As children go back to school, many parents may well be breathing a sigh of relief – and feeling guilty about it. Time to consider conscious parenting – and Leena Kapil can show you how. Based in Dubai, she is the UAE’s first certified conscious parenting coach and has trained with Dr Shefali Tsabary, one of the leaders of the international movement.
And as she told The Livehealthy.ae Podcast today, she helps mothers and fathers navigate their way through the rocky parts of child-rearing by taking them back to their own childhoods.
What is conscious parenting?
First of all, parenting is not about the child, it’s all to do with the parent. No one is ever taught how to be a parent. The only thing we know about it is from how we were parented. That is not necessarily a conscious way of parenting. We are unconsciously following what we witnessed as a child or whatever we’ve learned from books.
Conscious parenting is about connecting to yourself, being aware of every action you take and how it impacts your family.
What drew you to study conscious parenting?
My own experience when I became a mother for the first time seven years ago. It was pretty tough. I was more responsible for this other living being than I was for myself. There were certain health issues and I was not able to connect with my child and I felt guilty. Why was I not feeling the love?
When I had my second child, I expected they would be friends. But things weren’t going that way and I knew this was not the way I’d like to be as a parent. I met a lady at my daughter’s school who used to coach parents and my husband and I did some research on coaching on emotional intelligence. It made such a difference in the relationship with my child. I felt it it should be taught to every parent because it would make parenting so much more enjoyable. I did a 21-week intensive course in which I had to reflect on my own childhood. I started in a small way with family and friends and whoever has approached me and had coaching has seen wonderful results.
Getting down to specifics, what does conscious parenting involve?
We are very influenced by the West, which focuses on how you are doing. In Eastern culture, it’s about how you are being. This is a blend of the two.
In both cultures, the easiest way out [of problems] is to control. It’s ‘do as I say because I’m the parent.’ It creates a hierarchy which sets you up as higher than the child.
In conscious parenting, we are equal. You are as much a student as a teacher to your children and your children are teachers as well as students to you. Children are the purest form of energy – they are born with zero conditioning but we as adults are highly conditioned by our parents, school, by educators. We grow up thinking we’re not good at things. We are graded on our performance. If you have even one inner voice that’s limiting you and telling you that you’re not good at something, then you have been conditioned, it’s as simple as that.
The only person you can control is yourself. When you are very, very connected to yourself, you recognize when you’re being triggered. Everyone feels angry at times but how do you control that anger?
What should you do when you’re triggered?
Focus on your breath. It needs a lot of practice but it’s the only friend you have. Sometimes we think we need to say something right now or the message won’t get through. Pause. Reflect. Sit down with your feelings. Process them so that you understand what is triggering me at this moment.
Most often, you will go down memory lane to your own childhood. What is it about this that is making me angry?
For example, if something in your house gets damaged, how do you feel? Perhaps you feel that you work so hard to keep the house looking good but you’re not valued for it? Keep digging in and eventually it comes down to ‘Oh my mom used to scream at me every time she saw a mess in the house. She really gave me a hard time and every time I see my child doing something similar, it reminds me of my mother shouting and screaming and then I feel anxiety.’
How do you start coaching someone in conscious parenting?
The first thing we do in coaching is to set their intentions. How do you want to be as parent? How do you want your child to be when they grow up? If your intention is to connect with your child, then connection before correction is your intention.
I will never, ever raise my voice to my child because that instantly leads to disconnection, shaming, blaming,and making them feel they’re not good enough. You can discipline your child, consciously, but through self-realization. They need to realize they’ve done something inappropriate as opposed to you telling them they’ve done something inappropriate, because that becomes lecturing.
Isn’t it natural to try to help if your child is in pain or distress?
In conscious parenting, you don’t ‘fix’ anything for your child because then they don’t learn how to deal with their feelings. You’re with them now, today, but you won’t be a few years down the line or even when they’re in school. If someone says something to them they don’t like, they should be able to process their own feelings and tell themselves the positive affirmations that will get them out of those feelings.
Allow them to cry – not by abandoning them but by sitting with them. If they’re crying because their toy is broken, saying it doesn’t matter because they have other toys is like telling your child their feelings are unimportant and you want them to stop crying because it’s disturbing you.
If you hold their space – meaning you create a safe space for them to express themselves – 100 percent of the time, children come up with their own solutions. You just stand there as a witness. Empathy is a great gift to give to your child.
What if you snap and lose it?
We’re all human and the first month of lockdown was a big learning experience for me. When you mess up, own up and take responsibility for your own actions. Do not blame your child for what happened to you in terms of your own reactions.
If your child scribbles on the wall, they did it because it was fun for them. You got triggered because you have a different notion of how a wall should be. The child is not to blame for how you’re feeling.
How should parents handle anxiety about going back to school?
Even if the situations could have dire consequences, it’s important for parents not to come from a place of fear, which children will sense. Come from a place of trust in the school management and in the UAE government, which is doing a lot. Follow the school policies but it’s also fine to make your own choices. Whatever works for each family if OK.
Anna Pukas has reported from all over the world as a foreign correspondent for British media. She is now an editor based in Abu Dhabi.