Although the dictionary definition of nurturing is “to care for and encourage the growth or development of,” in psychological terms there is much more to it. In the caregiver-child context, what can be termed “conscious parenting” consists of less of the common authoritarian practice (“Because I said so!”) and more nurturing (“Here’s why.”). This is a practice of unconditional love – approval is based on who the child is rather than behavior.
Conscious parenting fosters independent thinking in the child, strong development of ethics and values, and teaches that it’s appropriate for the child to have differing perceptions from the parent.
Consistent modeling of mindfulness and respect teaches the child the same. When a child is shown empathy and tolerance, while at the same time demonstrating appropriate limits and behavior, the child learns self-regulation. When shown punishment and judgment, the child learns obedience and compliance.
As an example, let’s examine both parenting styles when a child gets angry. The “old school” authoritarian parent might punish the child for expressing his anger. The parent feels better, more in control, however the child has learned that it is not safe or appropriate to either feel anger or express it. He learns that the thoughts that generated the emotions are wrong and “bad.”
However in a more nurturing environment, a parent might teach the child how to express anger using words or actions. Being able to say “I’m mad that …” permits the child to have honest feelings and express them in appropriate ways, knowing that the feelings are understood and that he is safe in having them. He learns that support is available to help him through a difficult experience.
As we all know, a child’s experience with this sort of care sets the stage for his later relationships, including the most important relationship of all – that with himself. When a child feels positive, warm, and secure about himself, he is able to express that to the world around him.
Nurturing does not always come naturally to adults, especially those who were not provided an early example. However, it is a skill that can be learned and fostered. Support is available through a variety of resources, including those here at Soul Wisdom Therapy.