Gentle parenting. What have you heard about it? Maybe it’s something you’ve heard in parent groups, or Facebook chats, or even in the media (as the latest parenting trend)?
Whatever your preconceptions about gentle parenting are, I can wholeheartedly say that it’s transformed the way me and my husband parent our two little girls.
So What Is Gentle Parenting?
Gentle parenting is also sometimes lumped together with attachment parenting, conscious parenting, hippy parenting, lazy parenting, mindful parenting, respectful parenting and probably some others I may have missed – and while some of those labels make sense (respectful, mindful, conscious), there are still way too many misunderstandings out there about what gentle parenting is and what it is not….
One simple definition of gentle parenting comes from the person who helped me so much in my early parenting journey, Sarah Ockwell-Smith….
Gentle parenting often goes against much of the mainstream parenting advice from the so-called experts we see and hear from. Gentle parenting, in my experience, is the overall understanding that parenting is not about punishment, discipline, bribery, rewards or threats – it’s about trying your best to understand and appreciate that this tiny little human being in your care is completely and utterly dependent on you, watching and observing you, and most importantly – learning from you all about life and the world around them.
Gentle parenting is about slowing down and appreciating the world from their perspective.
The (little) big things. The things that matter to them. The ways they are trying to understand this new world for them. How they interpret people, experiences, words and actions.
Gentle parenting is about ‘guiding’ little ones, showing them the way, but ultimately letting them tread their own path, even from a young age. In babies, this might look like not placing them on their front for ‘tummy time’ – without at least explaining to them what you’re doing (and why), or letting them choose if they have a pacifier or not (yes even tiny babies have the ability to make decisions like this – even if they can’t yet respond in a verbal way!)
It’s about being open to doing things differently and seeing things from another perspective; one that might completely challenge our whole way of being until that point in our life.
Making Gentle Parenting Work for You
Each of us probably has our own definition of what gentle parenting is, as we have such individual experiences. But I know from my personal experience of following a gentle parenting path for over 5 years now, that it has brought so much joy and happiness to our family, that I could not even imagine doing things any other way.
Is it always easy? Nope! What path in parenting ever is?
Does it mean our kids are always calm, happy, well behaved? Nope! They are kids and we embrace the whole range of their emotions, including the ‘big’ ones – yes, the often embarrassing public displays of emotion or assertion (aka tantrums!)
Does it mean we have all the answers as parents? Absolutely not!
But, it has most definitely helped us to enjoy this parenting journey even more…
10 Ways Gentle Parenting Has Helped Us to Enjoy Life More
1. Understanding Our Brains More
I’ve always been fascinated by how our brains work, but by learning and fully appreciating how the brain develops in babies and young children is an ongoing passion for me. It has helped us to understand so much about our little ones, and has given us lots of practical advice and reassurance about what is developmentally ‘normal’ and expected at each stage of their growth.
For example, I loved learning that when children are having tantrums or being ‘demanding’, argumentative or ‘difficult’ – it’s not because they are trying to annoy us in some way. They don’t have the cognitive abilities to be manipulative or to think logically about the consequences of their behaviours until closer to 7 or 8 years of age.
They are simply leveraging their primal brain to command attention from their caregivers (i.e. mum / dad etc.) because they are wired to know that their life depends on it. Their modern day brain hasn’t caught up with the reality that being left alone in a room while mum goes to the bathroom for 2 minutes is not a life or death situation, but their primal brain is protecting them from sabre-toothed tigers who might be out to eat them.
I highly recommend The Whole Brain Child and No Drama Discipline to learn more about these behavioural stages and how to handle them.
Once I learnt about how the brain works in young babies and kids I really started to see them and their behaviour in a whole new light.
2. We Live Within (Safe and Agreed) Boundaries
Contrary to popular belief, gentle parenting, does not mean we have no boundaries, no rules, or no discipline (in the traditional sense). What it does mean is setting up agreements and limits and expectations. And everyone works better to those in any part of life. Kids thrive off boundaries and when they know what’s expected of them, instead of being yelled at, ordered around and shamed or punished.
