You will never receive a more precious and more valuable gift in your life than a child. There's a lot of societal and self-directed pressure on parents to not make mistakes when raising children, so much so, that many adults decide they don't want this responsibility.
And I get it…. I totally get it.
I might have a child and plan to have more, but I have had that fear of ‘f$%*ing them up’, as my friend delicately put it. My biggest fear when I became a parent was not being patient enough and not responding in a gentle and meaningful way to my baby’s needs. But I have surprised myself. Time and time again when I have been sleep deprived, when I have been on the precipice of screaming out in frustration, I take ten deep breaths and put on my gentle parenting hat. This is what it looks like.
TEN TIPS TO GENTLE PARENTING
1. Letting emotions run their course: Empathise
Gentle parents are masters of reflecting empathy. This tip is number one for good reason – I cannot stress enough to you why it is so important to empathise with your child. Imagine the following scenario: It’s 8am and dad leaves the house for work. Bub starts screaming because he misses his dad. What do you do? Ignore him? Distract him with a toy? Minimise how he feels? A gentle parent would sit next to their bub and comfort them. Rub their back. Saying soothing words, “I know you miss your daddy. It is hard when he leaves. He will be back after work to give you cuddles then”. Bub learns that his feelings during separation are normal, and that his mum is here for him. Bub soon calms down and moves onto playing with his toys.
2. Undertand yourself: Recognise your limits and gain control
Gentle parents can recognise their limits and put controls in place to minimise the impact on their little ones. Bub is teething and you’ve been up half the night comforting her. She’s now wide awake and you’re the walking dead. Your patience is low, you’re over tired and you have so much you need to get done today. You’ve gently asked her several times not to throw her toys against the wall but she continues to do it. In fact, the more you say no, re-direct and distract her, the more she thinks it’s funny. She once again throws her toy on the wall and it leaves a mark. Your blood is boiling. A gentle parent would leave the room. Take ten deep breaths. Look at herself in the mirror and say calming words to gain perspective. After the tenth breath, a gentle parent would return to her little one and continue putting consistent boundaries in place. Consistency is key.
3. Reserving the ‘No’ word: Say NO to saying NO
While I think all children need boundaries, it is important to establish what you are comfortable tolerating and what you are not comfortable tolerating. A gentle parenting might tolerate their baby pulling all the books off the shelf or pulling all the Tupperware out of the bottom draw. Although annoying, the gentle parent would understand that the child isn’t necessarily doing anything wrong, they are just being inquisitive and exploring their environment. They might re-direct their child away from the bookshelf if they are tired of picking up the books for the umptenth time that day. A gentle parent (any parent actually) wouldn’t tolerate their little one touching the oven (in case it is hot) or going out onto the balcony alone (in case they fall). A gentle parent would say whilst shaking their head, “Come away from the oven, it is hot” or “I don’t want you touching the oven, in case you burn yourself” or “No. Come away from the oven, you might burn yourself”. Explaining why they cannot touch something, whilst shaking your head, teaches your child the reasoning behind their boundary and a non-verbal cue for reinforcement. Use ‘no’ sparingly – many gentle parents only use it when their child’s safety is at risk.
4. Alternatives to discipline: Distraction and redirection
Gentle parents use distraction and redirection for behaviour modification. For all the ‘annoying’ but typical toddler activities your little one might get up to, such as pulling all the cushions off the couch, banging blocks on your nice new table, opening and close cupboard doors, ‘helpfully’ pruning your prized indoor plants, a gentle parent will distract or redirect the child from that activities. This might be to read a book, or play with their actual toys.
Other strategies to modify behaviour is to provide choices for the child. For example, ‘how many books to read before bed?” or “do you want to put your pajamas on now or after this book?”
5. Reframing the negative: There is no such thing as naughty
Gentle parents understand that children are not ‘naughty’. Rather, children are explorers and are really good helpers. From a child’s perspective, there is nothing more fun than helping mum with the washing, including pulling all the clothes off the clothes horse or unfolding all of the recently folded clothes. A gentle parent wouldn’t discipline their child for doing this; the child thinks they’re helping, and they are in their own way. A gentle parent would thank their child for helping and make a game of putting everything back into the basket (for example). Then once the game is over, re-direct them to another activity, such as playing with their toys or reading.
6. Meeting needs with affection: Responding in a timely way and with affection
A gentle parent will maintain to a child-friendly routine, and meet their baby’s needs in a timely and affectionate way. All children need a healthy and regular routine. This may include eating breakfast, lunch and dinner with the family at regular times. It may include a ‘downtime’ bedtime routine of reading, singing, bottle, and then bed by 7pm. Gentle parents respond to their children’s needs quickly and with love. Their baby cries at night, gentle parents respond in a timely way and sooth them by rubbing their back or rocking them back to sleep. Gentle parents are able to balance between allowing their baby the opportunity to self-settle and knowing when their babes need a little help to settle.
7. Connection: Put down your iphones, turn off the TV, close the laptop and play
Babies and toddlers need to be shown how to engage in play with their toys and other children. Children don’t instinctively know how to play, rather they need someone with experience to role model and show them how to use their toys, or how to engage with their peer. So for all you busy mums out there (aka all of us), put down your technologies and sit and play with your children. Even if it is just for thirty minutes a day, make it a special uninterrupted time for you and your little one.
8. Teachable Moments:Talk and then talk some more
Gentle parents talk to their little ones all day, every day, which enables more opportunities for teachable moments. They start by saying “good morning” to their babies when they wake up, and end the day by saying “I love you, good night” when they go to sleep. In between these times, gentle parents talk to their children when doing chores around the house, “first we put the clothes in, then we put the powder in”. Gentle parents talk during meals “It’s lunchtime, come and sit at the table with mummy”. Gentle parents point out interesting things on their walks to the park, “Look over there. A dog”, “See this leaf, it feels rough”. Talking to your little one helps them develop their language skills and learn about their environment.
9. Your child is a part of the family
Gentle parents include their baby in all aspect of their life. Do you have dinner whilst sitting on the couch in front of the television, or do you sit at the dinner table as a family? And where is bub? Is their highchair at table level, or are they on their little kiddie couch on the ground? A gentle parent includes sees their child as part of their life and family. This includes eating together as a family with their baby a part of the action (i.e. sitting bub at table level, other family members interacting with them). A gentle parent will include their little one in all of their interactions. When gentle parents meet someone on the street or when someone enters the room, they introduce their baby to their friend.
10. Cuddles and kisses
Gentle parents are affectionate. Nothing is more special than a cuddle and kiss to and from your little one. But if bubs don’t want a kiss or cuddle right then and there, gentle parents don’t force it. Gentle parents also let the child decide what affection they show to others. Children shouldn’t be forced to kiss or hug mum’s friend goodbye – just because your friend is special to you, doesn’t mean your child is going to be comfortable showing them affection. Gentle parents let their child decide whether they want to kiss, hug, shake hands or wave hello/goodbye to others.
I hope this article helps you reflect on your parenting style, and gives you tips on how you can be a more gentle parent to your little ones.
Have you found this piece helpful? Tell me what you think in the comments below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.