Gentle parenting is one of those terms that leave us scratching our heads. The phrase itself sounds good, but does any mom ever set out to be a brutal or unkind parent?
What Areas of Parenting is it Important to Be Gentle?
It doesn’t take much effort to conjure up images in our minds of non-gentle parenting. Harshness of language and physical punishment seems obvious.
However, cultivating an environment of gentle parenting includes more than declaring you’ll never spank your child or that you refuse to become a “yeller!”
Being tender and kind as a human takes intentionality and practice, let alone being tender and kind day in and day out, as a parent to a tiny human that requires massive time, energy, effort, and positivity.
Gentle Parenting Dialogue
The way you speak to your children will largely shape the way they view themselves. Your child will look at you and to you (mostly undetected) while asking within their own thoughts, “What does mommy think of me?”
There is power in the tongue. With the words you speak, you have the capacity to elevate your child to heightened levels of ability. You also have the power to break her heart, make her feel insecure, and question her worth.
Honestly, there are things my mom said to me as a little girl, that still hurt badly today, 30 years later.
You’ll inevitably make mistakes. We all do. I have said things I wish I hadn’t with my own children, and so has every other mom on the planet.
However, mindfulness of words and tone, making a deliberate effort to be thoughtful, and speaking as you would want to be spoken to will go a long way in significantly lessening the number of times you inadvertently injure a little heart.
Pleasant Body Language
“I’m sorry for the things my face said while you were talking!” Can you relate?
This one hits home. I am a very expressive person. Every single thing I am thinking about at any given moment is written all over my face.
I have to be very conscious of what my children are saying and what expressions are on my face while they’re saying it.
If my child is trying to connect with me about a trouble he is facing and I look mad because I just remembered that I forgot to pay the utility bill, he is going to absorb that.
Using pleasant body language while gentle parenting isn’t something that us moms are ever likely to perfect. For ever action, there is a reaction. Parenting frustrations happen on the daily. So it’s a good idea to not only work on facial expressions and body movements but also to teach and train your children about reasonable expectations in this regard.
For instance, my oldest son is very sensitive. Once he reached an age where he was experiencing the world at an increased awareness, he began asking me several times a day, “Mommy, what’s wrong?” “Mommy, is something the matter?”
Sometimes I would be frustrated, but typically, I was merely in deep thought, with my brows furrowed, my lips pressed, and didn’t look very joyful!
It took me several months to work through this with him.
I told him that I would work on softening my face and body movements, and asked him to give me grace when I looked upset, and believe me when I tell him, there genuinely isn’t anything wrong!
Your children know what’s in your heart and on your mind by what is written on your face and the way you carry yourself.
You’re probably not going to get this one right all the time (Lord knows, I don’t), but by simply being aware, you can take great strides to promote a soft and gentle body language.
Training a child early and thoroughly will extraordinarily reduce the need for severe discipline later.
Child training takes dedication.
When chatting with moms during parenting coaching, we often end up discussing breaking points. For instance, we may be talking about sleep training a toddler when a mom asks, “When will she stop screaming?” To which the answer is always, “I don’t know. Let’s find out!”
Child training is the purest form of gentle parenting. It embodies everything gentle parenting aims to accomplish.
It isn’t harsh, mean, aggressive, belittling, or disrespectful. It is very simply: cause and effect.
It is bedtime, so you must go to bed.
It is mealtime, so you must eat this.
It is chore time, so you must pick up your toys.
Gentle child training with steadfast patience will produce a ripple effect of motherhood joy and parenting peace that can’t be measured. But it takes endurance and commitment.
Desirable and undesirable consequences must back all that patient child training. I have a lot of resources on consequences for behavior. I’d recommend you come back here and here later to check them out.
The culture surrounding discipline has gotten so out-of-whack. Somehow along the way, moms have been led to believe that a firm punishment must be a harsh one.
Or that the word punishment all together is unacceptable.
Life is 100% cause and effect.
If I drive recklessly, I will eventually get a ticket or lose my license. Punishment.
If I shoplift, eventually, I’ll get caught and maybe arrested. Punishment.
Have a couple glasses of wine, out with friends, and end up in an accident. Punishment.
Dial those examples down a notch, and it looks like this:
You didn’t put your toys away, so you won’t be playing with them today. Consequence (aka punishment.)
You yelled at mommy and told me no when I gave you an instruction, so you will be spending the rest of the day without privileges. (Wondering what constitutes a privilege? Everything other than food, safety, and clothes.) Consequence (aka punishment.)
Because you didn’t help mommy with _______, I have to do it all myself, so I don’t have time to take you to _______ (special place.) Consequence (aka punishment.)
Gentle discipline is not the absence of discomfort for your child. It’s firm boundaries and consequences delivered with consistency and follow-through. Without anger, yelling, or overreaction.
An element of gentle parenting often overlooked, is the necessity to connect with your child in a truly meaningful way.
A mom has two parenting tools at her disposal.
Command and Connection.
Your command is the simple fact that you are the mom. You can set the rules and administer discipline because you carried your child, God gave her to you to raise, and therefore you are in charge.
The second parenting tool, connection, is not bestowed; it has to be earned.
