Let me start off by saying that this is imperfect. I am imperfect. My husband is imperfect. YOU will also be imperfect at gentle parenting and that is okay. I have moments where I grit my teeth and curse.
Why I like gentle parenting
I believe strongly that one of the pillars of good mental health is our ability to emotionally regulate.
Emotional regulation is how we respond to big emotions like excitement, fear, or frustration.
When we regulate our emotions well, we know how to sit with the emotions without exploding or overreacting.
There is evidence to support the fact that parents play a large role in helping kids to regulate their emotions.
Research shows that when children have compassionate parents, they learn to regulate their emotions better.
My 6-year-old is still learning how to regulate his emotions. When I respond to him in a gentle way and with a gentle tone, I can see that he deescalates. When I respond to him in an exciting way, his excitement goes up!
Gentle parenting has 4 main elements: empathy, respect, understanding, and boundaries.
There are a couple of things that we have done in our household to promote gentle parenting.
1. Pointing out behavior instead of reacting to it
“Hey, I am noticing that I asked you to do something three times and you haven’t done it yet. Can you show Mommy how you do it please.”
This requires that we work really hard to notice when we are dysregulated. If I am hungry, frustrated or tired, I try to take care of myself so that I can regulate my own emotions better. When I am better regulated, I can help my kids to soothe their own emotions better.
2. Convey Understanding
I understand that you feel frustrated. How can I help you? Do you need a hug? Do you want to take a walk? Do you need some space? How can I help?
3. Convey Respect
I will give an example of eating at the dinner table. My 6-year-old currently is going through a picky phase. It is not uncommon for me to fix a plate and him not want to eat it. I really try to not fix an entirely new plate for him. However, it would be completely disrespectful to insist that he eat spaghetti and meatballs when he doesn’t like them. So I offer him plain noodles instead. Win-Win.
Here are some things that we try to model:
- Frustration tolerance
- Staying calm
5. Changing our perspectives on parenting
Gentle parenting includes adjusting our expectations of how children should behave. For instance, using the dinner example, why should we make our kids eat something just because it is on their plate? How would it feel if someone forced us to eat meat when we didn’t like it. We use empathy to consider these things. Gentle parenting includes meeting our child at where they are in their development
6. Below are some other aspects of gentle parenting that we use:
- Using teaching moments instead of punishing
- Recognizing and acknowledging their emotions
- Focusing on a positive relationship with our kids while still enforcing boundaries
- Pointing out the positives that we notice, even if they are small
- “Good listening buddy.”
- “I notice that you got your shoes on, awesome job!”
- “That was very nice helping your brother.”
6. I remind myself regularly that gentle parenting is a continual process that doesn’t happen overnight.
“When we are gentle to our children, we model and help create the inner voice that will accompany them through their lives” – Allison Andrews PSYD