From showing my kids real empathy and respect to setting boundaries that make sense, today I’m sharing some of the gentle parenting techniques and rules that I feel make me a better mom. Keep reading to check them out. First, though, let’s start with the basics of gentle parenting.
What is Gentle Parenting?
Gentle parenting is exactly what it sounds like: a kinder and gentler way to raise children. The term comes from Sarah Ockwell-Smith, a childcare expert and author of “The Gentle Parenting Book.” At its core, gentle parenting is about communicating with your kids and viewing them as unique individuals rather than extensions of yourself.
A lot of people mistake it with permissive parenting, but it still involves creating boundaries and setting rules for kids to follow (as does permissive parenting, by the way, just in a different way). It just approaches how we handle both the creation of those rules and the consequences for breaking them.
As Healthline explains, “The tools of gentle parenting are connection, communication, and consistency. Ask any parent who follows this style and they’ll tell you to add a good measure of patience to these three Cs to keep things running smoothly.”
I think the best way to demonstrate the core values of gentle parenting is to just dive right in and share my techniques with you.
Gentle Parenting Techniques That Make Me a Better Mom
First, let me just make something clear upfront. I’m not saying you can’t be a good mom if you don’t follow these gentle parenting techniques. As they say, there’s no single way to be a perfect parent and a million ways to be a good one.
I do feel strongly that following this method makes ME a better mom to MY kids. There are so many parenting styles out there. You need to decide which one is best for YOUR kids. Now that we got that out of the way, let’s get started. Aside from the first one, these aren’t in a specific order of importance.
1. Put empathy front-and-center
Empathy is the most important aspect of gentle parenting, and it needs to be a part of everything that you do. Your kids aren’t just little robots programmed to follow orders. They’re living, breathing beings with very real thoughts, feelings, and needs. Put yourself in your kids’ shoes. Remember what it was like to be little. The great thing about parenting is that we’ve already experienced what it’s like to be little, so it’s a lot easier to empathize with our children.
2. Set reasonable age-appropriate boundaries
Before you set a boundary, ask yourself if it’s reasonable based on what your child is actually capable of doing. Not what you think they should be able to do, not what you want them to do, but actually capable of doing based on their development.
For example, you may want your 2-year-old to sit quietly at a restaurant, share nicely with others, and not throw a tantrum in the middle of the store. However, developmentally speaking she’s just not capable of those things yet. Kids don’t develop abilities such as self-control (including emotional control) and sharing until around age 4.
3. Set boundaries with reason
Along with setting reasonable boundaries based on my kids’ ages, I am also a strong advocate of setting boundaries with reason. By that, I mean that I don’t make arbitrary “because I said so” rules. Every single rule that I make has a logical and justifiable reason behind it.
Take healthy eating for example. I don’t just tell my kids, “Because I said so” when they ask why they can’t have chocolate for breakfast. Instead, I view it as a teaching opportunity and openly discuss with them why it’s so important to eat right.
Kids are more likely to respect- genuinely respect in the literal sense- a rule if they understand why it matters. That’s important to me. I don’t want my kids to just blindly follow orders now. I want to give them boundaries that will help them throughout their entire lives, and the only way I can do that is if they actually understand the reasoning behind a rule.
4. Don’t be afraid to say “yes” sometimes
Let’s go back to healthy eating. When we’re home, I focus on feeding my family real homemade food. That means saying no to and limiting (or outright eliminating) processed junk, sugary snacks, and other stuff that’s not really good for anyone, let alone kids.
However, when we go on vacation, I say “yes” more often. We still eat healthy for the most part, but I relax the rules and let them have things that they don’t often (or ever) get at home. Some would find that inconsistent, but I explain to my kids upfront that vacation rules are different from home rules. So they know not to expect the same laxity at home if that makes sense.
5. Raise your words, not your voice
One of my favorite gentle parenting quotes comes from the poet Rumi. It goes, “Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.” Unless your goal is to terrify and terrorize, yelling at your kids doesn’t really accomplish anything. Think about it, how do you feel when someone screams at you?
Just about every parent has snapped at some point and shouted at their kids. I’m not saying you’re a bad mom if you have. I’m just saying that we need to try harder- as hard as humanely possible-to hold our tempers and speak to our kids with the same level of respect that we expect from them.
6. Treat your kids the way you expect them to treat others
This goes along with the last one, but it extends beyond just not yelling at your kids. The golden rule of doing unto others as you want them to do unto you goes for parenting, too. Treat them the way you want them to treat you, and the way you hope they’ll treat others.
Also remember, respect is earned, not freely given. While you can expect your children to show you respect, if you want them to genuinely respect you, then you have to earn it. You have to show them that you’re worthy of true respect by showing them that they are worthy of it, too.
7. Discipline the action, not your child
Discipline in gentle parenting is all about focusing on the actions and making the consequences fit the infraction so that your kids learn and grow. If your son breaks something because he was careless with it, don’t ground him from the TV for a week. TV had nothing to do with his actions, so why should it be included in the consequences? Instead, you could maybe set up a “repayment plan” where he does chores to earn the money to pay for the damage.
Another part of this one is focusing your comments focused on the action itself. Don’t humiliate your child or make them feel bad about themselves. Again, that’s not exactly a gentle way to parent. One of the easiest tricks I use is to avoid starting sentences with “you.” For example, don’t say, “You’re such a slob,” or “You never listen,” or “You failed this test because you weren’t paying attention.” Instead, focus on the action and why
8. Help them learn from their mistakes
By giving consequences that make sense, you’re helping your child learn actual lessons from their mistakes. That’s really the goal of discipline, isn’t it? We all want our kids to grow up knowing that there are right and wrong ways to do something and that it’s important to learn and grow.
Going back to the example above, after your child “repays” you for whatever he broke, ask him what he learned. He may tell you that he learned he needs to be more careful in the future and that it’s hard work making enough money to buy the things we want. Let him know that you’re proud of him for recognizing that.
9. Be willing to learn from your own mistakes
Let me be very blunt and clear, you WILL make mistakes as a parent. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. There’s absolutely no such thing as a parent who gets it right 100% of the time.
So, just as you expect your kids to learn from their mistakes, you have to be willing to learn from your own. I constantly reevaluate everything I think I know and ask myself if there is something I can do better or something that I need to change. As parenting teacher Hannah Guari Ma explains, the only way to inspire a certain quality in kids is to model it in ourselves.
10. Make connecting with your kids a priority
Gentle parenting is all about communicating with your kids, and you can’t really do that if you don’t take the time to truly connect with them. Make family time a priority. Take an interest in the things that they like. Spend vacations together, eat dinner together as often as possible. Just be there with them in the moment every moment that you can.
It sounds trite, but our kids really do grow up so fast. We only get one shot at raising them right. So, let’s make sure we’re focusing on what really matters and doing our best to raise them to be kind, compassionate, confident, happy, and healthy. Who knows, they just might one day change the world.
I’ll leave you with one final quote that I really love, from Alain de Botton: “To be a parent is to be a chief designer of a product more advanced than any technology and more interesting than the greatest work of art.” Our kids are true marvels, the real wonders of this world. As long as you treat them that way-treat them like the miracles that they are, all of these gentle parenting techniques will come naturally.