- Children need help understanding and managing the emotions they are feeling.
- In gentle parenting, there is discipline, which is not the same as punishment.
- Discipline is not reactive. It is based on positive reinforcement.
I just had my fourth baby in five years. Any parent can tell you that those early years take immense patience.
Unfortunately for me, patience is not my forte. But by learning about gentle parenting and its effectiveness, I was able to better understand what my children were going through.
When I focused more on working with my children to help them better understand their emotions, rather than punishing them for their actions, they learned that their feelings were valid because they learned to manage them.
Children constantly need guidance and examples. Gentle parenting allows children to understand the “why” behind their actions and emotions, rather than knowing how to suppress them for fear of punishment.
While soft parenting has been practiced for many generations, the term “soft parenting” was coined by child care author and parenting expert Sarah Ockwell-Smith. It stems from the attachment-parenting method, which gained popularity in the 1980s.
Children communicate with the limited resources and knowledge available to them. It’s our job as parents to equip them with the proper tools to recognize their emotions and find ways to communicate them effectively.
Phrases such as “stop crying” and “go to your room until you calm down” have been used by parents for generations when a child is experiencing strong emotions. The basis of gentle parenting is not shutting down those strong emotions, which are normal, but rather giving children the tools to deal with them in healthy ways.
How does soft parenting work?
Parental gentleness can be summed up by the golden rule: “Treat others as you would like to be treated.” It recognizes that your child is a person with the same emotional capacity as everyone else. They just need help understanding these emotions.
Soft parenting allows the child to participate in the decision-making process and learn through natural consequences, rather than rigid consequences imposed by their parents. It focuses more on the need or problem in which their behavior is rooted, instead of ignoring their point of view. It helps children develop the tools needed to regulate their emotions and control their behavior.
Discipline is not the same as punishment
Discipline and punishment are not the same. Discipline involves positive reinforcement to teach children boundaries and rules. Punishment involves unnatural consequences and is used as a form of control to correct behavior. You can discipline your child and teach him boundaries without making him “pay” for his mistakes.
To have discipline without punishment, you must first be clear about the rules and expectations. Discipline is not reactive. Discipline involves positive reinforcement.
I’m a former preschool teacher with a background in early childhood development, so trust me when I say positive reinforcement is the way to go. It builds trust and rewards children who follow the rules.
I have a toddler who constantly feels the need to assert dominance over his three brothers and on occasion hits them hard. When I use gentle parenting tactics in this situation, I’m not saying, “Oh, you hit them. That’s okay. Are you feeling mad? Can we make sure we’re using gentle hands Now go on your way and keep playing.”
Instead, I say, “Okay, you hit your brothers, and I can tell you’re angry. Feeling that is fine, but you can’t hit.”
Sometimes, despite my best efforts, my toddler will continue to hit. Safety is always the number 1 priority, and if she behaves in a way that could hurt herself or someone else, I step in.
In some cases, I will remove my toddler from the situation and take a few minutes to let him calm down. But I always make it clear that I’m there to help her process if it’s something she wants.
Just as adults get angry and sometimes want to be left alone, so do children. The difference, however, is that children still depend on their parents for most of their comfort.
By using gentle parenting, I give my children a solid foundation to learn about understanding, processing, and reacting when strong emotions take over. It is something that I know they will benefit from once they are alone in the world.
Chrissy Horton is a former kindergarten teacher turned mom of four, with a background in early childhood development.