Loving attachment and connection depicted here.

What is Aware Parenting?

Twenty-six years ago, when I was searching for a way to raise my kids without hitting them, I wish I had come across Aletha Solter and the Aware Parenting philosophy. Instead, I was inquiring from breastfeeding groups and friends in the area where I lived, on how to discipline my kids without hitting them. No one could tell me how to raise my kids without punishment, nor could they help me with my terrible feelings of guilt and pain when I did.

Loving attachment and connection depicted here.
Loving attachment and connection depicted here.
So I struggled along on my own, delving within myself, my own childhood, doing research and trying to control my anger when it threatened to unleash itself on one of my darling baby boys! I found Aletha Solter’s books, ‘The Aware Baby’, ‘Helping Children Flourish’ and ‘Tears and Tantrums’ after the birth of my second son. They became my handbooks and I vowed never to hit my boys again….a hard thing to do in a culture that sanctions physical punishment of children.

Mom and Dad and their two lovely sons!
Mom and Dad and their two lovely sons!
Not only does Aletha Solter deplore physical punishment, but she also maintains that time-out or any other form of punishment is harmful to children, as well as harmful to the relationship between parent and child. Children are innately programmed to be social, responsive, feeling and expressive. When we interact with babies and children in ways that are not responsive, social and caring, (and that can range on a continuum from severe neglect to physical and emotional abuse), we stimulate the development of asocial or aggressive responses within our children. It is these responses that can hamper relationships in adult years and can lead to interpersonal and social violence such that we read about in our daily newspapers, both locally in South Africa and globally in dramatic international wars.

Who is Aletha Solter?

Aletha Solter is a Swiss/American developmental psychologist, who is internationally recognized as an expert on attachment, trauma, and non-punitive discipline. She studied with the Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget, at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, where she obtained a Master’s degree in human biology in 1969. She then earned a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1975, after which she taught psychology at the University of California and conducted research for a few years.

When her first child was born in 1977 (following a traumatic birth) she herself, did not find any parenting books that advocated attachment-style parenting and non-punitive discipline while taking into account the impact of stress and trauma on children’s development. The first book she wrote, The Aware Baby (first published in 1984, revised in 2001), is the one that she wished she had had as a new mother. Her latest book, Raising Drug Free Kids, has sparked international interest as it touches the root of a problem so close to the quick of many parent’s crisis with their teenage children.

Her goal is to help create a non-violent world in which all children are allowed to attain their full potential. With the tools she describes in her Aware Parenting books and workshops, she is confident that parents can raise their children to be competent, compassionate, non-violent, and drug free. She also recognizes that parenting is an enormously difficult task and that parents deserve acknowledgment, information, and support.

What is Aware Parenting?

Aware Parenting, as defined and explained by Aletha, is a philosophy of child rearing that has the potential to change the world. Based on cutting-edge research and insights in child development, it questions most traditional assumptions about raising children, and proposes a new approach that can profoundly shift a parent’s relationship with his or her child. The three basic assumptions are as follows:

  1. Attachment style Parenting
    • Natural childbirth and early bonding
    • Plenty of physical contact
    • Prolonged breastfeeding
    • Prompt responsiveness to crying
    • Sensitive attunement
  2. Non-punitive discipline
  3. Healing from stress and trauma

I have copied below four of the ten Aware Parenting Principles from Aletha’s website (www.awareparenting.com) to illustrate a few of her ideals:

  1. Aware parents encourage children to be autonomous problem-solvers and help only when needed. They do not solve their children’s problems for them.
  2. Aware parents set reasonable boundaries and limits, gently guide children towards acceptable behavior, and consider everyone’s needs when solving conflicts. They do not control children with bribes, rewards, threats, or punishments of any kind.
  3. Aware parents take care of themselves and are honest about their own needs and feelings. They do not sacrifice themselves to the point of becoming resentful.
  4. Aware parents strive to be aware of the ways in which their own childhood pain interferes with their ability to be good parents, and they make conscious efforts to avoid passing on their own hurts to their children.

Phew – quite a tall order for most parents and certainly the kind of parenting I would like to have received! No doubt that is why I strive to ‘do it better’ than they (our parents) did; yet there is something about this approach that resonates more deeply with me than other approaches have resonated before.

This process of learning and growing with your child does not advocate perfection, but rather a humane and respectful way of relating to another human being. How we get there takes place through a continual series of small practical actions and decisions on how to interact, relate, treat another human being; in short, the way we would like to have been treated. This doesn’t mean it will always be pretty. When a child or parent rages it can be overwhelming. yet parents need to offer an approach where children can express their negative feelings without hurting themselves or others. Helping ourselves as parents to really connect with our children and facilitate this process is precisely what I teach.

