A Guide to Conscious Parenting

A father supports his young son while climbing playground equipment.
Parenting in today’s society is complex. Dr. Robert Saul, Professor of Pediatrics at Prisma Health Children’s Hospital-Upstate and founding trustee of South Carolina First Steps, is the author of a new book that seeks to help parents navigate the early childhood years and beyond.

Parenting is sometimes considered an innate process to raise one’s children to be capable adults—that everything is straightforward and will easily fall into place over the years from birth to adulthood. Conceiving children does not properly prepare us for the nurturing, physical and emotional, needed to raise healthy children.

An innate ability implies that we are borne with the ability and we just need to “untap” it at the right time with just the right amount of emotional energy. And that it will be obvious how to use this ability at each juncture in our parenting journey.

In my opinion, nothing could be farther from the truth. Parenting in today’s society is complex.  There are so many factors tied to parenting. Parenting requires instruction from multiple places, assistance from a variety of resources and constant tinkering as we learn what we did right and what we need to improve. We all need some simple, easy-to-remember strategies to help navigate the constant change that is known as parenthood.

I had the distinct honor and privilege to serve on the inaugural Board of Trustees of South Carolina First Steps back in 1999. Then and now (as a pediatrician for close to 45 years), I find that the work that we do on behalf of our children and the examples that we set make a difference for the lifetimes of our children. In my quest to make such a difference and bring the experience to others, I recently completed the book, Conscious Parenting: Using the Parental Awareness Threshold, to provide a basic framework, a map, for such a process.

Parenting challenges vary over the life of the child and often overlap with the lives of multiple children in the family. Families might be confronted with multiple issues simultaneously:

  • How do you deal with feeding an irritable infant when you are a tired, exhausted parent and you are trying to decide if you need to take the car keys away from your teenager?
  • How do you have the strength to send your 5-year-old to kindergarten when she is crying all the way to the school?
  • How do you protect your children from the threat of bullying and ensure that your children will not be bullies?
  • How do you control the exposure to potential substance abuse in your teens while dealing with problems at work that threaten your financial well-being?

How do we do these things? Well, the Parental Awareness Threshold (PAT) is a valuable tool and can help! The PAT can —

  • Help sort out the multiple issues with an irritable infant, an exhausted parent and a defiant teenager
  • Help find the strength to take a distressed child to school
  • Help deal with the various facets of bullying
  • Help at-risk teens for substance abuse while dealing with personal issues at work

The PAT guides parents in a logical way to analyze their current situation (their emotional state in a given situation) with regard to the threshold and then take actions consistent with a three-step process to pause, assess and choose the path forward in the context of a loving parent.

Simply put, parenting in the 21st century is a conscious awareness of the status of the parent-child relationship. It is the learned ability, not the innate ability, of parents to understand their interactions with their children and to change (adjust like a stereo system) their responses to maximize positive responses and minimize negative responses. Conscious Parenting proposes numerous suggestions on ways to enhance those opportunities, and multiple examples are provided for various ages.


Dr. Robert A. Saul, MD is a Professor of Pediatrics at Prisma Health Children’s Hospital-Upstate and served on the founding board of South Carolina First Steps from 1999 to 2003. He is the author of several books, including Conscious Parenting: Using the Parental Awareness Threshold and My Children’s Children: Raising Young Citizens in the Age of Columbine. He is also co-author of the American Academy of Pediatrics publication Thinking Developmentally: Nurturing Wellness in Childhood to Promote Lifelong Health.

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