Conscious Parenting and Early Childhood Trauma

Does a child need to have perfect parents and a perfect childhood in order for them to develop a secure attachment style, as well as a core sense of self-worth? Absolutely not! What a child needs so that they can gain a healthy attachment is for their parent to be a conscious parent.

Similarly, conscious parenting is the only way to truly heal a child, or an adult, from the effects of early attachment trauma, as well as have them “earn” a secure attachment later on in their life.

Unconscious parenting is what results in early childhood attachment trauma.  

Infants and young children are born in an extremely vulnerable state. Right away and for months after they are born, children are physically dependent on someone else to feed, clothe, clean, and carry them. However, meeting those basic needs for an infant is not enough. Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz explain that even though an infant’s basic needs are provided for and met, if they aren’t exposed to physical contact, such as touch, the infant will die.  

Infants also need a conscious parent, one who is emotionally present and stable enough to engage in a healthy emotional dance with their infant. It’s this emotional dance, or attunement, that makes the infant feel ultimately safe and secure in a world in which they are still vulnerable.

Description of an Unconscious Parent

Unconscious parenting occurs when a parent is unable to be completely emotionally present and stable in their relationship with their child.

There are many possible reasons for a parent to be an “unconscious” parent. Many good parents are unconscious parents, because of other factors in their lives.  

Thus, unconscious parenting is not a judgment call on the parent, but rather a description of an emotionally inadequate relationship dynamic for the healthy development for a child. When a parent’s and child’s dynamic are in a state of anxiety rather than security, especially while the child is young, the child’s progression through the emotional development stages will be blocked.

One of the best ways to measure a conscious or unconscious parenting is to ask where are their thoughts when they’re doing a mindless activity with their child.  

For example, let’s say that a parent is feeding their child or changing their child’s diaper. This is an activity that the parent has done countless times, they don’t need to think about it. So, their mind wanders while they do the task. Where does their mind go? What do they find themselves thinking about?  

A general rule with all relationships, but in this case parenting, is that it’s not possible to multitask in a relationship. If one person is mentally thinking about something else, they’re not fully present in the relationship, which causes the conversation to be on auto-pilot. To be fully engaged in a relationship or a conversation, the other person needs to have center focus of your thoughts and emotions.  

If you are trying to multitasking and are thinking about something else while talking to somebody, you will miss out on on a lot in that interaction; however, because your mind is elsewhere, you don’t realize you’re missing things. For instance, you might miss things like social cues, the slightest changes in facial expressions or body language without even realizing that you’re missing these small cues. This is also known as misattunement.

Many unconscious parents are just stressed or busy parents. They have life challenges whether relationship, financial, or health that engage their thoughts even when they’re with their children. They may be a single parent, or are having marriage difficulties that are causing high tension in the home. While these various kinds of parents are physically present, they’re thinking about something else and are mentally unavailable.

Parents who had a childhood where they often felt alone, misunderstood, or were made fun of will have a harder time being a conscious parent, because of the effects and triggers that still linger in them. Many parents get scared when they realize they’re treating their children the same way their parents treated them when they were younger, which usually is something they had vowed never to do.  

An unconscious parent is not necessarily a “bad” parent, just one who physically, mentally, or emotionally has a hard time fully engaging in the everyday moments with their child.

The Effects of Unconscious Parenting

The primary effect of unconscious parenting is that the child grows up with a felt sense of being on their own, unable to fully trust someone else.  

Trust is what develops out of a relationship that is attuned, where both parties “get” each other on an emotional level. It’s a non-verbal emotional connection and intimacy that develops between a parent and an infant, where the child feels secure in both their physical and emotional needs, because both needs are being completely met.  

The first emotional milestone for an infant is “Trust vs. Mistrust.” This milestone is accomplished through the interactions with its parent (primary caregiver) over the first 12-18 months of its life.

This trust is the attachment a child has with their parent, and without it their development of other psychosocial stages will be held up. Without the trust from the 1st developmental stage, they’re unable to develop a true healthy autonomy in the 2nd year of life, but rather get stuck in shame and doubt, with all the internal belief systems and self-perceptions that come with that!

The emotional development of the child is closely tied into the development of the brain and nervous system. Therefore, if their normal emotional development is stunted, the brain and nervous system develop in a more “dysregulated” or anxious and insecure state.  

A conscious parent is one who is physically present and emotionally engaged enough to provide the emotional connection and stability that an infant needs in order to feel secure and safe in a world where they are still physically vulnerable.

Dr. Gabor Mate does a wonderful summary of attachment and conscious parenting here. I also really like how he doesn’t pass judgement, but is able to look at attachment and conscious parenting on a social level.  

Describing a Conscious Parent

It’s not necessary to be a perfect parent for an infant to develop that unquestioning trust necessary for a secure attachment.  

It’s necessary for the parent to be in an emotionally healthy and stable place themselves for them to be able to intuitively know how to have a healthy emotional connection with their infant.

Which makes it clear that the actual age of a parent doesn’t determine whether or not they will be a “good-enough” parent for their children to up to be a healthy, happy, and well-adjusted adult. But what does matter is the parent’s emotional age.