Excerpts from the Aware Parenting website copied with permission from Aletha Solter. For more information on Aletha Solter and Aware Parenting, please visit www.awareparenting.com

10 thoughts on “What is Aware Parenting?

  1. It’s certainly an interesting article.

    I have an almost 3 year old and we have an amazing relationship – most of the time. I have to admit, I’ve always followed AP as much as possible, from day 1, but along the way, I have succumbed to the odd pat on the bum/leg as well as shouting matches and also bribery…although I tend to call it negotiation.

    My son has always been incredibly strong willed, which I am not particularly. I’m a very passive person. It’s in my nature to want to please everyone before myself. So, I do struggle with the concept of looking after yourself. By the time I get around to it, I’m knackered. Especially lately, being 7 months pregnant. My son’s attitude toward me has changed recently, and it really saddens me. I’m convinced it’s largely to do with the new baby growing in mummy’s tummy, although he has never shown any resentment as I don’t tend to go on about it. But he’s very bright, his speech is beyond his age. He told me I was pregnant 2 weeks before I even knew – so he’s very in tune and I believe, gifted. Another part of our ‘problem’ is, since being pregnant, my patience have disappeared. We also still nurse, even though I haven’t produced milk since before I was pregnant. But I am going through major nursing aversion, which upsets me 🙁

    I read your last comment about sitting through tantrums – gosh, that is the hardest thing. But it’s inspired me to try harder in this area. I normally end up in tears with him! But I do find distraction works a lot of the time…but as he’s getting older, he suddenly remembers that he was upset and it starts all over again.

    Anyway – any advice would be gratefully received…

  2. Thanks Marianne,
    This is a good introduction to aware parenting, though i must admit i always gave up on aware parenting when i went to the official website- it is so hard to read and use!

  3. Dear Marianne, You conducted the birth of little Indigo with such consciousness, love and skill and I am still awash with the experience, still reliving the magic, the ordinariness and the greatness of the birth. I felt you as the solid, unwavering, deeply caring and loving mother of the earth!.And now we are exploring and learning about Aware Parenting. What a wonderful philosophy and approach – healing not only for the child, but also for all of us traumatised adults! The work you do reminds me of one of my most favourite quotes from Margaret Mead, ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world: Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has’. thank you for all you have brought into our lives and continue to teach us. with love and deep respec, your most willing student, Lyn

  4. Dear Marianne,
    You do remarkable work and I do not know how you find the hours in the day to to all you do for families. Well done!

  5. These special relationships in our lives are such gifts for our healing. I try to work my parenting from the principles from A Course in Miracles, in that I see my children as an extension or a part of me. All my unheald beliefs about myself I project onto my children, so my judgments about them are really my judgments about myself. I can then own them and heal them and let my children be free. It is realising that I am good enough when I am in touch with who I Am, my loving Self, rather than the limited self that feels inadequate. I try not to ‘fix’ my children which implies there is something wrong with them, but rather to accept and love them for their truth and beauty. Not always easy but I try..!!

  6. Dear Amanda, I hope to be running an Aware Parenting Workshop in October in Pinelands. Wil let you know the details, remind me at the end of the month love Marianne

  7. Thanks so much for this Marianne, I had an article written by Aletha from the notes you gave me at that ante-natal session we did and it really resonated. Had intended to read her books then but didn’t get to it pre-birth so fantastic to be re-introduced now just as Rosa at 18 months is learning how to throw a tantrum! Be really good to get some guidance as I am currently veering down the bribe path which doesn’t feel good at all.

  8. Hello Aletha,

    I am grateful and humbled that you had time to read my blog at spiritualbirth.net! I devote two sessions of my classes to Aware Parenting skills and this seems to have recently made a remarkable impact on one of the mothers who already has a 3yr old daughter, with whom she was really struggling to stay connected. The mother, Karen, has had a lot of conflict and negative feelings towards her daughter, with lots of reciprocal defiant behaviour, and open hostility towards herself from her daughter. Once Karen understood the Aware Parenting principles, she was able to recently sit respectfully through a two hour tantrum after she had set a limit on television viewing. Karen kept on saying how she understood her daughter was angry and that she really loved her. The little girl was so angry with her mother and feeling so much pain she told her mother to ‘go away’ and leave the room. Karen slunk out, feeling awful and listened behind the door to her daughter sobbing and saying “It’s all wrong, something’s wrong” and then sobbing again. Eventually the daughter asked if she could come and be with her mom, but was still feeling ambivalent, so would snuggle up on her lap and then push Karen away saying ’bad mommy’. Karen then suggested a favourite card game and they played together for an hour. The relationship between mother and daughter feels more connected and Karen is open to changing the ways she relates to her little girl.

    I was amazed at how readily this mother was willing to alter her ways of relating to something that feels more respectful,connected and intimate. And I was encouraged to continue teaching and consulting.

    Thank you again for your feedback..

    Marianne

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