I don’t often write about parenting, mostly because I know that every parent and child is very different and I think its best not to judge; everyone has their own story and struggles. More recently though, I’ve seen and heard a few things that have made me want to add to the conversation. There are so many voices out there and if mine inspires a more gentle approach then it’s a small step in the right direction.
I am the first person to throw my hands up and say I am winging it! I am a mama to four children, all born less than 6 years apart and I still wing it 80% of the time. I’m not a fan of labels either, but after endless googling, reading up on things in the small hours of the morning, gentle parenting is the style that resonated most.
I don’t pretend to know or practise everything about this style of parenting. I should also mention we haven’t always been gentle parents. I watched Supernanny and had a naughty step at the beginning but somehow It never ever felt right. We had been (mostly!) gentle parenting around 5 years now, a few years before it became a ‘thing’ and it’s definitely right for our family.
GENTLE PARENTING ISNT ABOUT PERFECTION
I have always felt like it would be hypocritical of me to write about being gentle, and then make un-gentle choices myself hormones go soaring. I try to be gentle, but there have been weeks when my neighbours could probably chart my PMS purely from the volume of my voice. I’m not proud of those moments, but I apologise, we chat and we move on as best we can. I think that being humble and showing the children we are human too and that even adults make bad choices is such a positive thing.
I am sure if I feel this way, many other parents feel the same. In a perfect world I am sure we would all be perfect, but life is so much more complicated than that. Mental health and illness play a big part too, it’s much harder to be gentle when you are in pain or struggling with mental health.
Actually, gentle parenting isn’t about perfection, it’s about trying to deal with parenting issues in a respectful way. Having a bad day doesn’t make you a bad parent, it makes you human. And maybe we need to be gentle with ourselves too.
GENTLE PARENTING DOESNT TURN YOUR CHILDREN INTO LITTLE ANGELS
Parenting is hard work, it’s exhausting and can send you on a full cycle of emotions from laughing hysterically to crying in less than a few minutes. Gentle parenting isn’t a magic button that makes children behave well or stops that happening. Gentle parents still feel the full swing of those emotions!
Children need to make mistakes & push boundaries in a healthy, supported environment in order to explore, learn and grow.
I guess the main difference between mainstream parenting and gentle parenting is that a mainstream parents goal might be to stop unwanted behaviour, whereas a gentle parents goal is to try to understand why the behaviour is happening, so they can support the child and avoid the unwanted behaviour in future.
GENTLE PARENTS DO SAY NO!
Permissive parenting means never saying no, not provoking tantrums or crying and always wanting to please the child. Gentle parenting is not permissive. Whilst some gentle parents choose not to say no, and others find alternative words, I think ‘no’ is a perfectly acceptable word to use, and can be used in a gentle and respectful way.
Putting things into perspective here, there are far more damaging things you can say than the word ‘No’. One example good example that’s a pet hate of mine is ‘stop crying’
GENTLE PARENTING DOES HAVE BOUNDARIES
I feel this is where some people miss the boat with gentle parenting, however, this is a boat that you definitely don’t want to miss! Children need boundaries and guidance. Children need routines, bedtimes and a choice of healthy food as a few examples. We need to make those decisions for them while we educate them to make those decisions sensibly themselves.
GENTLE PARENTS DON’T ALWAYS ENJOY THEIR CHILDREN
I would go as far as saying that anyone who says they enjoy their children ALL the time is blatantly lying. Parenting is hard work, and we all have moments we want to escape, scream and generally let off steam. I know I feel guilty when I admit this, but life isn’t always roses, and sometimes I do want to nod along half listening on the walk to school while trying to plan something far more exciting than listening to what Bob’s friend Bill built on Minecraft.
That being said its so easy to sometimes miss the moments that bring us the most joy. You have to be present and open to what’s happening around you for little things, such as the sound of children’s laughter or siblings having fun together.
GENTLE PARENTS DO PRAISE THEIR CHILDREN
Praise is a controversial subject in gentle parenting circles, but actually, praise is an important part of gentle parenting. Gentle parenting discourages empty praise though and things such as ‘good boy’, ‘good job’. Children look to us for a reaction, and if we give them empty praise, or praise them for something that they haven’t put any effort into, it devalues the praise. If its not specific, it can be difficult for a child to tell which part of their behaviour you are praising.
Gentle parenting encourages us to reward effort, which is a much better way to reward, isn’t it? Its also key to encouraging a growth mindset. Praise should also be descriptive. Children love it when you notice what they are doing, so its best to be specific & encourage the conversation ” I love that you used so many colours on your picture, is that daddy in the red jumper? He looks smart, where do you think he is going?”
GENTLE PARENTS TRY TO AVOID PRAISING THINGS THAT A CHILD HAS NO CONTROL OVER.
This could be anything from looks & intelligence to athletic or artistic ability. Instead, praise is directed towards things that children do have control over, such as their generosity, attitude, focus or commitment.
I find this part the hardest, although I can see the logic & value behind it. It’s too easy to say ‘You are beautiful’ but praising children for their appearance can be detrimental for their body image and self-esteem as they grow. Humans put far too much value on appearances, imagine if people were measured purely for their kindness or thoughtfulness, we would live in a very different world today.
Imagine if people were measured purely for their kindness or thoughtfulness, we would live in a very different world today.
GENTLE PARENTS DON’T USE REWARD CHARTS
This is where it gets a little confusing because reward charts are usually seen as a ‘gentle’ way to reward and encourage good behaviour. This is where phycology comes into play a little!
There are two factors of motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is your internal motivation, that’s what’s inside you and what encourages you to want to do good every day. This could be the feeling you get from seeing the joy on someones face, or the pride you get when you complete a task.
Extrinsic motivation is reliant on external factors, such as receiving stickers on a star chart or ‘likes’ on a photo. Extrinsic motivation can actually diminish our intrinsic motivation. That’s why reward charts and other methods of extrinsic praise aren’t usually encouraged in gentle parenting. In real life, we don’t get a sticker each time we do something good, and once we have met our goal, what is going to keep us motivated to keep hitting it?
Also, its good to have a technique that works well into the teenage years. I can’t see many teenagers making their bed for a sticker.
OUR MOTTO: TREAT OTHERS HOW WE WOULD LIKE TO BE TREATED
We try and treat the children how we would like to be treated. We use that phrase a lot too, and try to encourage the children to treat others how they would wish to be treated. I think this welcomes equality and opens their minds to be more empathetic to others.
I hope that by setting the standard of respect in our house now, they won’t stand for anything else as adults. I know that I will be absolutely destroyed if hear anyone talking to my children (as adults) disrespectfully, and I hope that by setting the standard now that they won’t allow it either.
What are your thoughts on gentle parenting? I would love to hear in the comments below.