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Does crying-it-out not sit well with you? What about time outs? Or sticker charts? Or harsh punishments? Or (*Christians gasp*) spanking? If these issues just aren’t your cup of tea, or maybe you kind of feel like there should be something better out there, then Gentle Parenting might be right for you.
Gentle Parenting has always been the approach I have leaned towards…even before I became mom…or studied early childhood education…or even knew there was something called Gentle Parenting. I have worked with children worldwide for a long time, and I have always been very observant and analytical, so I have always asked myself how I would handle difficult situations with children and my answers always were the Gentle Parenting approach…I just didn’t know that it had a name.
Let me give you an example from my missions work of how I knew I wasn’t interested in some of the harsher forms of discipline.
In South Africa I was doing an
There are a lot of common discipline strategies that I am not comfortable with because I don’t think it honours the child. It focuses on the short term and not the long term, and so much focuses on how the behaviour affects the adult, not the child.
What should discipline really be?
One really interesting thing I found out is that discipline actually means, “to teach.” It doesn’t mean to punish when kids are “bad” or to reward when kids are “good.” By disciplining our children we are teaching them how to conduct themselves in the world around them.
We can teach our children to obey authority out of fear of punishment/desire for reward, or we can teach them to obey authority out of respect. And it’s not just about obeying authority. It’s about having manners, and social skills, and listening skills, and overall being a well rounded human being. A child who can confidently adapt to their environment will do a much better job exploring and learning than those who lack the necessary skills to engage in a social atmosphere. We’re not just disciplining them to get them through childhood, but to shape the direction of their entire lives.
Let us discipline our children intentionally so they will grow to be kind,
What are the alternatives to Gentle Parenting?
Gentle Parenting is a wonderful approach to child discipline that truly honours children and shapes them into good people, using love and not fear. A bad rap can be associated with Gentle Parenting though because it’s often confused with permissive parenting – which basically means permitting your child to do whatever they want.
Imagine a child scribbling on the walls, while their sibling shaves the dog, and their zen mother is sitting on the couch talking about how her beautiful little babies are so creative, dancing to the beat of their own drum.
Mmm ya, that’s what people might think of when they think of Gentle Parenting, simply because it isn’t as harsh and strict as authoritarian parenting, but what I described above is actually permissive parenting. Although the mother might not necessarily be feeling “zen” it might be more a feeling of surrender when nothing else has worked!
Authoritarian parenting would agree that children should be seen and not heard, would expect children to act like adults (ex. being able to share when developmentally they don’t understand that concept), and would probably spank the child for disobedience – with good intentions perhaps but still it’s spanking.
Gentle Parenting is the sweet spot between permissive parenting and authoritarian parenting.
But what really is Gentle Parenting?
Gentle Parenting can seem overwhelming when you first start to look into it, especially if you grew up with either a very authoritarian type of parent, or a very permissive parent, but if you take a look at just these 4 factors of Gentle Parenting you may be surprised how simple it can really be.
#1. Developmentally Appropriate Expectations is a Must
A lot of frustration in parenting could be eliminated if just this one factor could be implemented. There is nothing wrong with having expectations for your child but you must ensure that they are appropriate for their age and maturity. Brain development is a long process, taking place over the first two decades of life. A newborn brain and a 17 year old’s brain are very different, one is more developed than the other and capable of more complex thought, but neither are fully developed.
Having age appropriate expectations would mean you understand that you can’t reason with your 1 year old not to throw food on the floor. You can prepare for the mess, but you should expect them to do it because it’s normal.
Often times children are labeled as “bad” or “naughty” simple for doing something that is totally normal for their age but wouldn’t be normal for an adult.
Children are not mini adults.
In theory we know that, but when we are feeling frustrated by our toddler grabbing the toothbrush out of our hand it is better to remember that at their age they are desperately craving independence, rather than expect them to happily open their mouth while we wiggle a stick inside.
Figuring out what is developmentally appropriate for our own child can be tricky business. We don’t want to overestimate or underestimate them. Finding that sweet spot might not be easy, especially because all children are different, so it’s not like I can give you a spot on developmental calendar (but how great would that be!?).
The best way to understand your own child’s development is to:
- Read about development for your child’s age group
- Observe your child intentionally
These are the best ways to set your expectations to be developmentally appropriate for your own little one. And don’t be surprised if your children develop differently from one another!
So how do I do this? –
Read about your child’s specific development by age group and observe them to confidently know where they are at. Take time to ask yourself, “Are the developmentally ready to do what I expect them to do?”
#2. Gentle Parenting is a Long Term Approach
Authoritarian parenting might seem to get the job done. A child is doing something “bad” and they are immediately stopped. The problem with this set up is it’s only meant to resolve an immediate issue but may not contribute to future prevention, except possibly through fear.
Remember, we want to teach our children to be kind, strong people who cooperate out of respect, not crippling fear.
Some will say being very strict “works” and has “results,” but the problem with comparing the results of authoritarian parenting and gentle parenting is that you can’t always see the heart of a child. A child being disciplined gently will have their feelings considered and may be allowed to continue crying, or given a pillow to punch. A child being disciplined by an authoritarian may immediately stop what they were doing that was so wrong and also refrained from crying. Is this a better behaved child?
An outsider might say yes. The person behind you in the line at the grocery store might prefer your child to stop throwing things and to stop crying. But as a Gentle Parent your goal isn’t to get your child to stop throwing things RIGHT NOW and to stop crying. Gentle Parenting does not create overnight angel children.
