From the moment I had my daughters I knew I was going to handle this whole parenting thing differently than I had been raised. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t cast judgment on anyone’s parenting style. Mine just happens to be more gentle than most.
As a child, I remember being afraid to fail. Not necessarily because of a punishment that would follow, but mostly because I didn’t want to be a disappointment to my parents. Now, of course, they didn’t come straight out and say, “Holly, you’re a disappointment.” But it was the more subtle, “We know you can do better” and “We didn’t raise you to quit” that really stuck with me.
Don’t worry, Mom and Dad. I’m not blaming all the challenges in my adult life on you. But my childhood experiences encouraged me to try parenting my kids with more gentleness and empathy.
People often confuse gentle parenting for babying their kids or making them co-dependent. But those assumptions couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m not letting my girls walk all over me — I’m just creating safe spaces for open communication. When it comes to parenting style it’s to each their own, but for my family, leading with empathy is never the wrong choice.
What is Gentle Parenting?
According to Very Well Family, this parenting style is an evidence-based approach founded on empathy, respect, understanding, and boundaries.
Gentle parenting falls somewhere between a ‘we make the rules as we go‘ kind of parenting, and overly rigid parenting. There is discipline, but it’s not soap in your mouth or a punishment unrelated to the offense. On the other hand, it’s also not about your child running amok and throwing every single rule to the wind.
So, now that we know a little more about gentle parenting, what benefits come with adopting this parenting style?
In the article, Allison Andrews, PsyD says, “When we show gentleness, especially during stressful times, we model frustration tolerance, and we model flexibility. Staying calm and being gentle and firm sets the tone for positive growth and development.”
While this seems like a no-brainer, it’s easier said than done. Like when your kiddo decides to paint the wall or spill extra sticky juice all over the placemats you just washed (for the third time this week).
Yelling at them for making a mess or sending them to time out doesn’t make sense as a punishment. I mean, yes, it’s still a punishment, and they will know that you are angry, but what else will be gained?
If they colored on the walls, you set the clear boundary that this is not okay. You’d also come up with appropriate discipline to reflect the consequences of what happened — for example, having them clean the marker off the wall.
The hardest part of this whole gentle parenting style also comes after all is said and done. Engage in a conversation with your little. Why did they color on the wall? Were they trying to get your attention? Or could they not find the materials they needed to get creative?
Understanding and being empathetic isn’t the same thing as letting the kids walk all over you. We do it to resolve problems and keep them from happening again. And we do it so that our children know they are seen and heard.
Gentle Parenting In Action
So, how do I practice gentle parenting? Let me walk you through a scenario most of us as parents have experienced as a child and have also experienced (or will) with our children.
Math is not my daughter’s strong suit. If I’m being honest, I am extra empathetic toward her struggle because it’s not my strong suit either. She’s gotten low marks in class recently, but what she doesn’t know is that I get a notification as soon as her teacher enters the grade in the system. The other day, she came home and told me about her day and emptied her folder.
Did she try to sneak her math worksheets past me? Of course she did. Did we go back and forth for at least 15 minutes, with her trying to tell me she didn’t have it? Yes. Now, if this had been me at almost 10 years old, first I would have tried to lie, and then I would have been terrified about my parents getting angry. With that in mind, I decided to take a different approach and have a different conversation about her grades.
I set the boundary and let her know that it wasn’t okay to try and hide her grades from me, even when they aren’t good. Secondly, to reinforce the boundary, there was a punishment. Instead of spending her free time going on her tablet or watching TV, we sat down together and discussed the worksheet. Redoing the work wasn’t the punishment, but giving up her free time was. The lesson? Save yourself — and your parent — time by being honest and not hiding things.
Finally, I led with empathy and understanding. We talked about how I tried to do some of the same things when I was her age, but it didn’t end up helping me in the long run.
Together, we talked about how we would handle the next time she got a bad grade, because it’s likely that it will happen again in the future. She’s very bright, but I know she’ll constantly be learning new things. I want her to know that those things might be challenging, and that is okay.
So that’s gentle parenting. It might be an approach that’s different from what you’re doing now. It’s also something that takes practice and quite a bit of unlearning, if you grew up with a very different parenting style. But it’s not impossible.
Modeling this behavior by setting boundaries, being understanding, and having empathy will teach your kiddos how to do the same — and will serve them not only now, but for the rest of their lives.
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