Self-Awareness: The Ultimate Parenting Tool
Why I Decided To Make Self-Awareness A Standard in My Home
The ‘programming’ of our neurons, which begins at birth, sets the stage for our cognitive development.
The brain develops rapidly during the first years of life. In fact, before children turn 3 years old, they’re forming approximately 1 million neural connections every second. These links create the system upon which the brain is mapped.
These neural connections made in early life are created through “serve and return” interactions, which establish reciprocity between child and caregiver. When an infant reaches out for interaction and a parent responds with corresponding sounds and gestures, it lays the groundwork for how the brain is wired.
In this short span of time children are learning and growing so much that they require an environment suited for such growth.
More than just a physical environment, children require a mental and emotional environment they are confident and secure in.
For me, establishing a nurturing emotional environment began with self-awareness.
Self-awareness is defined as "conscious knowledge of one's own character, feelings, motives, and desires." Self-awareness is just one way in which we grow to know ourselves better, and in doing so we can understand our fellow humans a little bit better as well.
Why Is Self-Awareness So Important For Parents?
To provide a healthy emotional environment for ourselves and our families.
To be able to act with the intention our family deserves.
It gives us the knowledge to understand emotions and the ability to apply that understanding to influence the degree of the emotional impact on our wellbeing.
Parents who practice self-awareness are much more likely to be in tune with their own emotions, which is necessary in order to teach children to begin to listen to and comprehend their feelings.
Awareness Breeds Awareness
“Knowing what you don’t know is more useful than being brilliant.” Charlie Munger
Awareness always begins with knowing what you don't know.
The acknowledgment is the necessary start of seeking answers and evolving in the aspects of our lives we want to improve.
According to Harvard University Data, “..the emotional health, social skills, and cognitive-linguistic capacities that emerge in the early years are all important prerequisites for success”.
We all want our children to be successful, how they define success. Awareness of the world around them is certainly not a bad start, and the sooner we work to instill those techniques that maintain emotional and mental health as the default in our lives, the better our chances of true personal success.
We as parents are the largest influence in our children's lives. Beginning in infancy we set the standards for what human interaction is.
According to Harvard’s National Scientific Council on the Developing Child- “As the maturing brain becomes more specialized to assume more complex functions, it is less capable of reorganizing and adapting to new or unexpected challenges. Once a circuit is 'wired,' it stabilizes with age, making it increasingly difficult to alter. Scientists use the term 'plasticity' to refer to the capacity of the brain to change. Plasticity is maximal in early childhood and decreases with age.”
This means that it is that much easier to learn and retain new information earlier in life.
Since early childhood is the prime time for making these neural connections, it is so critical that parents and caregivers understand the emphasis on time and the importance of instilling good habits right away.
Our Habits Become Us
One of the first aspects of my life put under evaluation when I became a parent was my level of awareness. I was faced with recognizing my reactions, tendencies, and habits that ultimately shaped my life up until that point.
I had to admit to the degree to which these things truly attributed to my level of happiness and gratitude for life. I could no longer be nonchalant about certain behaviors/mindsets that could potentially negatively affect my child.
Our patterns train our brains to keep seeking out the same patterns, because our first experiences in life(those that occur in infancy and early childhood), are what configure our brain circuitry.
If our patterns ultimately dictate our future choices and decision-making, we certainly want to reinforce the best patterns for ourselves and our children to be fulfilled in our lives.
The goal is to actively practice more productive patterns, and in doing so, they will be what we subconsciously seek going forward. Coming from a neutral perspective will help us to make the most rational decisions and have reactions that are effective and healthy.
Children are a Mirror
Shortly after my son was born I remember coming to the understanding that children are a mirror of their parents.
When I first heard the phrase I wasn't sold. I thought, "No, there are plenty of cases where a child doesn't behave like their parents."
But I was truly missing the point.
Regardless of personality type, children reflect their environment, i.e. their parents, by the quality of the relationship therein.
In my experience, the kind of reaction displayed by children was more often than not, the same demonstrated by the parent. This speaks to the type of coping techniques the parent likely learned through their own childhood.
When we as parents can take on the responsibility for unlearning bad habits from our own childhood and seek education on healthy ways to cope and manage emotions, we are giving them necessary skills that will translate to all aspects of life.
Parents first set the standard for children in regards to what kind of treatment they can expect in life. Children grow according to this treatment- the first they receive in life. Their brains are structured around these experiences.
As a brand new mom, I remember becoming hyper-aware of how my temperament affected my child, and I noticed that when I would start to feel anxious or stressed it only exacerbated his frustrations.
It was unfamiliar to be shown the full impact of my behaviors, and it was also eye-opening, this kind of accountability forges new paths
This magnifying glass of motherhood helped me to see just how impactful your outward presence affects not only you but those around you.
On many levels, our children teach us how to be aware because, with every new skill they acquire and milestone they hit, we learn adaptability.
This adaptability is a constant in parenthood, and it is necessary especially in order to build a reciprocal bond with our children and to help them establish meaning in a brand new world.
My level of focus on the world shifted when my son was born, and it has been a relentless shift ever since. Each milestone bringing new realizations and a growing perspective, and I could not be more grateful to be learning about him, with him, and for him.
Setting the Pace
We want to be an asset to our children’s growth but if we were never given the tools to understand our emotions as children, it's something we have to teach ourselves.
Understanding that our kids are molded from the template we create, and consistently reinforcing that thought, helps us to be the most conscious version of ourselves.
Self-awareness is a tool that we equip ourselves with, readily available to our conscious minds to utilize at any impasse.
When we practice parenting with awareness, we are setting the pace for reactions and temperament in our kids. If we handle hard feelings with calm, rational reactions, our kids will only know these types of responses.
Repeating this pattern consistently will help to improve the chances that our child will be inclined to meet us at our level of sound mind. You might think that's just hopeful thinking, but it is a learning process- for parents as much as it is for children.
Of course, children are new to the complexities of human emotion, and we should expect that they behave as children do.
Making sure to practice healthy habits teaches our children what is considered acceptable self-conduct. When we do something as simple as vocalizing our emotions and emotional process, we give our children the chance to think about their emotions, ask questions, and consider the emotions of those around them.
To a degree, children are likely to fall suit to the conditions surrounding them, so we must make sure that we are showing them how to have healthy reactions, by portraying just that in our interactions with them.
Personally, I chose to feel empowered by my responsibility to set a precedent for my child. Through actively seeking knowledge and perspective I continue to realize I am equipped with the necessary skills to meaningfully contribute to my child's life, simply in my unrelenting desire to do so.