Six Steps To Work Towards Gentle Parenting
The following six steps can help you to transition to more gentle parenting:
1) Resolve to respect your children
As adults we command respect from our children, and other adults, on a daily basis. We expect to be treated in a certain way, we expect others to take our thoughts, rights and beliefs into account in all dealings with us. If a child in particular shows us a lack of respect we are quick to pull them up on it (especially if they are tweens or teens!), yet do we afford our children the same priviledge?
If we respected our children we would listen when they woke crying in the middle of the night instead of returning them to bed with minimal eye contact or conversation. If we respected our children we would not force them to eat the untouched brocolli on their plate that they beg us to leave. If we respected our children we wouldn’t say “because I said so” or escalate into yelling at tweens and teens. If we respected our children we would not ignore their overwhelming emotions when they tantrum in public. If we respected our children we would never consciously hurt them emotionally or physically.
If we respected our children they would respect us and not feel the need to display half of the behaviours listed above.
2) Resolve to empathise with your children
Children have bad days just like us, some days the world is overwhelming, some days they are scared, lonely, confused, anxious or angry. Some days they need duvet days, hugs and for us to listen to them. How would you feel if you were treated in the same way that you treat your child?
If we empathised with our children we would not leave them crying alone in their crib at night – even if it is for only 5 minute intervals. If we empathised with our children we would never make them sit on a naughty step or put them in ‘time out’. If we empathised with our children we wouldn’t yell at them and we would never intentionally hurt them. If we empathised with our children we would listen to them more and speak at them less.
If we empathised with our children they would grow to be empathic towards others, including their parents, and would not feel the need to display half of the behaviours listed above.
3) Allow your children to have their own opinions and make their own choices.
For some reason many adults seem to believe that children are incapable of making their own good choices and need steering as much as possible, similarly we often punish a child who holds different opinions to us. We do however aspire to raise children who are thinkers, confident and assertive and questioning of the world – how do we expect them to be so if we take such control over their lives?
Children need to make mistakes, the best way for them to learn what is a good and what is a bad choice is to let them experience the natural consequences of their actions. The best way to raise a child who respects the opinions of others is to respect the child’s individual opinions ourselves. That also means allowing them to make age appropriate decisions as much as possible. If they are not of an age where they are capable of making a big decision about their lives – then we owe it to our children to not make that decision for them unless it threatens their physical health or psychological wellbeing.
If we allowed our children to make mistakes and valued their opinions they would grow to respect the opinions of others and know the value of good and bad choices at an age when they need to the most.
4) Reset your expectations to what is age appropriate and normal
Much parenting angst stems from our skewed perceptions of what is and isn’t normal when it comes to babies and children. From night waking to naps, eating to behaviour, our perception of what is normal and what is “a problem” is usually far from the truth.
It is normal for babies to wake regularly throughout the night well into their second year, it is normal for toddlers to bite, throw and hit, it is normal for preschoolers to not want to share, it is normal for a 5 year old to not understand – or care – how their actions can upset another and it is normal for a tween or teen to have uncontrollable bouts of anger that result in door slamming or wall punching. All of these behaviours are related to brain maturation (or rather the lack of), they are not behaviours that mean you are raising a monster they are just a relection of biology.
Make a resolution to understand the normal physiology and psychology of children, particularly the same age as yours and throw out any books or magazines that are ignorant to this knowledge and stop visiting parenting websites that are full of forums and advice article that promote otherwise.
When we reset our expectations of our children based on biological fact it is easier to be kind to ourselves as well as our children and will also result in more respect, empathy and allowance of control too.
5) Take time to nurture yourself
Parenting is really hard, particularly in the times that we live in. We are not meant to parent alone, we are meant to do it as part of a group – who provide emotional and physical support. We are not meant to parent and take a full time job, parenting is a full time job. We are not meant to worry about our physical appearance 3 weeks post partum.
As parents today we have so much added stress that we forget to see parenting for what it is – the most important job in the world. If you spend all day doing nothing but cradling a fractious newborn, bouncing a teething 6 month old or laying with a poorly toddler you haven’t “failed” or “done nothing” – you have done everything, and then some.
We get so frazzled as parents – with money worries, relationship issues and work concerns, we are exhausted dealing with all of the sleepless nights alone and our stress rises. We become so full of our own overwhelming emotions that we are unable to ‘hold’ any from our children. So we snap. We shout at them, we send them to their room when we know what we really should have done is talk. We leave babies to cry themselves to sleep because we just can’t face another night with no sleep. These problems though are ours, not those of our children. They don’t need fixing – we do.
Taking care of yourself as a parent is not a luxury or a bonus if you have a spare 5 minutes, it’s is a vital part of who you are and what you do. When you nurture yourself in body and soul you will have more patience, more respect, more empathy and more understanding of your children and your increased ability to deal with their issues as well as your own, will mean you will have far less of their issues to deal with.
6) Give them your attention.
Many ‘parenting experts’ comment that babies and toddlers only behave in a certain way in order to elicit the attention of their parents, like this is a bad thing. Parents are advised to ignore the attention seeking behaviour, when what they really need to do is to see it as a need that should be met.
Our lives are so busy, so full of screens and half hearted “in a minute honey” and “that’s nice dear” comments, so full of rushed bedtimes, meals on the run, clubs, classes and playdates. Our lives are so full of ‘stuff’ – toys, apps and equipment – that our children are growing up ‘stuff rich’ but ‘attention poor’.
If children persistently act in ways we do not like in order to get our attention – be that hitting, biting, throwing, crying, tantruming, door slamming or sulking – by far the easiest way to distinguish the unwanted behaviour is to give them our undivided attention. Not only does this have untold benefits for our children – but for us too, for it means we slow down and begin to see the wonder in the world once again.
By Sarah Ockwell-Smith – Our resident Baby and Toddler Expert.