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Why Self-Awareness is Essential for a Healthy Parent-Child Relationship

Being aware of our relationship with our thoughts, actions, and behaviors is a critical element of Emotional Intelligence. Self-awareness forms the basis of healthy relationships within us and with others.

According to research from Tasha Eurich, psychologist and author of the book Insight, less than 15% of people are self-aware. This means that many of us have room for growth in the space of self-awareness, especially when it comes to parenting.

As a teen parent, I struggled with effective parenting due to my lack of self-awareness which caused emotional distress between my daughter and me for many years. I was in survival mode, focused on getting my college degree and providing for our basic needs. Although I was a dedicated mom and loved my child, I lacked self-awareness.

I subconsciously learned and adopted the authoritarian parenting style from my mother. According to Kendra Cherry, “The authoritarian approach represents the most controlling style.” She states, “Rather than valuing self-control and teaching children to manage their behaviors, the authoritarian parent focuses on adherence to authority.”[i] This parenting style fails to create a healthy exchange of information that supports effective decision-making because it’s one-sided. The child has little to no authority, which often creates hostile interactions.

I have understood that self-awareness is crucial for healthy parent-child relationships through the years. It supports listening, reflecting, managing our emotions, and other beneficial habits that create opportunities for effective communication and connection with our children. Both are key throughout the parent-child relationship.

Unfortunately, many of us weren’t taught or shown how to be self-aware or emotionally intelligent. That said, it’s common that we carry out the same behaviors or parenting styles that were modeled for us when we were children. Even if we want to avoid making the same mistakes our parents did, we often lack the tools to prevent them from recurring effectively.

My upbringing and original parenting style are perfect examples of this. I left home at the age of 14 due to the constant conflict and emotional distress caused by my mother’s approach to parenting, lack of self-awareness, and her addiction issues. Soon after, I became a parent. I was a young, single parent with no guidance and an authoritarian parenting style. I had no idea what effective parenting looked like, and I was following in my mother’s footsteps.

I have a strong desire to share the parenting journey and struggles that I experienced with my firstborn to provide insight to other parents who may lack self-awareness and miss important, teachable moments. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers positive parenting tips for different age groups starting with toddlers. I will reference the age groups and recommendations to explain how lack of self-awareness impacted my ability to connect and effectively communicate with my child.

Toddlers (1-3 years old)

Tip: Respond to wanted behaviors more than punish unwanted behaviors (use only very brief time-outs). Always tell or show your child what they should do instead. (Child Development, n.d.)

Tip: Give your child attention and praise when they follow instructions, show positive behavior, and limit attention for defiant behavior like tantrums. Teach your child acceptable ways to show that they’re upset. (Child Development, n.d.)

When my daughter was a toddler, I was finishing high school and starting my first year in college, in a dysfunctional relationship with her father, stressed, and had very little patience. I was focused on punishing the unwanted behaviors. As a result, I missed many opportunities to teach my daughter why boundaries and certain rules were necessary. Instead, I focused on the worst that could happen and forced her to comply. I had no idea how much this impacted my child’s independence and decision-making

Preschoolers (3-5 years old)

Tip: Be clear and consistent when disciplining your child. Explain and show the behavior that you expect from them. Follow up with what they should be doing, instead of telling them no. (Child Development, n.d.)

Tip: Help your child through the steps to solve problems when upset. (Child Development, n.d.)

The preschool years were the most stressful years for me, and they were critical developmental years for my daughter. I was consumed with school, working, trying to have a social life, and doing my best to take care of us. I never learned practical problem solving, so I struggled in different areas in my life. I lacked the tools for myself, so I could not teach my child. As a result, every little thing turned into a major conflict or crisis. This is what I was teaching her as well.

Middle Childhood (6-11 years old)

Tip: Help your child set their own goals. Encourage them to think about skills and abilities they would like to have and how to them. (Child Development, n.d.)

