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February 20, 2024

May 3, 2023

Becoming a More Conscious Parent: How Our Own Inner Work Impacts Our Children’s Behavior

E:
171
with
Dr. Shefali
Clinical Psychologist

What You'll Learn

  • How Our Own Inner Work Impacts Our Parenting
  • The Types of “Ego Reactions” (and What Causes Them)
  • How Starting Small Can Help Us Become Conscious Parents
  • How Conscious Parents Can Reframe Negative Behavior
  • Boundaries and Discipline as a Conscious Parent
  • The Value of Flexibility as a Conscious Parent

When we have children, we’re often surprised to discover how difficult it is to regulate our own emotions and show up the way we want to. We are often triggered and frustrated by our child’s behavior. But when we become more conscious parents, we can look within ourselves and change the way we react and respond—ultimately leading to stronger relationships with our kids. 

Today, I’m joined by clinical psychologist Dr. Shefali Tsabary, author of The Conscious Parent, to discuss how looking within ourselves can help us raise confident, empowered children. 

The Thing That Blindsided Me in Motherhood

When I found out I was pregnant, I felt sure I knew the kind of mom I would be. Gentle, caring, nurturing. I was a therapist after all—so I knew the “right” things to do and say. 

Imagine my shock when I felt myself struggling to regulate my emotions, handle overstimulation, and show up the way I wanted as a mom. 

Motherhood has a way of bringing up our past trauma, childhood wounds, and unresolved pain—all of which can make us become very reactive as parents. 

It took me a lot of introspection and inner work to understand that my own mental health and my own regulation were some of the most important pieces of not just how I showed up for my kids, but how they behaved in response. In fact, most of parenting is regulating myself! 

When Dr. Shefali published The Conscious Parent 13 years ago, not a lot of people were talking about this. There were plenty of parenting books, of course, but they all focused on how we could control and change children’s behavior. Instead, her work focused on the work parents could do within to change how they responded and reacted to their children. 

Now, many of us are on board with this concept. We’re living in a mental health revolution, with therapists as public faces on social media and cycle breaking as something we talk about and aim for in our parenting. 

But knowing we need to look within at ourselves and actually being able to do it are two different things. I couldn’t wait to pick Dr. Shefali’s brain about practical steps we can take on our journey toward becoming conscious parents. 

How Our Own Inner Work Impacts Our Parenting

Just like me, Dr. Shefali discovered how difficult it was to stay regulated after she had her own child. She pointed out that parents are lied to—we’re told that we should know best and be “in charge.” When she struggled, she felt like she was failing. 

It took her some time and curiosity to realize that this was actually what so many parents go through. Dr. Shefali said that if we want to raise empowered, resilient children, we have to look at ourselves first. 

If we want to raise empowered, resilient children, we have to look at ourselves first.

Dr. Shefali believes that we often unintentionally parent from a place of ego. We might be yearning for success or achievement, and have that play out in our interactions with our children. Or we might use parenting as a way to meet our own needs if we feel unloved or unworthy. 

What often happens is that we believe that our children are ours. Dr. Shefali said that when we come into the parenting process with that fundamental idea, we try to control our children’s behavior. We might yell or scold or try to punish our children into compliance. 

Dr. Shefali said that it’s important for us to take accountability for our co-creation of problems with our children. When we repeatedly tell them that their behavior is “bad” or that they are the cause of the problem, they can internalize that, carrying guilt, shame, and self-loathing into adulthood. 

But if we can become more conscious parents and show up without manipulation or anger or reactivity, we can foster greater relationships with our children. This often gives way to “better” behavior, because we’re operating from a place of trust, not coercion. 

The Types of “Ego Reactions” (and What Causes Them)

Dr. Shefali knows that learning how to regulate ourselves can be intimidating. She wrote her newest book, The Parenting Map, to break down the daunting task of inner work into concrete steps. 

One of the biggest takeaways she hopes to pass to parents is that our ego (our reactivity to our children stemming from fear) shows up in different ways—but if we can identify it, we can change it. She identifies five reactions we might have that stem from our ego:

  • The Fighter: When a parent is angry, explosive, or yelling. 
  • The Fixer: When a parent goes into helicopter mode, always rescuing or saving. 
  • The Feigner: When a parent is focused on family appearance, wanting to pretend that everything is great no matter what. 
  • The Freezer: When a parent shuts down, unable to handle what they perceive as drama. 
  • The Fleer: When a parent is emotionally absent. 

Once we identify our ego response, we can dig deeper to what’s truly causing it:

  • The Fighter: Probably doesn’t understand how anger shows up in their body never learned how to express emotions in a healthy way. 
  • The Fixer: Comes from a place of anxiety.
  • The Feigner: Yearns for attention, validation, and approval. 
  • The Freezer: Turns to avoidance as a coping mechanism for their emotions. 
  • The Fleer: Has a fear of being abandoned, so withdraws first. 

Dr. Shefali said that once we identify what’s going on underneath our own behavior, we can start to learn how to disrupts the cycle. Perhaps if you’re the fighter, you need to learn anger strategies. Or if you’re the fixer, you need to develop a plan to notice anxiety and stay grounded.

In her book, she walks through strategies for each of the five ego types with tangible takeaways. But the key is to get curious about how these emotions and reactions show up in the body. If we can learn to identify them, we can put a plan into place to change our response. 

