What is gentle parenting and how do I do it?

Gentle parenting

As parents, we strive to create a nurturing and loving environment for our children, where their emotional needs are met and their development is supported. Two years ago, I stumbled upon a parenting approach that completely transformed my relationship with my children: Gentle parenting.

Now, with a heart full of gratitude and a desire to share my experiences, I shed light on what gentle parenting is, how to do practice it, and how it has positively impacted my family.

I'll take you through the fundamental principles of gentle parenting, including the importance of mindful discipline, effective communication, and the power of connection. I will share personal anecdotes, practical tips, and the benefits I have witnessed in my own journey.

So, join me as we embark on this beautiful path of gentle parenting, where love and understanding pave the way for a harmonious and enriching parent-child relationship.

Further reading: Parenting styles and why you should have confidence in yours.

What is gentle parenting

There is no single definition of gentle parenting, but it has become a catchall phrase for parenting based on empathy, respect, understanding, and boundaries. Parents who have embraced this style turn away from rewards and punishment. Instead, they give age-appropriate and socially acceptable positive reinforcements. The end goal is to raise children who are happy and emotionally healthy.

When I first learned about this parenting style, I was hesitant. Having been raised by an authoritative parent (I love you, mum!), I wondered what's wrong with the traditional parenting style. After all, I turned out fine, didn't I?

But gentle parenting resonates with me more than other parenting styles. Now that we parents are more aware of the mental issues hounding our kids and understanding the effects of our upbringing, we ask, "Is there something better for my children?" And there is!

Psychologists and paediatricians believe that gentle parenting is one of the best strategies parents can adopt in order to reduce anxiety and have a positive impact. Here, children grow up with parents who affirm their emotions. Instead of being viewed as "just kids," they are taken seriously by adults around them. Thus, they learn to regulate their feelings, boost their self-esteem, and become responsible for their behaviours

The top benefits of gentle parenting

My children manage their emotions better

The most immediate change I noticed in my daughters since I started practicing gentle parenting is improved control over their emotions. In a short time, there was less shouting, less walking out, and less scream-crying, "Why can't you understand?!" They have become much calmer, able to wait for their turn to speak because they know they will be heard.

Well, monkey see, monkey do.

Children are like mirrors; they reflect what they see. When your child grows up witnessing you flare up at misbehaviours and accidents, they will mimic your reactions. After all, they will think this is the "adult," hence the proper way to act in untoward situations.

On the contrary, when they see you wait and think before you react, they will know that's what they should do in similar situations in the future.

Stronger bond with both my children

I have always enjoyed a special bond with my daughters as a single mum. But I absolutely believe gentle parenting made our connection even stronger.

A few weeks ago, my youngest said in a completely normal, very nonchalant way that she wants to become "like mum" when she has a family of her own. Needless to say, I spent the rest of the night bawling in my room.

Looking back, I think it's because she sees me try hard to acknowledge, understand and respect the two of them as individuals and humans, instead of imposing my ideas and ideals on them. They have the assurance that I will not automatically dismiss their feelings and thoughts "because I'm [their] mum." Just because I am an adult doesn't mean mine is the only opinion worth hearing.

Most of all, my daughters know I will not hurt them, physically or otherwise, even in their missteps.

Remember, mutual respect and trust are key ingredients for nurturing any relationship, including yours.

My discipline works!

If you were raised in a traditional - read: authoritative - parenting style, it can be hard to believe that anything other than that will work. But it does!

It's perfectly normal for children to misbehave. We've all been kids before, so we know that, naturally, many "rules" do not make sense for our young minds. Children want to have autonomy and self-determination. They are at a phase where they are trying to discover themselves and the rules of the world. In this stage, they experiment with lines and what happens when crossing them.

Since incorporating more gentle discipline, I have noticed that my daughters are becoming more receptive to what I want them to do. I take the time to explain why things must be done a certain way and try to understand what is behind their defiance. They understand my reasoning, and their emotions are acknowledged and validated.

We all communicate better

As I mentioned earlier, gentle parenting has changed how we manage conflicts, so there's remarkably less shouting and stomping around the house—and no more slamming doors! The three of us know we can sit and talk to resolve our issues or share important stuff.

Before my discovery of gentle parenting, I was always the one to talk to my daughters. Most of the time, I tell them what's wrong and tell them what to do. When I observed something, I was the one to give advice. In short, my children were merely at the receiving end.

Now, we communicate. It has become a two-way or three-way process. We allow each other to speak and actively listen without judgment. I have gone from saying, "Well, that's wrong," to "How do you feel about it?" My daughters are starting to do the same to me and each other, and in the process, we are becoming better at expressing our feelings and thoughts. And with that, a more peaceful and happy home.

My children make better decisions

It's normal for children to make mistakes. They should make mistakes. That's how people learn.

But there has been a major shift in my daughters' decision-making since I started to become a gentler parent. Even in the smallest things, like picking their snack or how they want to spend weekends, they are becoming more and more mindful and considerate.

I figure it's because they are more in tune with what they want and how they feel others will feel because of the choices they make. I don't know for sure, but demonstrating concern and consideration by constantly asking them how they feel encourages them to think of other people's feelings as well.

