When I first learned I was having a baby — my angel baby — I started seeing targeted videos about parenting, especially “gentle parenting,” coming across my feed daily. After my miscarriage, I simply dismissed those videos, but every now and then I was sucked into what the “craze” was about.
Since my niece was born shortly after my miscarriage, I was then brought back into researching and observing parenting styles as I watched how she was being parented by my in-laws.
At first, I agreed with the memes about “gentle parenting” and how it seemed hilarious, child-pleasing, and a very passive way to parent. Witnessing passive parenting being promoted as gentle parenting made it really hard for me to come on board with this parenting style as I did not want my child to never hear the word “no” in their life. As I read on and researched more about this “gentle parenting” movement I learned it was quite the opposite.
Finally, when it was my turn to have a baby, I dove so far down the rabbit hole on gentle parenting, which can also be known as authoritative parenting, responsive parenting, respectful parenting, and conscious parenting.
This research really changed my outlook on the gentle parenting trend. I don’t want to call it a trend, because I really hope this kind of parenting shows some really strong results for emotionally well-rounded adults.
So what do I really mean when I say I’m gentle parenting?
I’m working on myself first to become the person they can model behavior from.
I laugh when I tell people that gentle parenting isn’t being gentle with your children — it’s being gentle with yourself. If you grew up in a home where you had to learn how to regulate your own emotions and didn’t do it the healthy way — this is where the work comes in.
When you are triggered by your child’s tantrum or meltdown, this is your inner child coming out saying “I DON’T LIKE THIS! I CAN’T HANDLE THIS! MAKE IT STOP!”
And then naturally you will do whatever it takes — maybe drawing from your childhood experiences — to make it stop. It is almost an instinctual response you project when this happens.
This may sound silly, but taking some extra time out of your day to sit down with your inner child and really figure out what they need to become a well-emotionally regulated human, could help you out the next time you feel triggered. Healing your inner child heals you and helps you guide your child through their emotional dysregulation.
It takes a lot of hard work and time. I’m still working on myself. I’m not a perfect human. I make lots of mistakes, but I work hard to do my best.
I’m setting realistic boundaries.
I’m letting my child know what my boundaries are and what happens when they are crossed. I am being respectful of their emotions and feelings, but not compromising my boundaries. It’s tough to say “no” and listen to their tears. It’s tough to hear them scream and cry because they are upset over the boundary that was being kept.
Being firm about a boundary lets them know there are limitations to what can be done in this world and, for this instance, it’s our home.
Some of my boundaries may look like:
- No jumping or walking on the furniture (couch, chair, bed, etc.)
- Holding my hand when crossing the street or parking lot
- Gentle hands and feet with friends, family, and pets.
- Taking shoes off when entering a home.
These are some pretty reasonable boundaries. They’re age-appropriate and can be reinforced easily. It’s important to not set too many boundaries as that can be viewed more as an authoritarian parenting style with strict rules and stronger punishments.
I don’t “discipline” my child.
Putting your kid in timeout does nothing to teach them a lesson. If anything, it will only bring fear into their decision-making and resentment towards you for isolating them when they needed you.
What it does for you is it puts your child in an area where you don’t have to see them while you are in a state of dysregulation.
I don’t discipline my child in the “traditional” way of discipline. I don’t spank. I don’t put him in timeout alone. I don’t send him to his room and leave him there dysregulated.
I get down to his level and try to bring him to my level of calm. If that doesn’t help, I gently suggest he takes a moment in a safe spot. We call it “taking a moment”. Sometimes, that safe spot is me and we sit together on the floor/couch/stairs quietly while we slow our breathing and find our calm. Together, we reach a resolution on what triggered the “bad behavior”.
Note: I don’t like calling it bad behavior because it was not a smart choice. We call things smart choices or sad choices — because a sad choice usually ends up with tears. I took this phrase from a dear friend of mine and it really worked with my toddler.
Before you roll your eyes and say “Yeah, right” I just wanted to point out this doesn’t happen every time:
- Sometimes, we’re both in a dysregulated state and we’re both yelling.
- Sometimes, I carry him out of the store kicking and screaming.
- Sometimes, I do not say a word and stand there and wait.
- Sometimes, I “punish” by taking an object away and putting THAT in timeout while in my dysregulated state.
None of the above have been my proudest moments. I never let that go unnoticed. I do address and repair with my toddler after these incidents. We always talk about what happened between the both of us.
Disciplining a child when they’re in a high state of dysregulation will never give you the behavior you are seeking from them. It will only show them that they cannot trust you when they feel this way.
This doesn’t mean that they are NEVER going to get “punished” for their “sad choices”. It just means I’m dealing with the underlying issue first then addressing that sad/bad choice they made. We regulate, find a resolution to the conflict, and move on.
If my response was to yell, I apologize for my response to their emotions, but I’m not giving them a pass for what they did. I’m owning up on my end on what I did… and most of the time, it gives them the space to do the same.
“I’m sorry for hitting you Mommy, I was really mad.” — my 2.5-year-old toddler after our moment.
We Repair A Lot.
Every night as we cuddle together before my toddler falls asleep, if he had a hard day or a lot of strong emotions during the day, we talk about what happened. I usually like using this time as we are both calm and far removed from the situation and it really gives me an insight into what he was thinking and feeling at the time. It also allows me to store those thoughts so I can pull them up for any future meltdowns to help bring him back to a calm center.
As I mentioned before, I’m still working on my triggers and a lot of the time I end up being harsh and yelling a lot. I use our calm time to repair. I apologize for my response or behavior. He tells me he loves me. I tell him I love him always and then sometimes he’ll apologize for his response to the situation as well.
I always make it known that I love him unconditionally and it doesn’t matter if he’s happy, sad, mad, or if he makes mistakes (Ms. Rachel Song). I also tell him that he’s a good kid, having a hard time. (Thanks, Dr. Becky!)
I couldn’t do this without the support of my husband, who takes in all the information I find in my rabbit holes dive, endures endless podcast episodes I send to him, and reads some of the parenting books I buy.
Together we do our best to be our best and raise an emotionally rounded human.