By Guest Blogger: Jenn Morrison
Author Bio: Jenn is a blogger for Mommy Stroller, which focuses on helping parents figure out which stroller and baby gear they should get. The blog was started by Evelyn and her husband, Paul, who both decided to blog about baby gear after the overwhelming feeling they experienced when trying to pick out their first stroller. Both of them enjoy spending time with family and friends, live music, and going on jogs with their kids (in a stroller).
Five Secrets to Gentle Parenting
Many modern parents are turning to gentle parenting as a way to nurture their children and their family. What is gentle parenting? It’s parenting based on a deep connection with your children and building mutual respect with them. Instead of using a more authoritarian or controlling approach, gentle parenting seeks encouragement and parent-child collaboration. While traditional parenting uses punishments and parent-created consequences, gentle parenting uses more positive reinforcement and natural consequences.
Many parents who practice attachment parenting also practice gentle parenting. Gentle parenting is appealing to many but can be difficult to implement if you’ve never seen it. Many of today’s parents grew up in more traditional households with more controlling parenting styles. This makes it hard to know where to start. Here are five ways you can implement gentle parenting practices in your household.
1. Make Time to Connect
Gentle parenting is rooted in connecting with your children. When you and your child are positively attached and have a healthy relationship, you are better able to guide them in positive ways. In order to have that relationship, you need time to connect with your child.
Look at your family’s schedule. Do you have quality time together every day? How much time do you get with your child? Here are some ways to ensure you’re making enough time for the relationship:
- Have at least one meal as a family every day.
- Carve out a specific time of the day to have a conversation with your children – whether it’s first thing in the morning, right after school, or right before bed.
- If your children have too many activities taking them away from home, work with them to reduce their schedule so they can have more family time.
- Find ways to spend time with your children even if it’s just sitting down with them while they do their homework. It can also be doing something fun like going to a movie or ice skating.
- If you’re an outdoorsy parent, invest in an all-terrain stroller and explore the outdoors with your kids.
2. Replace Commands with Positive Comments
A large part of gentle parenting is in how parents speak to their children. Instead of making demands or commanding your child to do something, you can positively frame the behavior you’re seeking. Examples of commands include:
- “Put your toys away.”
- “Brush your teeth now.”
- “Put your shoes on.”
Gentle parenting seeks to work with the child to achieve what is needed. You can re-frame commands to help your child see that both of you are on the same team. Here are the same statements made in a gentler, positive way:
- “Let’s put these toys away so no one trips over them.”
- “Your teeth probably need a cleaning after all that food you ate! What do you think we could do to get them clean again?”
- “After you put your shoes on, we can leave the house.”
These statements allow your child to work with you to solve problems and make decisions. Incorporating these kinds of statements into your daily life is a staple to creating a deeper connection with your child.
3. Allow for Natural Consequences
As we mature, we experience natural consequences for behaviors all of the time. If we are rude to someone, they probably won’t want to be our friend. If we eat too much junk food, we won’t feel well. If we don’t go to bed at a reasonable time, we’ll be tired. These are all consequences that directly relate to our actions.
Many parents give their children parent-imposed consequences. If children are rude, they are sent to their room, put in time out, or spanked. These consequences are not inherently related to the behavior. They may teach children to behave better, but they may not help their overall decision-making ability or sense of right and wrong.
In order for natural consequences to work, the child must understand cause and effect. Very young children will not always grasp this. If a toddler stays up too late and is tired the next day, they may not understand why they are so tired. In these cases, you must exercise judgment on when it is best to set parent-imposed boundaries as opposed to letting your child experience a natural consequence.
Here are some examples of natural consequences:
- Your children leave their toys or personal items around the house instead of putting them away as they should. You clean up the house and take these items while cleaning, as they left them out for anyone to grab. (You can give the items back after a few hours or days. Some parents have a “weekend box” that they collect items in. The child gets them back on the weekend.)
- Your children are told their clothes will be washed if they are placed in the hamper for dirty clothes. They do not do so, so their clothes are not washed and they must search around for something to wear or do their own laundry.
- Your children refuse to eat the dinner they are served. They can either go hungry or make their own dinner (and clean it up) from whatever you have in the pantry.
- Your children are hitting you or yelling at you. You tell them you will no longer play with them and move on to a different activity or space without them.
- Your children leave their homework at home and lose all of the points on the assignment (as opposed to you bringing it in for them).
Natural consequences can be implemented more and more as a child gets older and makes his or her own decisions. As children make their own decisions and learn from them, they gain more of a sense of responsibility.
4. Give Your Children Choices
Giving your children options helps them learn decision making at an early age and gives them a chance to collaborate with you. Options are particularly helpful for younger children who cannot understand the cause and effect relationship of natural consequences.
As toddlers learn about the world and their preferences, they start to want to take control and make decisions. Instead of stifling this, you can give it an outlet. This will help you avoid standoffs with your child or unnecessary back-and-forth with them. It will also ensure you don’t just command them around all the time, but instead develop a relationship with them.
Here are some examples of ways you can give your child choices:
- Allow your children to go shopping with you for dinner items. They can pick out the vegetables you will eat that week for dinner. You can let them pick which days you will eat each vegetable.
- When getting ready for bed, you can frame necessary tasks as a choice, even if all of them need to be done. “What would you like to do first? Brush your teeth or put pajamas on?”
- You can set up a trade with them. “That paint might stain your clothes. I have markers and crayons you can color with. Which one would you like to use?”
- When deciding on summer vacation plans, let them have a say on whether they want to explore the great outdoors, or explore a different city.
5. Acknowledge Feelings and Empathize
Another staple to connecting with your child is recognizing their emotional state. Even as adults, we have times where we are happy, sad, and angry. We cry and get frustrated. We yell and have bad days. Children also have bad days and get frustrated. They live in a world they don’t understand sometimes, and they don’t see why they cannot do all the things they want to do. They don’t always want to do what they are asked, just like we do not always want to fulfill obligations.
You cannot change certain things. For instance, you will never allow your child to do something dangerous like run out in the street. You can acknowledge your child’s frustration and empathize with them, though. You can explain why certain boundaries are in place. Instead of just demanding they stop doing something or telling them they are wrong, you can recognize their desires and emotions while laying a firm boundary.
Here are some examples of acknowledging your child’s feelings:
- “I understand the stove looks fun and that you like to pretend to cook. The stove is really hot, though. You could burn your finger and that would make you sad and hurt. So, we’re going to stay safe and not touch the stove.”
- “I know you’re mad that you can’t go outside today. It’s ok to be mad. Yelling at me and hitting me will not change that you can’t go outside, so we are not going to do that. If you need to stamp your feet or count to ten to feel better, you can. How about we take a drink of water and relax for a minute?”
Gentle parenting is not easy and takes quite a bit of practice. You may have times where you lose your patience, yell at your children, or get into a fight with them. This is normal and does not mean you are ruining your parenting. Every day is a chance to continue learning with your child and find gentle ways to guide them.
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