I'm sure you've heard the term "gentle parenting" floating around the internet lately. If this is a new concept to you, we'll attempt to explain this new approach and how you can incorporate it into your daily family life.
There is no universal guidebook to parenting that tells you how exactly you should raise your child. Often parents develop styles over time, referencing things they've experienced as they grew up and continuing it on with their children.
This can work out great or not so great depending on the experiences they have had. For example, if you grew up in a household where resting or relaxing was considered "lazy" then it makes sense that you would feel ashamed or guilty when you feel tired, want to take a break, or need time for yourself. Sometimes we may repeat these experiences with our own children.
What is Gentle Parenting?
Gentle parenting is an approach to parenting that places a deep emphasis on being partners with your child. Gentle parenting makes parents become aware of their own behaviours which they model to their children, welcomes emotional expression, and fully accepts a child as a capable being.
The main pillar of gentle parenting is reflection. Shelly Robinson shares this quote"Children believe that the way we treat them is how they deserve to be treated". Gentle Parenting calls on you to make reflections on the amount of compassion with which you treat yourself and your child. If you would like to learn more about gentle parenting, Sarah Ockwell-Smith, a parenting expert and author of The Gentle Parenting Book, sums up gentle parenting in three words: empathy, understanding, and respect.
Empathy, Understanding, and Respect- The 3 components of Gentle Parenting
One way of understanding gentle parenting is to view it from the lens of certain truths. For example, we know that children learn by modeling behaviour from their parents, we know that each child is independent of us and we want them to feel loved and seen. This is where empathy, understanding, and respect come into the picture.
Being able to actively listen to your child is a powerful tool for building a strong relationship with your child. A relationship where they can come to you in times of true need and open up to you. Simple things like kneeling and getting down to their eye level, making eye contact, and reaching out to touch their arm or hold their hand when they're upset not only communicate that they have your full attention but that you also empathise and understand their situation.
Make it your priority to know what your children are hoping for, what they're afraid of, and what they feel anxious about. Listen and ask some questions, even if they change the subject, be gentle and demonstrate that you care. When you do these things, you show a great amount of respect to your child.
Three ways you can incorporate Gentle Parenting into your everyday life.
The following tips can help you start incorporating gentle parenting into your everyday life:
1. Comment on the action, not the person - Separate your child's actions from them when you speak. There is a big difference between responding with "You're being rude to your brother" and replacing it with "I don't think your brother likes it when you do that. Let's try sharing this toy for 5 minutes." This helps you emphasize with your child and shows them that while we make mistakes, they do not define who we are. Mistakes are a natural part of life and of learning and shouldn't be shameful as we practice doing the right things.
2. Model kindness. Use kindness and love towards yourself to show your child how to be curious and compassionate about their own emotions. If you're tired, use the opportunity to show or share what self-care looks like to you. You can say, "I am tired today. I'm going to take s nice shower will make me feel more rested, and then I will go to bed early tonight". You'll also be modeling how your child can treat themselves and others in times of need.
3. Swap commands for an invitation to work together. Changing the way you ask questions that encourages your child to work collaboratively with you. A command sounds like "Tie your shoes", a gentle parenting alternative would ask, "Should we tie our shoes so we don't trip?"
We hope this gives you a better understanding of the gentle parenting approach and how you can fit this into your family's daily life. While the strategies above may help you get started, you can learn more about this approach in Sarah Ockwell-Smith's The Gentle Parenting Book.