Aware Parenting is a beautiful philosophy that focuses on three core tenets - attachment-style parenting, non-punitive discipline, and healing from trauma. These foundations build the way for raising compassionate, responsive and capable children.
Melded within Aware Parenting are the tools you need to address your child’s underlying needs, whilst also recognising and respecting your own needs too. In doing so, you’ll be empowered to create a more harmonious family dynamic.
What is Aware Parenting?
Founded by Dr Aletha Solter, Aware Parenting uses the three core concepts to help build a strong, cohesive and engaged family unit. The Aware Parenting principles have given me the tools to tackle many different challenging issues in my own parenting journey and I’m always delighted to see how it can help other families.
Primarily, Aware Parenting focuses on compassionate, engaged and cooperative children. Outlined By Dr Solter in full across five different books, Aware Parenting covers the spectrum of child development, from newborns through to the teenage years and empowers parents to be attuned and responsive to their child’s needs, and challenges some of the more traditional assumptions we have about raising children.
Foundational concept 1 - Attachment-style parenting
The phrase “attachment-style parenting” is far better recognised than it once was. Principles include natural childbirth, plenty of physical contact with your child, baby-wearing, breastfeeding and being responsive to your child’s needs. The concept of sensitive attunement is recognised also, in that by being attuned to your child’s mental state, you can be their emotional safe harbour.
I want to stress here that it doesn’t matter how your birth looked, or how you feed your baby, or your past parenting style. There are Aware Parents who have delivered via C-section, and bottle fed their child. It doesn’t matter. It’s about embracing the principles that resonate with you and progressing your parenting journey in a way that feels right to you.
Foundational concept 2 - Non-punitive discipline
I love the focus on non-punitive discipline that comes with Aware Parenting. It really helps to shift the paradigm in how we see our children - moving from a behaviourist concept and asking how we can get our child to do something, to focusing on the relationship with our child and how we can naturally encourage desirable behaviours.
A large part of parenting is not necessarily getting our kids to “do things”. It’s about connection and having a relationship with our children. When our child feels connected to us, they will want to cooperate with us, and be an active part of the family. With that, your child will naturally move towards favourable behaviours, because it is coming from a place of mutual respect and connection. Whilst limits are still set, in a loving way, they are done with family consultation and having considered the child’s point of view also.
Non-punitive discipline can look different in every family, but a common tool is family meetings, where everyone can be involved in peaceful conflict resolution. It’s a big shift away from the default domination-style parenting that has come from previous generations.
Foundational concept 3 - Healing from stress and trauma
This concept recognises that stress and trauma can be one of the primary causes of certain behaviours, acknowledging that there is an underlying feeling or need driving the behaviour.
In practice, healing can take place when the expression of emotions is welcomed and crying can be a really important part of that. As a parent, we need to create a safe space where our child can express their feelings, while we actively listen. This gives the child the space to express the feelings, to move through the feelings, and then come back to a centred, balanced place. At this point, they are more present and grounded, and can make better decisions.
As parents, when we are able to identify the underlying need behind the behaviour, we can help them meet that need, and maintain a strong sense of connection with our child.
The recognition of needs in Aware Parenting
Understanding your child’s underlying need is an important part of addressing the behavioural challenges stemming from that need.
So what are these needs?
Dr Solter talks of three main types of needs:
The need for information
The need for information is centred on creating a sense of safety for the child, where the child knows what is happening in their environment. This can be practised from a very young age, by talking your baby through the process of a nappy change, for example. Even at a young age, this type of communication helps to settle your child’s nervous system. Moving into toddlerhood and beyond, open communication with your child on their daily itinerary, and who they will be seeing, is vital to providing them with the information they need.
A child’s immediate needs change as they enter different parts of childhood. It could be a physical need like hunger, with that hunger being expressed in certain behaviours. It could also be as straightforward as your child seeking attention because they need to use the toilet, but this is communicated through other behaviours. Immediate needs also include a need for physical contact and closeness.
Emotional needs can include the release of pent-up emotions, to have a good cry and to release tension. In other moments, a child’s emotional need may be a need for comfort and warmth. Embracing the free expression of feelings and emotions is a pivotal part of addressing a child’s needs through Aware Parenting.
Listening to feelings and setting loving limits when responding to needs
Learning to listen, really listen, to your child is an invaluable skill. No one teaches us how to listen. Allowing your child the space to express their feelings, in whatever form that takes, without trying to solve the problem or correct the behaviour is challenging. It’s also incredibly important, as this type of listening builds the safe space that your child needs to work through those feelings, and find their balanced self.
Aware Parenting also honours your needs as a parent and encourages setting loving limits where needed to fill your own cup up. The loving limit is a boundary, a wall, something for your child to bump up against so that the feelings can come out. I have to acknowledge here the work of Marion Rose Phd, who has really developed the beautiful phrasing around a ‘loving limit’. The loving limit enables you to say yes to the underlying feelings, but no to the behaviour.
It can be as simple as “I’m not willing for you to do that, and I am right here, I’m listening”.
Control patterns in Aware Parenting
In Aware Parenting, control patterns are things that we do to suppress our feelings. We do these things because we feel that it’s not safe to express those feelings. Control patterns can develop in childhood, and evolve into adulthood, and are essentially a way of coping with the feeling by burying it.
Now I want to say that control patterns aren’t wrong, they are a natural process we all use to cope in life. In Aware Parenting, the goal is to identify and observe the control pattern and hold space for our children’s feelings underneath. Control patterns range from thumb sucking, a security blanket or, as children get older, develop into control around food, screen time or various addictions.
There has been a lot of fabulous work done on the issue of addiction by Dr Gabor Maté, and I love the way he looks at not why there is an addiction, but why there is pain, and what’s the addiction holding in place, or masking?
In helping shift control patterns, we can utilise attachment play to create a safe space for helping our child to express the underlying feelings.
The role of attachment play in Aware Parenting
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it many more times yet - play is one of my absolute favourite topics. I can’t over-emphasise how critical I think play is to healthy child development and to empowering parents to connect deeply with their children. There is a play idea for every single behavioural challenge or tricky parenting situation.
Attachment play considers nine different types of play, and I’ll be going through those in future podcast episodes and articles. I have so much more to share about the importance of play, but I’d encourage you to check out my course,