Many of us who our parents today grew up with so called ‘iron fist’ parenting. As children of the 80s and the early 90s, we were brought up around parents who used the same disciplinary methods that their own parents used from the 70s and the 60s. Sometimes this means standing in the corner when you’re in trouble. Sometimes it meant getting spanked on the behind. Sometimes it meant writing lines. There wasn’t very much empathy in parenting in the 60s and 70s, not mainstream parenting, anyway. That’s why it seems like the phrase gentle parenting is a brand new phrase, but all it means is treating children with respect and treating them like human beings.
Gentle parenting is exactly what it sounds like, a gentle way to raise children. Instead of seeing children like many adults or having the expectations for their emotions as you would for an adult, you treat them as their age, and you treat them gently. If more children were treated gently when they were small, perhaps the world wouldn’t be so hard. Communication and empathy start as young as possible, but many people mistake gentle parenting for permissive parenting and there is a very big difference. Gentle parenting means being gentle with children, it doesn’t mean giving them permission for negative behavior or behavior that is detrimental to their surroundings.
For example, with permissive parenting you may not discipline or explain boundaries to children at all. They may have no boundaries whatsoever and may be allowed to do whatever they like, but with gentle parenting the boundaries are there is just the way that you enforce them is different. Instead of isolating your children or naughty steps, or spanking, you might consider the fact that children benefit better from natural consequences. Gentle parenting doesn’t just stop with toddlerhood, either. By the time children get to the concrete operational stage between the ages of seven and 11 years old, they should be able to understand the world around them a little bit more, but not enough to make cognitive decisions like an adult word. The brain doesn’t stop developing until the early 20s, so you have to consider the brain of a child who is 13, while they think that they know everything they really don’t.
They are more impulsive with their actions, and that can look like pushing boundaries or being spoiled, but what it really means is that your 13 year old doesn’t have the capability to think as cognitively as you think. So, if you want to be a gentler parent and have a happier child, we’ve got some tips to help you to get started.
- Put empathy at the front of everything that you do. It’s the most important part of gentle parenting, and it has to be a part of everything that you do for your family. Children are not robots and they are not there to be programmed to follow your orders. Yes, it’s nice when children do as they are told because you are a grown up and you have been conditioned to think that children have to listen absolutely to everything adults do. The reason you think this way is because you were taught this as a child. you were taught to respect adults by default rather than taught that adults need to earn as much respect as children do. Put yourself in your Child’s shoes. Did you learn from being yelled out or did you just learn to lie better? Did you learn from being spanked or put in the corner and isolated alone? Probably not. Many of us now have abandonment issues and anxiety and much of it stems from how we raised our children. But it’s not our parents fault. Until they know better they can’t do better, but we can.
- Set reasonable boundaries. You can’t expect a four year old to follow the same boundaries or rules as a 10 year old, so you need to be reasonable in your expectations. You might want your 2 year old to sit quietly in a restaurant, but two year olds are never quiet. It’s nice if children share nicely with their friends, but is sharing a rule that should be followed or sharing something they should want to do? Instead of disciplining children for not sharing, you should encourage them to share but explain to your children that they don’t have to if they don’t want to. Would you share your phone with a complete stranger who comes and asks you for it? Absolutely not! So why do we expect children to share their toys with other children that they don’t know? Consider their development and go with that. Boundaries for a 2 year old in a restaurant may be that they are able to have a tablet or some coloring in. Boundaries for a 10 year old in a restaurant work very differently because they do understand that sitting down nicely while out is a good thing.
- Make your boundaries reasonable. While we are on the topic of setting boundaries, your boundaries have to be reasonable ones. For example, responding to your children because I said so, it doesn’t help. Iit’s arbitrary and it doesn’t help your children to learn anything. If your children want chocolate for breakfast, and you know it’s not great for them, explain it. Make it so that your children understand the answer to the question rather than just saying because you said so. Kids will respect you much more when you put boundaries in place that they can understand. Saying ‘because I said so’ is a power play; and you don’t need to have a power play with a child who doesn’t get it.
- Be okay with saying ‘yes’. You do not have to say no to everything – and yet we are programmed to! The children want to play with glitter, but we say no because of the cleanup. We could be saying yes and having as much sparkly fun. Is a five minute vacuum job really a hardship? Of course it isn’t but when you’re raised to be made to feel that way it’s easy to project that onto your children. Your children want junk food at 8am, but it’s a Saturday so is it really a bad idea? You could easily reduce your child’s junk food intake for the rest of the day. If you would say yes more often on vacation, then why not in everyday life?
- Raise the words you use, not your voice. Shouting doesn’t help the kids, and it doesn’t help them to learn, but it does often help you to get out your frustration, which is nice, but it isn’t great in the actual situation, does it? Unless your goal is to terrify your kids it really doesn’t help. Instead of wasting your energy shouting, why not think about the fact that you could speak calmly, because if you were yelled at you probably wouldn’t listen either. Children don’t listen to yelling. In fact they just become afraid of it and the last thing you need is your children to become afraid of you.
- Treat your children the way that you expect them to treat other people. Children will model your behavior, so if you are treating them kindly and with respect, they will treat other people kindly and with respect. Also, you should remember that respect is and. You can expect your children to show you the respect that you are expecting, but only if you are giving it to them in return. As we said, modeling that behavior is so important. If you want them to genuinely feel kind and respect towards you, you have to show that you are worthy of it. Treating your children well should be the default rather than something that you do because somebody else told you to.
- Don’t drag out discipline. With gentle parenting, discipline looks a little bit different. You’re not children or isolating them, and you’re not grounding them for weeks on end and you’re not taking away all of their toys. Instead, you correct the behavior in the moment. If a child has thrown a toy and the toy is broken, then they have to relearn that you are not going to replace it. If they have hurt a friend, then their natural consequences are to apologize for their behavior and may commence. You don’t discipline your child by waiting until they have got to the weekend and then deciding on a punishment for them. Children don’t think like that and while you may hold a grudge, all you are doing is proving that you hold one. But what adult holds a grudge against a child? Certainly not a decent parent.
It takes time to switch from an authoritarian parenting style to a gentle one, but it can be done. All you have to do is remind yourself that children are people too, and if you wouldn’t treat an adult the way you would treat a child, then something is going wrong. Helping your child to learn from their mistakes and become a well rounded individual is your decision and your responsibility. Make sure that you are unleashing a happy and emotionally secure individual on the world.