My eldest recently started school, and despite being at nursery / daycare / kindy since aged 2 for a couple of days a week, we have rarely had to follow a strict schedule… until now. I’ve been fortunate to work from home and so I have not really needed to get into a morning of rushing around and being out the door for a certain time.
But now that school starts at a certain time, and we have a 15 minute window for her to arrive to her class, we do have to set some clear boundaries about what is and what is not ok in the morning. And before you think we have it all together and enjoy a beautifully relaxed morning, think again!
We are still ironing out the creases but we have found having a morning routine chart has really helped our eldest daughter to understand what needs to happen before we leave the house in the morning. It started off really well, and she was super into it, but now we are a few weeks in, the novelty has worn off a little bit. But she does understand what needs to happen (i.e. breakfast, feed the dog, get dressed etc.)
Note: this is not a traditional reward chart. We do not offer rewards for doing this, because we believe that our kids need to learn the basics of looking after yourself and getting yourself ready without being externally motivated (or punished), which many mainstream reward charts encourage. What we do have are natural consequences. So, for example, this week my daughter got into the car and they drove off without her school bag. So my husband had to drop her off then loop back and pick it up. Yes this was a massive inconvenience, and yes we are lucky we could do it, but she is 5 years old and when you consider how many adults walk out the door forgetting their essentials I believe we have to cut our kids some slack sometimes!
It did provide a learning opportunity though – no shaming involved, but a discussion the next morning about the importance of referring back to the morning routine chart to avoid missing something again in the future.
3. We Get To Enjoy Family Time More
Believe me, we are far from perfect, and still have so much to learn, but by following a gentle parenting path, we are not putting our expectations onto each other or onto our children. Instead, we get to enjoy our time together as a family even more.
Examples of this for us include, child-led toilet training, child-led weaning, child-led behaviour and consequences (for the most part). We don’t dole out punishments, or rewards; no time outs, naughty steps or deprivation of time or resources (or love!) This just goes against our grain. What we do follow is a very gentle approach when things go wrong (which they do regularly…. sibling arguments, squabbles, tired emotional outbursts etc.) Our basic approach is…
Reconnect – we often ask ‘can I give you a hug right now?‘ This usually helps their bodies to dissolve the tension a little. And it reminds them they are loved, despite their behaviour (they are not their behaviour after all).
Recalibrate – we then talk about what happened from their perspective – we let them talk, vent, explain without interruption or judgement. The little things to them can become so much bigger if an adult dismisses them as ‘silly’ or ‘nothing to cry about.’
Remind – if their behaviour hurt or upset someone else, this is a great learning opportunity to remind them ‘we don’t hit’, ‘biting hurts’ or ‘that really upset your sister’ etc. Depending on the situation, this might take place immediately, or later that same day when everyone is a little calmer.
Time in, (not time out) is what kids need when their emotions take over their body.
4. Life Is Just Less Stressful (For the Most Part)!
If you’re not constantly arguing, nagging, shouting, or anything else with your children, you actually have more time to enjoy life with them.
But, this can take a lot of ‘letting go’ on the parents part. It’s so much easier to jump in and try to fix things immediately, especially if someone else is involved.
This, though, usually comes down more to the parents fear of what others will think or say about them, instead of what’s best for the child.
For example, if your child hurts a stranger’s child in the playground, the majority of parents will instantly jump into scolding mode – either physically (hitting, picking the child up etc.) or by shouting, demanding their child apologises to the other kid and generally shaming their child for their behaviour.
I am not saying to let this kind of behaviour go without any reaction at all. But as the parent it is up to you to model what that reaction needs to be. A calm question to your own child ‘tell me what happened’ (not asking why they did it) gives them a safe space to reflect on their actions knowing you have their back (because if you don’t, who does?) Then if an apology is needed to the other child it could be you that models how to say it, instead of forcing your own child to do it inauthentically. Young children saying ‘sorry’ when they don’t fully understand the meaning behind it is pointless. But you saying to the child who was hurt, shows what the right thing to do it (if your child was actually in the wrong of course).