We have less power struggles

Being a single mum, life would be infinitely easier if I could get my children to do what I want anytime, all the time. But I have two equally assertive and strong-willed girls like their mum. Naturally, we are bound to have power struggles, especially with my daughters asserting their individuality and me still trying to "undo" the lasting effects of my upbringing.

A lot has changed since I stumbled upon the concept of gentle parenting two years ago. It has helped my children become kinder and more thoughtful. Even as they start to uphold their independence, they remain respectful.

But most importantly, I am changing as a mum. I am slowly letting go of the need to always be right. I am learning that I cannot and must not try to control my daughters' lives. I realise I am giving my children the best gift by being the parent I wish I had growing up.

My tips to start gentle parenting

Educate yourself

Naysayers think gentle parenting is a lazy way to raise your child, but here's a hard NO!

For starters, there's so much to learn. When I decided to adopt gentle parenting a couple of years ago, I had to read piles of child development and psychology books. As a parent, you must keep abreast of relevant scientific and social research to understand your child better and more importantly, the effects of your parenting style on their growth.

At the same time, you as a parent must be observant about your kid and everything happening around them, which may affect their emotions.

And the hardest? You need to work on yourself. Especially if you had a different upbringing, it could be challenging to "undo" reactions and behaviours you are used to.

Give lots of positive reinforcement

While gentle parenting avoids giving rewards and punishments, positive reinforcement is still essential to encourage appropriate behaviours.

While rejecting the concept of rewards and punishments, you don't want to withhold your approval or disapproval.

Kids love having a degree of self-determination and get motivated when we encourage them towards desirable actions. Paying attention to what they are doing, being engaged in their interests, and showing trust and respect for their autonomy are excellent ways to boost good habits.

Practice active listening

Nothing beats listening.

My mum tried her hardest to be a good parent, but I grew up being "told" what to do. In my household, adults said, "Because I said so" all the time. That's one thing I hope to undo for my daughters.

With gentle parenting, you actively listen. Stop whatever you are doing, go down to their level, and pay full attention to your child's words. You must reflect and repeat what they say to let them know you actually listen and to clarify if you understood their message.

Allow natural consequences

When I was growing up, so many of the "punishments" for my misconduct baffled me. What did I missing the bus have to do with doing the dishes for the week? How did not fixing my bed end up with not going to my best friend's birthday?

They were so... disconnected.

When I studied gentle parenting, I learned about natural consequences. It simply means informing your child about the direct results of their action.

For instance, if they miss the bus, they will miss their first class. They will miss that day's lessons, miss homework or a quiz, and get lower grades.

Or that if they don't take out the trash on schedule, the garbage truck will not pick it up, and your house will stink for the rest of the week.

These are the natural consequences of your child's actions. By doing this, they will not grow up believing mistakes need to be punished. Moreover, you, the parent, are not involved in the consequence, so they will not grow up thinking you will punish them.

(Of course, there are times when natural consequences should not be applied. For example, when there are safety issues involved (like running in a busy street), or someone will be harmed by the child's action (like throwing rocks at animals), you can and should put your foot down.)

Encourage problem solving

According to research, overwhelmed or hopeless students will give up solving problems altogether. In a relevant study, those who lack problem-solving skills have increased depressive and suicidal tendencies.

And this is not just in maths. Throughout your children's lives, they are going to encounter problems. In most of them, your children will have to face them independently.

When you and your kid calm down in the face of a tantrum, you demonstrate the importance of a peaceful environment. They have to be calm before they can approach the problem.

Next, when you ask your kid about their feelings, you are helping them understand the problem. Through this probe, they will learn to ask the right questions.

And when you ask your kid what they think they should do in light of the situation, you are helping them understand that there are solutions to their problems. They will also know that they are the ones who should solve the hurdles along the way.

Emotionally coach your children

Children have yet to understand their emotions and often do not know how to express and control themselves when upset. Sometimes, they throw violent outbursts, but you don't have to resort to meeting them with the same anger and frustration.

Here is a three-step strategy that works to de-escalate the situation when one of my daughters throws a temper:

First, I sit down to her level. You are her safe space, not an authority figure to be feared.

Second, I validate her emotions. Tell her it's okay to feel this way; if you were in her place, you would feel the same. Empathise with her frustration when things are not going according to her plans.

At this point, you might be tempted to say, "It's okay, don't cry now." But that invalidates her emotions. Instead, allow your child to.

Third, I allow her to calm down on her own. Just sit there and wait it out. Being patient, calm, and kind can be challenging, especially when you are in a public space or need to leave. But eventually, she will calm down.

If an authoritative parent raised you, the automatic response is to stick to your guns. But if you decide to try gentle parenting, you will need to summon a lot of kindness and patience. But don't knock it 'til you've tried it, as research has shown that gentle parenting leads to happier, more confident adults with better emotional regulation skills.

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Sally Love

About the author

Sally Love is a pseudo single mum author who has been writing about single motherhood, separation and divorce for 8+ years. She has been a single mother for 10+ years and has two daughters, one of whom she co-parents and the other she solo parents. Sally has experienced all aspects of single motherhood from legal, financial, parenting, dating, travel as a single parent, re-partnering and re-building a career. She is an integral part of the Beanstalk community chatting and helping single mothers across the globe, as well as sharing her expertise, experiences and genuine reviews with major national newspapers and appearing on nation-wide television shows.

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