How Starting Small Can Help Us Become Conscious Parents

It’s common to feel helpless and powerless when we start to understand the way our own childhood impacted us and the cycles we have created. After all, if we’ve reacted this way our entire lives, how are we supposed to change? 

But Dr. Shefali said that the payoff for the work is great and immediate. If you just put one step into place every day for a week, you can see positive changes in the way you show up as a parent and in your relationship with your child. 

We don’t have to overhaul our entire approach in one day—Dr. Shefali recommends starting small. She tells people that if they usually yell for 15 minutes, try to only yell for 10, or to go yell in a different room, or to focus on the words that they yell first. With small, actionable steps, we can start to see real change. 

With small, actionable steps, we can start to see real change. 

One of the best goals to focus on is to be more present. Dr. Shefali said that what children really need is our connection. We don’t have to achieve or create something—we just have to show up, focus, and listen. 

She pointed out that we often think we need to do more, whether that’s enrolling our kids in more activities or creating more rules and structure. We pressure ourselves to push our children academically or facilitate learning opportunities or foster enriching experiences. 

But sometimes, less is more—when we just anchor ourselves in our child, we don’t need a bag of tricks. The real foundation is to connect to our children and honor their essence. Experiences and activities might be great, but the connection is what really matters. 

How Conscious Parents Can Reframe Negative Behavior

When we start to look at our own reactivity, it also allows us to reinterpret our children’s behavior. 

Instead of giving them labels like “bad” or assuming they are purposely pushing our buttons, we can reframe negative behavior and see the need underneath

We can reframe negative behavior and see the need underneath. 

Dr. Shefali said that all negative behavior (from adults as well as children) is a S.I.G.N. (something inside gone negative). Understanding that can change the way we see the behavior. 

For example, if your child says they hate you, you can either react impulsively and punish them for being disrespectful…or you can look underneath and see that they are hurting or feeling powerless or rejected. This allows you to depersonalize it and have compassion. 

Dr. Shefali said that it can be helpful to remember that misbehavior from children stems from three main reasons:

  • Lack of skill 
  • Lack of practice
  • Lack of worth

They might not have developed the skills to regulate their own emotions, they might not have had enough practice at doing so, and they might be feeling like they’re failing. All of these can lead to a disconnect and unwanted behavior. 

But if we jump the gun and overreact, we often perpetuate the negative behavior. 

Boundaries and Discipline as a Conscious Parent

One of the common questions that comes up when parents start to shift to this approach is, “How do I discipline my child or teach them how to act the right way?” It can feel like we don’t have any tools if we remove traditional “discipline” methods, like time-outs or other consequences. 

But we can set boundaries and still maintain relationships with our children. We can set limits and still show up with respect and empathy. 

Dr. Shefali pointed out that when people say “discipline” they often are referring to what used to be called punishment. It tends to be about compliance and control. 

But a focus on natural consequence, negotiations and win/win situations, and understanding your child as an individual encourages positive behavior for the right reasons—not from a place of fear. 

We often have to set boundaries to create safety and security.

Dr. Shefali also pointed out that there is a difference between necessary life boundaries and ego-driven boundaries. Our children have to brush their teeth. They can’t be out all night and never sleep. They need an education. We often have to set boundaries to create safety and security. 

But with other things, there is often room for negotiation or compromise. For example, if your child wants to be on a tablet during dinner, perhaps you could allow that one day a week, or provide a different time for screen time. It doesn’t always have to be a firm “no,” which often results in pushback. 

The Value of Flexibility as a Conscious Parent

Dr. Shefali said that when we let go of rigid boundaries and rules, we can start to enjoy life more, relax more, and rediscover fun with our kids. In return, we often get more compliance. 

Maybe there can be a window for bedtime or dinner time. Maybe there is a creative way to get kids involved with clean up or chores. Maybe there is a compromise just waiting to be discovered. 

It can take some work to discover what works for your family, but it can be very freeing to let go—to reevaluate and adjust, not based on what you think you “should” do, but on what your values are. 

Ultimately, Dr. Shefali recommends that we focus more on building joy than on compliance. We can have a basic structure and routine but embrace fun moments and changes that arise. She believes that joy should be the hallmark of childhood—not stress. 

Dr. Shefali pointed out that there is enough stress waiting for our kids later down the line—if we can create a credit bank of fun, creativity, and laughter, then we can set our kids up to find more joy even when they face tough situations in the future. 

Do you find yourself struggling with how to show up as a parent? Our mom therapists offer support on your parenting journey. Book a FREE 15 minute virtual consultation today!

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Tags:

Boundaries, Breaking cycles, Childhood wounds

Stage:

Postpartum, Motherhood

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OUR GUEST

Dr. Shefali
Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Shefali received her doctorate in clinical psychology from Columbia University. Specializing in the integration of Western psychology and Eastern philosophy, she brings together the best of both worlds for her clients. She is an expert in family dynamics and personal development, teaching courses around the globe. She has written four books, three of which are New York Times best-sellers, including her two landmark books The Conscious Parent and The Awakened Family.

Erica Djossa
Erica Djossa
PMH-C | Founder of Momwell
Erica is the founder of Momwell, providing educational resources and virtual therapy for moms. She is a mom of three boys and a registered psychotherapist. Erica’s work has been featured in the Toronto Star, Breakfast Television, Scary Mommy, Medium, Pop Sugar, and Romper. how they want it.

RESOURCES MENTIONED

Dr. Shefali’s Book: The Parenting Map

Dr. Shefali’s Book: The Conscious Parent

Momwell Therapy Services

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