Gentle Parenting: How I Never Noticed I Use It, And How You Might Be Too
The term “gentle parenting” put me off before I even knew what it was.
Gentle parent? Not me. I’m a take-no-bullshit parent.
Gentle parenting conjures up images of hippy moms running barefoot hand-in-hand with their kids in the forest, not a tablet or bribery candy in sight. Gentle parents probably have spotless, white kitchens in which they take perfectly filtered Instagram photos.
Gentle parents probably have gentle kids, I reasoned. Not like my kids. My kids are a handful.
But then I learned about gentle parenting, and realized I’m already doing it and you might be too. Gentle parenting might be another parenting style in a list of many, but it's one that makes sense.
According to Verywell Family, gentle parenting starts with respecting your child's feelings and development. But it's also about implementing boundaries and maintaining those boundaries based on what's appropriate for your family.
Babies and toddlers can be a challenge, with their inability to regulate their emotions and behavior, making creating structure difficult. By recognizing why they are behaving a certain way, parents or caregivers can tailor their response to their child accordingly, keeping in mind their cognitive ability to understand the parent’s reaction.
For example, comforting a crying baby rather than getting upset with them may seem obvious, but it also means teaching a child empathy from an early age, according to the experts.
Gentle parents are understanding of their children, Verywell Family explains.
Gentle parenting often includes adjusting expectations of how we think children should behave to reflect a more realistic standard. One example is, while it may be frustrating that a toddler doesn't sleep through the night, gentle parents understand that they are not acting naughty. Through comforting instead of punishing the child, the parent models the positive trait of empathy.
However, rules and boundaries are important parts of gentle parenting. By establishing clear guidelines about what’s appropriate, children have the consistent structure they need.
Structure means a child will feel sufficiently assured to explore new environments while also knowing they're protected. This protection throughout childhood encourages confidence.
The experts urge those with older children to keep their age in mind before reacting to their behavior. Taking a step to process the information will help parents or caregivers better understand the older child’s mindset and help them through their feelings in an appropriate and calm way.
Like any parenting style, gentle parenting methods pose potential challenges. Unlike permissive parenting, gentle parenting does not stem from a lack of discipline for children. Instead, gentle parenting involves understanding a child's feelings at that moment and responding accordingly in a way that is beneficial to the child's emotional well-being.
Implementing gentle parenting methods by parents new to the practice can be challenging because gentle parenting requires patience and empathy. The experts suggest that those considering gentle parenting ask themselves if they’re truly able to step back and practice self-control instead of responding reactively to a child's behavior.
All that said on the gentle parenting approach, let me explain a bit about my parenting background.
I have a 7-year-old girl and an 11-year-old son with ADHD.
They are both a LOT of kid.
From the time my daughter was born, she was happiest being held. They wrapped her in a blank right after birth and laid her next to me as she screeched. I held her in my arms and she was instantly soothed. No boob even necessary in that moment.
In the 7 years past, little has changed. My daughter is terrible at playing by herself. She wants attention and she wants it now. It’s grating to say the least.
My son is medicated for his ADHD, but wasn’t always. Ironically, I recall his 7th year as the most challenging. He was a first grader at the time, and the principal called us almost daily with reports of his bad behavior.
He had issues controlling his emotions, and was often sent on walks around the school campus to collect himself. Triggers were abundant for my son, as he has always struggled wtih transitions like coming in from recess or moving to the next topic at school. My son needed a lot of guidance, but wasn't always responsive do efforts to guide him.
Both my kids are smart, compassionate, and funny.
My son is so creative and a math whiz. My daughter has the mind of an engineer, and is able to use logic effortlessly and put Legos together with ease.
But they are So. Much. Kid.
Learning how to best parent my son and daughter has been a journey by husband and I are still in the thick of.
But imagine my surprise while learning more about gentle parenting when I realized that gentle parenting has been the most effective tool we’ve discovered so far.
Gentle parenting was the resource along with medication that was most helpful in parenting our son.
My son’s ADHD manifested in him defying authority and arguing with teachers, and even yelling curse words. The type of before that can prompt parents to reflexively scream punishments.
At least that’s how it was for my husband and me.
One day in our backyard after a particularly shocking outburst and temper-tantrum, I knew my son need help. I called the local government child mental health line, and was directed to find our own child psychologist as we had medical insurance.
This was during the pandemic, but I found a child psychologist who would visit with my son remotely. After getting a diagnosis from the psychologist, we saw the pediatrician and were able to obtain a prescription for a stimulant medication that affects my son’s appetite but has been truly life-changing for him, and really for all of us.
Now he is able to focus in school, and his grades have climbed much closer to the potential we knew he had.
And here’s where I realized gentle parenting had taken hold.
We listened to his feelings, and showed that we valued them. Through this process, our son began better self-regulating his own emotions.
We didn’t just hear the curse words and send him straight to time out anymore, kicking and screaming.
Now when my son loses his cool, we understand that he is afflicted with ADHD.
We respond with compassion instead of anger more often than not.
And ultimately, my son is able to spend some quiet time collecting himself. Establishing a stable routine with less surprises has also been helpful for him.
In keeping with gentle parenting, we are setting realistic expectations for OUR son, not someone else’s child.
Having a less emotional reaction to our son’s behavior has allowed his genuine and loving nature to shine through, and he is able to reflect more on his own actions instead of defending himself from our accusations. Simply put, our son is a much happier child now.
Similarly, our daughter has benefitted from us encouraging her loving and tender tendencies, while also setting boundaries. She likes lots of positive reinforcement, and responds well to praise.
My husband has done a better job so far with gentle parenting her than I have, because I can become more easily frustrated with her sometimes clingy ways. I’d rather give into her demands than deal with the whininess that comes with enforcing those boundaries.
But he’s right in that calmly listening to her concerns but also enforcing discipline with her makes her happier. She wants to validation of being seen and understood, and making her happy calms all of our anxiety. Lots of play time, including getting on the ground with her and playing dolls or blocks, has also been helpful.
When she has tried to get sneaky, we’ve worked to show her that honesty feels better and have let her off punishment for confessing what she’s done. Mindful parenting combined with positive discipline with clear-cut expectations and established rewards and punishments are effective tools with our daughter. Shame is not so effective.
My husband and I have set up a star magnet reward system for our kids being nice to each other that they can trade in for money at the end of the week. We used this system to replace an old practice where we took money away for misbehavior.
Gentle parenting might have got my eyes rolling when I first heard the words, but in reality my family is already doing it. It’s basically just treating our kids with respect and understanding like the future adults they are, with all the big emotions that they will carry in some form throughout their lives. Believe it or not, I’m a gentle parent. And you might be too.