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Thoughts on Gentle Parenting

It’s bloody hard, I’ll tell you that.

When I say the words ‘gentle parenting’ often people will just assume that means I’m a pushover and I let my kids rule the roost. What it actually means is treating your child like they are a human being, respecting them and their feelings the same way you would respect another adult.

For example, when I am in a bad mood I have my brow perpetually furrowed, I sigh and grumble a lot, roll my eyes and get stroppy when other people don’t respect my bad mood. I snap at people, or shut myself away, maybe I have a little cry.

When my child is in a bad mood she starts picking on her brother, or whining and making demands. Maybe she cries about something seemingly trivial, and tries successfully to get on my nerves and stamps her feet.

At this point conventional parenting would tell me to punish her. She should cheer up, end her bad mood instantly because it’s irritating me and it doesn’t suit me. She should shift her behaviour based on what is pleasing to me.

But what does this teach her? Does it teach her how to manage these big emotions? Does it teach her how to calm down? Or does punishment teach her how to bottle it all up, and make herself smaller just to please other people?

Gentle parenting is acknowledging the bad mood, helping them to understand the bad mood and what triggered it, then teaching them healthy coping techniques to get themselves back to their calm, more positive baseline.

Think about how many less adults would be in therapy today if we all knew how to regulate our own emotions? And I am not knocking therapy at all, I speak to a therapist regularly myself it’s a wonderful tool for healing and growing.

What if our children don’t need to heal when they are adults? What if we could raise emotionally healthy, stable individuals, who aren’t people pleasers? Who are tough, full of empathy, and can maintain healthy, loving boundaries?

When we expect children to fall in line, shut up, and bottle emotion simply because it isn’t pleasing to us, or we don’t want to deal with it, then we are setting the standard for the rest of their lives.

When my daughter is tired and I am making her walk ten minutes to the local shop with me to get some much needed supplies, if she whines and complains, picks on her brother and is just generally in a disastrous, awful mood, should I expect her to put up and shut up just because I say so?

She is tired, she is hot, she is having to do a task that she doesn’t want to do because we need milk and she’s too young for me to leave her behind at home. No matter how prepared you are in this world, you will end up in this situation as a parent every now and then. She doesn’t need me to demand that she quits whining immediately or she’ll be punished. She needs me to listen. She needs me to explain and coach her through it.

Being a pushover would be skipping the trip entirely to suit her demands. Being a gentle parent is doing it because we need to, but not punishing her for having real human feelings. If I were tired and hot and told I had no choice but to walk ten minutes there and back under the baking sun on an errand I didn’t feel was particularly important then you are damn right I would be mad. As an emotionally healthy adult I would deal with it in my way. As an emotional wreck of a seven-year-old, my daughter needs to be taught how to regulate herself to set her up for adulthood where we don’t always get our own way.

Getting through to an emotional wreck of a seven-year-old is not easy, especially if she is too far gone in her melt down. Think of all the anxiety, desperation and rage that must be coursing through her small body when she’s screaming and shouting. Think of a time when you, too, have felt so angry or upset that you were screaming and shouting. Would you have calmed down just because someone told you that you had to?

Every child will respond differently in those situations, it’s about showing your child that you can hear them and that their complaint is valid. Hear them. It is so important. Hold them if they want to be held. Wait for them patiently if they are not ready to be held.

Hear them, validate them, teach them.

Once I have heard and validated my daughter in the example above she is calmer, more receptive to being coached and talked to. Then I explain that we need milk because she wants her cereal in the morning, and that if we don’t go she can’t have it and neither can her brothers. I tell her we have to do this task, but it’s okay to be mad about it. I give her some examples of the things we have to look forward to once we’ve finished this task. I ask her what she would like to do next. If she’s really mad still we will do some breathing exercises, more hugs, I’ll try to make her smile and reframe her day.

Sometimes I might also be in a bad mood. Some days I might feel like I don’t have the patience for myself let alone the patience for her too. Those are the days when gentle parenting is incredibly hard. Finding patience and calm when you are already in lack of it is hard. Nobody is perfect, and on those days if you snap at her and shout, that’s okay too. The next step is making sure you apologise for snapping. This is all part of the lessons for self regulation, teaching them that emotions are okay and even grown ups get mad and lose their shit. The key is to apologise and show her that it is right to admit when we are wrong and when we have made mistakes, and to apologise to the people that we might have hurt.

