appropriate boundaries as well as a respect for dialogue with another.

As we model a willingness to engage in a collaborative solution to a situation, we infuse the process with a sense that we are in this together.

The root of a child’s acting out is an emotion that was unable to be expressed. Inappropriate behavior is a cry from the heart: “Please help me.” 

For example, if your child is acting out and you are aware that they are tired, instead of focusing on their acting out, go directly to their emotional experience and say, “You must be so tired right now.” Or if they are sad about something, ask, “Are you acting like this because you are sad?” The doorway to emotional processing then swings open. After you have identified their emotional state and entered into it with them, explain, “No matter how you feel, you simply can’t act out in this way. Let’s find another way to communicate how you feel.”

As you teach your children to access their emotional world on a continual basis, they don’t feel the need to act out their emotions in attention-seeking ways.

To express what you are feeling, you don’t have to yell and scream. Instead, when an issue arises between your children and yourself, you can say, “We both have feelings about this. Tell me yours, then I will share mine.” It’s crucial your children know that their feelings are as important as yours.

“Why don’t you tell me where you believe I have gone wrong and how I can correct it. I’m ready to listen to everything that’s causing you pain right now. You are free to express yourself—there will be no judgment.” 

Pushing a child to “grow up” simply because their chronological age is more advanced is a fruitless exercise that can only destroy the child’s sense of worth. When we feel ourselves becoming frustrated because our child can’t “be like others their age,” we are wise to remind ourselves that age is simply a construct.

If your child is acting out because of a lack of judgment due to immaturity, you immediately begin to operate from a different place. Instead of filling the role of disciplinarian, you take up the role of educator.

If we want to discipline our children meaningfully, we need to embrace our authority and be firm, while simultaneously deepening our emotional connection with them.

Conscious discipline asks that children follow our instructions, but also allows them the freedom to express their sentiments.

Most parents say the word “no” but don’t help their children process the emotions around this. The reason we shy away from helping our children explore their disappointment is that we haven’t first addressed our own disappointment with life. 

No matter our age, the word “no” is still the hardest word to hear. Yet we utter this word countless times a day to our children without regard for how this must feel to them.

It is we who teach our children how to be mean and violent to others by disregarding their emotions and denying them unconditional acceptance. We teach more by example than in any other way. Children see and imitate everything.

No one can cause us to feel a particular way. No matter how it may appear on the surface, at a more elemental level no one has this power. If the seeds of irritation, helplessness, frustration, or tension weren’t already within us, they couldn’t bloom.

The author leaves us with some questions to ponder: 

What is my emotional inheritance?

What are my emotional triggers?

How much pressure do I put on my child to become the person I want them to be, versus who they naturally are?

Am I able to see my child for all that they truly are?

How do I help foster my child’s connection with their inner self? 

How do I model my own inner connection with myself?

What does my child need from me that I have been unable to give so far?