Believe me, I know this sounds counter-productive, but it can really help to diffuse the situation and model for your child the best way to navigate a situation, without shaming them or forcing them into a false apology.
This is way less stressful than yelling and embarrassing your child – and they will learn to model your calmness (eventually).
5. It Gives You a Great Perspective on Human Beings as a Whole
To learn about how gentle parenting can help children is an incredible opportunity, even for adults to grow. It also helps you realise that we are all just the same – adults are just grown up versions of children, so, we all experience the same kind of emotions and challenges. If you can give yourself permission to learn and improve on your own behaviour (because none of us are perfect!) then it can really help to open up and see children for the amazing, wise little people they are.
You’ve probably heard the saying ‘hurt people, hurt people’ and angry people were yelled at as children; so by adopting a more gentle / respectful / mindful approach to parenting, you are able to change the patterns in history that no longer serve us in our modern world – punishment, bullying, physical and emotional abuse happens in cycles, but we all have the power to influence change simply by changing our own approach to ourselves and our children.
6. It Gives You Permission to Let Go of the Traditional Expectations of Parenthood
I completely let go of any expectations and demands on me as a parent that society in traditional Western culture had imposed.
Before becoming a mum I never gave any consideration to how I would actually ‘be’ a mother. I prepared for the birth, I bought the baby clothes, decorated the room and did all the usual things like that. But I never thought about how I would care for my baby’s emotional needs or handle discipline.
By finding the gentle parenting path, I was able to do it my way. The way that felt right to me. As soon as my daughter arrived I intuitively knew I wouldn’t do things like sleep train, force her to move or sit in a certain way (i.e. tummy time) – all of those normal things that we just fall into doing because of conditioning or not knowing any other way. And so gentle parenting was an opportunity for me to feel totally aligned as a new mum and it continued from there (to this day, over 5 years later) where I continually question the norm of parenthood!
7. It Opened up a Whole New Way of Life
Despite my early parenting path being a haze of breastfeeding pain and sleep deprivation, I can now see exactly how things were just preparing me for where I am today, and where I am headed.
The gentle parenting approach has helped me to heal some of my own conditioning, and scars from my past, and the same for my husband. It has opened us up to so many new possibilities in our own development journey, and one that we now share with our kids.
It’s not easy to go against the grain, but wow is it worth it!
8. It’s My Legacy
This might sound a little cliche, egotistical or just downright crazy, but I truly believe that I was brought into this world not only to bring my girls into it, but to help, empower, support and guide other mums and families along their parenting path too.
It gives me so much pride and pleasure when I’ve helped to hold space for a new mum struggling to go against the conditioning she’s held on to for so long, and then see her find the strength within her to be the best mum she can be for her little one.
I really feel that this is my way of giving back and I am beyond obsessed with helping as many people as possible create a life they love, with the ones they love the most.
9. It’s What My Business (i.e. This Site) Is Now Based On!
If you’d told me 5 years ago when I was pregnant with my first child that I would be building a thriving business around my gentle parenting journey I would have thought you were crazy! Back then, I was in a local government role, well paid, commanded attention in board meetings and trained hundreds of staff in change management, software and communications skills.
And now…. well life looks a little different and I would not have it any other way!
I’m a gentle parenting and life coach for mums-to-be and families who want to tread their own path on their parenting journey, and I’m also integrating what I’m learning as a human design reader into my services (more on that below).
10. It Just Feels Right
Finally, and most recently, I’ve learnt that my intuitive path of motherhood and the gentle parenting approach aligns beautifully with human design (if you have no idea what I’m talking about read my post about human design here).
Learning about human design has given me the tools, framework and deep understanding of why I do what I do, why I feel what I feel and how I can help my girls become the people they are meant to be, in true and authentic alignment with themselves.
Ready to add Human Design to your parenting toolkit?
Keen to dive deeper?