It’s a long term approach and takes long term commitment. If you measure the effects of parenting strategies simply based on short term outcomes you might doubt that Gentle Parenting is right for you. We want our children to eventually want to do the right thing. This kind of parenting can definitely pay off in the teen/early adult years when your child is able to make the right choices out of their own heart. A teen who has been strictly disciplined for most of their life may take the new independence in their teen years to rebel because in their hearts they don’t know how to make the right decision.
So how do I do this? –
To keep yourself focused on the long term you need to be able to tune out what other people have to say about your parenting style. People around you are going to expect immediate results but Gentle Parenting can’t promise that. You need to truly believe that what you are doing is for long term benefit so that when you get judgemental looks at the grocery store or harsh comments from your relatives you won’t be tempted to change your ways for the sake of short term “results.”
#3. Respect is a 2-Way Street
Forcing a child to respect you makes absolutely no sense to me. I have friends who were spanked as a child if they forgot to say “ma’am” or “sir,” because it was disrespectful. This is not going to teach a child to truly have respect in their heart, it will just teach them not to forget next time because they don’t want to be spanked. A resentful, fearful obedience.
I can tell you right now, the people in your life who you have the most respect for probably care a lot about you, or anyone who works underneath them. They probably show respect to those around them. Respect is earned when it is given.
It is more likely that your child will respect you if you respect them, rather than demanding them to respect you. This doesn’t mean you need to lose your authority as a parent, your child still needs you to set the limits and take care of them. Mutual respect will create an atmosphere of trust and understanding.
When your child truly respects you they will be more likely to listen to you. You can work together to solve problems and stand as a team to overcome an issue rather than parent vs child.
So how do I do this? –
Start to consider things from your child’s point of view. Really put yourself in their shoes and think about how you would feel if you were them. When they have concerns listen to them carefully, understand that something that may seem insignificant to us may be very important to them. Think about how you would want to be treated if you were them.
#4. Connection and Warmth Goes a Long Way
This is very similar to our previous point, but our efforts for connection and warmth go even deeper than respect.
When your child is suddenly struggling with their behaviour you should ask yourself the following questions:
Are they hungry?
Are they tired?
Are they lonely?
Are they angry?
The more you look into gentle and positive parenting the more you will see this come up. When those basic needs aren’t being met our emotional state is very fragile. By responding to their needs you are creating a trusting relationship with them. It’s important that you do not dismiss lonely and angry as something our child can need our help with. Instead of being annoyed by a (frankly) annoying behaviour, we might find that a hug and some one-on-one attention is all they need.
Creating a comforting and warm relationship with your child will give them confidence and will help them to cope with their emotions. You want to connect with them on a deeper level and this will be a huge tool to prevent issues in the future. Sometimes children are in real need of one-on-one attention, or a special hug, or kind words to help them get through the day.
Sometimes children might seek attention in the wrong way, this especially happens when they REALLY need that attention. As parents, we must recognize when our child needs connection, and try to accommodate their need, instead of punish them for the behaviour they chose to use to communicate that to us.
So how do I do this? –
Try to give your child more one-on-one time with you where you aren’t distracted by other things going on. Use this time to really listen to the things that are bothering your child, or just anything your child wants to talk about. You can also try to intentionally speak more encouraging words to your child throughout the day. If you are spending more energy on trying to stop bad behaviour than you are on encouraging good behaviour then the lack of balance will also affect your relationship. And if you also find that you struggle with patience and your own anger problems that can be a big hindrance to your relationship, and so for that, I have made some positive mom affirmations to help us through those grumpy times.
But is This Approach Biblical? Doesn’t the Bible Say to Spank?
Oi, this is a touchy spot for a lot of people. For a long time I was confused because I was all for gentle parenting approaches, it made sense to be as someone who works with children and as someone who has a child, but I was really confused about where spanking fit into all of this. I believe in the entire Bible, that it is the true Word of God, but the idea of spanking did not sit well with me.
So I did some research about spanking and the meaning behind those verses that talk about, “the rod,” and you can read what I read here, here and here. I don’t need to get into full details here, but if you read some of those articles you will probably come to the same conclusion that I did, which is that spanking is actually not Biblical.
I felt liberated when I realized this and I hope you do to.
So does that mean the gentle parenting way is Biblical?
I believe it is, or at least it’s the closest parenting style there is to being “Biblical.” Authoritarian parenting certainly doesn’t seem Biblical (spanking, harsh punishments, fear), and neither does permissive parenting (not teaching our children how to do things).
In the Bible you often see parents guiding and teaching their children, and God the Father is definitely teaching and guiding us. Our God is a God of love, and that fact alone attracts me to Gentle Parenting.
So Should You Try Out Gentle Parenting?
I think that whether you’re a Christian or not, or if your kids are young or old, that you should definitely try out Gentle Parenting. To get you started I would definitely recommend reading The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind which I felt really helped me to understand how even my brain works, and has definitely helped me understand children better.
Changing to Gentle Parenting can be a hard transition to make as a parent, especially if you are used to yelling and shouting. But imagine a home where you don’t feel the need to yell, your children respect you and have confidence in their relationship with you, and obedience is out of love and not fear. Remember, it’s a long term commitment, but it will be totally worth it in the end.
You’ve got this mama,
If you do want to start Gentle Parenting I’ve got some great resources for free yo! And you can grab them below