Model the behaviour that you want to see in your child and I promise you will see it returned ten fold.

Here’s to raising emotional healthy human beings!

© Emma Stead


22 responses to “Thoughts on Gentle Parenting”

  1. Dear Emma,
    This is a thoughtgul piece and makes me aware of the difficulty I sometimes have in apprehending and knowing what to do with my own emotions. The Tough Love philosophy helped me parent my children through their teenage years, partly because it demanded that I recognise my feelings and deal with them in a more adult/ conscious way. Uptil then I think I was very inconsistent in boundary setting, varying decisions according to my mood and the situation. Funny thing though, it doesn’t feel like Gentle parenting and Tough love are incompatible. I may think on that.
    Thank you, Emma, for your thoughts on better parenting.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You are on the right track for sure. I always treated my sons like they were small humans and with the greatest respect and love. Because of that, we have now got a strong relationship based on mutual trust and friendship. I never had the terrible twos or the rebellious teenage years that many people speak of. I think it has to do with treating them the way I would like to be treated myself. It wasn’t easy but great relationships take time and effort no matter who it is with and our children are probably the most important next to our spouse, so it’s worth it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this! It really is worth investing that time on your relationship with your children and it’s amazing to hear that it made you and your children closer. Often I think people confuse respect with obedience, particularly in parenting. An obedient child isn’t necessarily a well rounded, emotionally healthy, respectful child. Sometimes they are just afraid of consequence.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I treat my kids the way I want them to treat each other and others. A while back, we had a guest who was surprised when I asked my daughter – 10 yo- for her opinion, then thanked her for it. Please, thank you, I’m sorry, and making time to listen to complaints, thoughts, actions are all necessary care for children. I don’t give them the standard “because,” or say “no” without explaining the reason behind it, even when they were too young to understand.
    I’ve never heard – and am grateful every day for it – anyone complaining about something my kids did. Not from teachers, neighbors, or even other kids. Oh, they’re not little angels, far from that, but they understand respect and responsibilities.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is wonderful and insightful advice, Emma. I raised my son and daughter on my own (my violent ex. left when they were 3 and 5). I wish I’d been able to read this when I was bringing them up. (They are parents themselves now, and I now have four grandchildren between 7-16). I was only 20 years old when I had my son and 21 with my daughter. As a child of a very disjointed, distant and abusive family, I never learned about the positive ways of bringing children up, let alone gentle parenting. I had a difficult time raising my two – I really didn’t have a clue where to start. I definitely feel like I failed them. Having said that, we get on fine now; they are both in happy relationships with happy, well-balanced children. They seemed to have learned how to parent the ‘right’ way and, thankfully, didn’t just copy my parenting skills, or lack of at the time. Your children are exceptionally fortunate to have you as their mum and will, no doubt, transfer the skills you have taught them to their own children when they’re older. I think you are doing an amazing job as a parent and have shared some really invaluable advice and ideas with your readers, other parents or prospective parents. Thank you for such an honest and eye-opening account of gentle parenting 🌷.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Love this! After my wife and I first had kids and I started reading and listening to figure out what the heck I was doing (still don’t know!) I really became enthralled with the more gentle type of parenting. At first, my wife was concerned it was too much of a “unicorns and rainbows and let’s all share our feelings” type of parenting, without any consequences or boundaries. But over time, we’ve both learned how we can better listen to and attempt to understand and validate our kids’ feelings, while still applying structure and appropriate consequences when necessary. As other posters mentioned, we try to treat them like we would want to be treated when we’re having an emotional meltdown. We’re far from perfect, but hopefully it’s helping our kids (and us!). Thanks for getting the word out!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I like John Rosemond’s definition of parenting: “Transforming wild things into responsible citizens.” If your daughter is seven, you are only 1/3rd of the way there, but what higher privilege is there in life than preparing the next generation? Nice article.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I think you described what gentle parenting should be. Children need guidance on regulating their emotions and reassurance their parents be there for them. I do not have children, just younger siblings. I relate to your words about teaching kids to be emotionally healthy adults. Thank you so much for sharing!


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