Tip: Use discipline to guide and protect your child, rather than punishment to make them feel bad about themselves. Follow up any discussion about what not to do with a discussion of what to do instead. (Child Development, n.d.)

In the early years of middle childhood, I was wrapping up my last year in college and focused on attaining my degree and working. I was operating on autopilot and in survival mode. I had no patience for teaching my child how to set goals or develop self-control. I got upset when she didn’t understand her homework. I often felt overwhelmed and did more screaming and punishing than teaching. My daughter rarely had the opportunity to express herself. After I graduated from college, I landed my first corporate job. I still lacked self-awareness, so not much had changed throughout middle childhood. As a result, I missed many occasions to validate my daughter’s feelings and make her feel empowered, valued, and heard. The negative impact of this showed up later in her teenage years.

Young Teens through Teenagers (12-17 years old)

Tip: When there is a conflict, be clear about goals and expectations (like getting good grades, keeping things clean, and showing respect), but allow your teen input on reaching those goals (like when and how to study or clean). (Child Development, n.d.)

Tip: Encourage your teen to develop solutions to problems or conflicts. Help your teenager learn to make good decisions. Create opportunities for them to use their judgment, and be available for advice and support. (Child Development, n.d.)

Although my daughter was disciplined and taught essential values, how I handled it impacted her self-esteem, confidence, and ability to express herself and effectively resolve conflict. Her grades started suffering. She struggled whenever she had quizzes or exams at school, which was most likely caused by my impatient response when helping her with her homework. This caused additional conflict because I had high expectations regarding school.

When she turned 14, we moved to a new community. This was when I began to see her make poor choices and exhibit behavior that caught my attention. We struggled with effective communication and conflict resolution because neither of us was taught how to do it. I was at my wit’s end, so I began seeking resources within my community. I was happy to receive support from individuals like a local pastor, high school principal, police officer/girls’ basketball coach, and a daycare provider and her family.

This was a turning point for me as I became interested in creating a supportive community. I started a program focused on receiving and providing support to teens and parents raising teens. This program provided opportunities for seeing myself through other parents during our open-forum discussions and activities with our teens. I observed others' parenting styles and became aware of what was and wasn’t working. I began changing my approach, and it caused increased positive interactions between my daughter and me. This eventually led to me mentoring and coaching other families. By helping other families and sharing our experiences, my daughter and I were mending our strained relationship caused by my initial lack of self-awareness.

Adult (18+ years old)

My daughter graduated from high school and remained at home despite our challenges while attending junior college. Once she went away to attend a university, the time away from each other provided an opportunity for growth for both of us. We got closer, and our connection grew even stronger. I put in the effort to continue supporting and guiding her because I felt there were teachable moments that I had missed. I learned that teaching meant being an example myself through my behavior.

I started seeing a therapist, and I learned about my triggers and ways of recognizing them. With this awareness, I learned how to pause and process before reacting. I did my work, and I am continuing the work that it takes to experience a healthy and lasting relationship with my daughter, son, and granddaughter.

Although both of my children are adults, I am still learning to accept their independence and recognizing my impact on them. Writing this article brought about more awareness that has caused me to grow and be mindful of how I interact with my children. I believe that self-awareness in parenting is a life-long pursuit. My most recent encounter with my own mother validated my belief. I was reminded that she is still unaware of how her actions and behavior impact her children, although my siblings and I are adults with adult children. Lack of self-awareness impacts families for generations.

Regardless of where you are on your parenting journey or whether you were unsuccessful in the previous or current stages of parenting, the moment you become aware of how your actions and behavior impact your children, you are empowered to shift your thoughts and behaviors. Self-awareness brings about the desire for change. It’s the first step.


[i] Cherry, K. (2021, October 26). 8 Characteristics of Authoritarian Parents. Retrieved from Verywellmind: Child Development. Retrieved from: Center for Disease Control and Prevention:

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