The connection or relationship you have with your child will be the element of your parenting that determines whether or not your child comes to you with problems, ask for advice, confides in you, or remains tethered through the teen years and beyond.
Come back here later to read about how to meaningfully connect with your children everyday.
Make plans to spend tender moments with your child. Plan parent-child dates that allow you to really talk to one another. *Regardless of age! (Baby talk counts!)
Spend time engaged in back and forth dialogue in which you can share kind words, secret dreams, or tender emotions.
Reasonable Expectations for Gentle Parenting
One of the most common questions I get from moms is, “How do I know what needs discipline and what to let go? How do I pick my battles? And what should my expectations be?”
Those questions each require their own article to fully answer. For the sake of gentle parenting, it’s vital to understand: 1) what your child is capable of at his or her specified age, 2) whether or not you’ve done a good job training the behavior you expect, and 3) is it a heart issue?
For #1, children are capable of a lot! Like… a lot, a lot! All of my children learned how to unload the dishwasher at 4-years-old. They could also speak boldly to strangers (in the safety of my presence) from the time they could talk.
Those facts aren’t to toot my own horn; the children did those things! But, it should serve to demonstrate just how much our children are capable of.
Let’s not forget, boys as young as 10-years-old made 20-mile trips in horse and buggy to go to town in the 19th century. The only difference between boys then and boys now is that boys now are not trained nor expected to do so.
For #2, the things you expect of your child need to be trained. While some children may be naturally good at cleaning up, others won’t. Same for first-time obedience, not back-talking, and so on.
When deciding if you have reasonable expectations, ask yourself if you have thoroughly and consistently trained what you are looking for.
For #3, consider the heart. Spilling drinks isn’t a matter of willful disobedience. Getting too loud while telling a story isn’t intentional rudeness. Lack of a filter and saying inappropriate things isn’t malice.
When deciding whether you or not you hold reasonable expectations, ask yourself if it is a heart issue. Typically, you’ll find that it is only a heart issue if you can say yes to #1 (she is capable) and yes to #2 (she has been trained extensively.)
Helping Yourself to be a Gentle Parent
Let’s not fail to remember that this post is about you. It’s about gentle parenting. And gentle parenting isn’t about the child’s behavior, it’s about the parent’s.
All of parenting boils down to the behavior of an adult. How we, as moms, approach, speak to, and respond to our children, determines whether we are parenting gently.
Our family motto is, “It’s Not About Me.” But today, it IS all about you!:)
3 Steps to Improve Gentle Parenting
#1. Identify your weaknesses.
As you read through the first half of this article above, did one or two of those segments stick out to you? Was it convicting you as you read it?
You may already know that you have a temper, or that you raise your voice from time to time.
No one is expecting you to be without shortcomings. (Just between you and I, I can have a scary bad temper, if I don’t give it to Jesus on a daily basis.) So, relax and realize that the first step in NOT being a yeller is acknowledging that you don’t WANT to yell!
Identify the areas you need to be aware of and intentionally work on them.
I know there’s this whole big thing about letting go of perfection, but I have a bit of a different take on the word perfection.
One of my favorite quotes of all time is by Vince Lambardi. He said, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we catch excellence!”
Let me just say that it is OK to want to do well. It is good to have parenting goals.
Your position in motherhood, your child’s behavior, the unity of your family… it’s more than OK to want great things in those areas. And to actively pursue those great things!
Practice gentle dialogue, pleasing body language, patient training, peaceful discipline, and meaningful connection.
After you’ve identified which areas you need to work on, practice them. Work to improve.
You have my full permission to want to be a great mom and be proud of the effort you put into such an astoundingly important job!!
Just like child training takes time, patience, and persistence; so does mastering the art of gentle parenting.
One of the BIGGEST OBSTACLES you are going to face as a mom is that your children change.
The early years of childhood are chaotic. Kids are bursting balls of energy who literally need to move, wiggle, and make noise in order to grow and develop properly.
Those years can feel overwhelming and exhausting, but it does not get easier.
About the time you get one thing mastered, your child has changed into another season and needs the same training on another more mature level.
This truth is at the very core of why I emphasize child training and firmly believe that it is the most significant thing you can do to be a better parent.
Because here’s the thing, when a great foundation has been laid during the very earliest years, everything that comes after that will be easier. Not easy. But easier.
Persevere and persist from today forward.
Gentle Parenting Attitude
The attitude you have as a parent cultivates your parenting philosophy. Gentle parenting shines through your heart and soul when your parenting attitude is one of positivity and commitment.
“These three remain; faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
Nurture a gentle parenting attitude of faith. Faith that God created you for your child and your child for you. There is no one to parent him better. Have faith that what you lack, God has more than enough grace for.
Nurture a gentle parenting attitude of hope. Hope that what God says in His word, He is faithful to complete. God said your children are a blessing. Hope in His word, not in the world’s standards.
Nurture a gentle parenting attitude of love. Your sweet little one needs you to shower her with love. You are the first taste of Godly love your children will see and feel. Be her cheerleader. Talk good about her to others. Believe in her. Think and feel unto her as you’d desire God to think and feel unto you!
Gentle parenting is accomplished by gentle people. Treat your children with care.