A conscious parent is one who is aware of, comfortable with, and expressive of their emotions in a healthy way. They are able to utilize both the tools of coregulation (reaching out to others for emotional support) and autoregulation (being able to calm themselves down).  

The neediness of a child on them doesn’t annoy or frighten them, and they are confident in their ability to provide for their child’s physical and emotional needs.  

They don’t need their children to like them for them to feel like they are good parents. They aren’t afraid of or feel rejected when their children become angry at them.  

They are able to lead their children without becoming controlling or demanding. They don’t have a need for power or control, but can provide strong leadership.

They don’t get frustrated with the sometimes lengthy process that is required to help their children share their feelings.

How to Become a More Conscious Parent

The first step towards becoming a more conscious parent is awareness, especially if you have a history of trauma and attachment issues yourself.

Journaling can be a great method to get more clarity and awareness on patterns of actions and feelings. If another method works better for you, go with whatever works best!

Some questions to ask yourself when participating in a searching inventory of yourself are:

  • When looking at the pattern of your relationships with others:
  1. Do you see patterns of feeling unlovable and holding walls up to prevent others from getting too emotionally close?
  2. Do you have a tendency to cling to those who don’t treat you well, and are you unable to walk away?
  3. How do you handle feeling like you have hurt somebody else? Do you go to shame?
  4. How do you handle positions of power and authority? Do you tend to overpower others when given an opportunity?
  • Exploring what your perceptions are about yourself:
  1. What does your belief system say about who you are?
  2. What is your self worth? Do you feel you’re worth loving and being cared for?
  3. What things do you not like about yourself? What things about others bother you? How do you know these things bother you?  
  4. What situations do you try to get out of, and how do you do that?  
  5. If you already have kids, how do you think this belief system plays into your parenting style?
  6. Do you recognize your kids displaying similar belief systems and insecurities as you? What kinds of insecurities, patterns of behaviors, and feelings do they have?  

If we have any core emotional insecurities or persistent negative patterns of beliefs and self-perceptions from our childhoods, these will come out in our parenting.  

Since these negative beliefs, perceptions, and insecurities are wired into our subconscious and are at our core, they will make us interact by emotionally self-protecting ourselves in our relationships with our kids without even realizing it.

If you become aware of any belief patterns or emotional insecurities or triggers, it provides great value by being able to get it out of your unconscious mind into your consciousness. When you become aware of it, you can choose to do differently. You may find you need the help of others or a therapist to help you choose differently, depending on how wired these responses will be in your system.  

Thus, becoming the best parent that you can be requires you to take a look at yourself and observe what you’re bringing to the dynamic. If you discover that you are unconsciously carrying around negative belief patterns and emotional insecurities, it will require you to be on your own healing journey as well.

Parenting Children with Adverse Childhood Experiences or Attachment Disorder

If you’re a parent, or becoming a parent of a child who has a history of trauma or attachment issues, it will require super-charged conscious parenting to heal them!

It will bring up issues and insecurities that you never knew you had! It will push you to your limit physically and emotionally.  

Because of the constant rejection that a child with Attachment Disorder gives you, it can make you want to withdraw emotionally from the relationship.  

Particularly, before bringing a child with trauma and attachment issues into your life, do some searching inventory of yourself to help you know yourself and your expectations, your insecurities, and your triggers.

To be a conscious parent of a child with trauma and attachment issues requires regular maintenance of your own emotions. Only in this way can you stay emotionally engaged and perceptive to the emotional rollercoasters they feel.

Related: Adverse Childhood Experiences And Addiction To Excitement

Healing From the Effects of Trauma and Attachment Issues as an Adult

If you, like many others, find yourself aware of trauma and attachment issues as an adult, it is possible to heal many of these effects on your psychology and biology.  

Because of the qualities of trauma and attachment issues, we often sabotage the very stable and secure relationships that would help us heal.  

Becoming our own healing agent by becoming our own conscious parent to our inner child is necessary for us to be able to heal enough to be able to engage in a healing relationship with another.  

The more we become our own conscious parent to our inner child, the more awareness and understanding we will have towards others.

It’s very common for adults with histories of trauma and attachment to look for ways to reach out and take care of children with trauma and attachment issues. Unless the adult is doing their own internal work, their ability to heal another will be blunted.  

An adult can’t heal a child to have a secure attachment if they, themselves, haven’t experienced or achieved healing and a secure attachment. An adult can’t heal a child past the emotional growth they themselves have developed.  

By becoming a conscious parent to ourselves first, allows us to become healers for others during the long journey from trauma and attachment issues.

Although the road to healing and gaining a secure attachment is a long, tiring expedition, it isn’t without hope.  

Encouraging you on,

Dr. Aimie



Neufeld, Gordon; Mate, Gabor (2006).  Hold On to Your Kids.  Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers. Ballantine Books, New York, NY.

Schore, A (2016).  Affect Regulation and the Origin of Self: The Neurobiology of Emotional Development. Rutledge, New York, NY.  

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