Twenty-five years from now, what will you say when you bump into an old friend who asks about your life and wonders about your child whom she has never met? Will you speak about the career path your child has chosen, whether he is married or not, or what kind of person your child is? Maybe you’ll speak about his character and how he lives his life? What would you like to be able to say about your child?

I ask this question of every family who seeks to become a part of our school community. I have asked it of many parents from a variety of cultural, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds and family structures, and it stops most everyone in their tracks. It calls up passion and intensity, and often, tears.

When the answer does come, parents describe a child who is confident, independent, responsible, kind, self aware, respectful of others, moral, determined, joyful, compassionate, and considerate. A person who is family oriented, empathetic, passionate about life and his life choices, not afraid of challenges, who has good friends on whom he can rely; someone who cares about the world and who is—happy.

Note that nowhere in that list did anyone aspire for his or her child to be a renowned mathematician or scientist. No one spoke of great wealth or social status. The focus was on the core qualities of a successful human being.

I then ask a second question: “If you wish for all of these wonderful attributes for your adult child, what do you do each day to make this future a reality?” I am nearly always met with silence. Most parents admit that they had never thought about this concept.

Conscious Parenting

This concept is “conscious parenting.” It’s how I refer to knowing who your child is, and then within that context, thinking actively about your long-term goals and dreams for him. This encompasses his emotional and social health, as well as character development and happiness.

Conscious parenting is about being a “life” model for your child. His emotional and social attitudes and responses are founded on yours. He sees life through your lens almost exclusively until the ages of 5 or 6-years-old; after that, other influences begin to gain a foothold, and yours is tempered yet still essential, for support, guidance, interpretation and grounding in your family’s standards, rules and traditions. There’s a balance here in that your time of maximum influence is short, but in that time your child is establishing the core of his character and personality. This is your primetime; a time for very active, conscious parenting. So how can you be a conscious parent?

What does Conscious Parenting look like?

First, recognize the goals you have for your child. Learn about your child’s development. Then, every interaction you have together, every environment he is exposed to, be it positive or not, becomes an opportunity to make your dreams for your child a reality. It is foolhardy to plan for a child’s career path in life. Therein lies a recipe for disappointment for you as a parent and unhappiness for your child, but you absolutely influence—if not determine—how your child views and approaches life, others, adversity, opportunity, etc.

As a parent, it is your responsibility to be aware of your child’s natural development and of his motivations and tendencies during each of its stages. Armed with this knowledge, you have a better understanding of your child’s behavior and how to respond appropriately to and support his needs.

Overlaying that knowledge are the hopes and dreams you have for your child. These inform the messages you deliver and how you deliver them in your actions, inactions, demeanor (body language speaks volumes), tone of voice, and the language you use in your child’s presence.

Your messages may be

“You can do it!” You’re independent and a problem solver, “You know what to do.” You’re thoughtful and you make good decisions.

“Tell me about it; we can solve it together.” You can trust me to listen without judgment, and I’ll always have your back.

You may not use these words, but everything about you gives these messages (remember that body language).

The toughest times to parent consciously are the times you respond to a behavioral issue. The only reason to respond instantly is if your child or another is in danger. Otherwise, slow down your response. This is crucial for you to establish your game plan and approach your child calmly. This takes practice, and as with everything, becomes easier and more natural with time. Remember to listen to your child and involve him in finding a solution to the problem. “What do you think should happen now?” or “What do you think we should do about this situation?” The message you want to send is that the child is responsible for his behavior and for changing it if necessary.

Conscious parenting is a journey you take with your child to discover each other. Awareness of your own actions, and their impact on your child, paired with knowledge of his development, will enable you to support your child fully. In this way, he has the best chance of becoming that confident, independent, responsible, kind, self aware, respectful, determined, joyful, passionate and happy adult you will describe to your friend in twenty-five years.