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  • Samantha Dupuis

Is it too late to start gentle parenting?

We’ve all been there, dinner is burning, the kids are having a wresting match in the next room and the dog is whining to go out, and just when we think that we’ve reached our stress threshold…. SMASH! The fighting in the next room leads to someone knocking over the coffee cup that was still sitting out from breakfast. Coffee and broken mug are EVERYWHERE!

Photo by Julien L on Unsplash

Now what? If you’re like me, you probably walk in, look around, and say “FUCK”. Maybe you say it under your breath, or maybe loud enough for little ears to hear it, but no worries mama, shit happens.

I’ve been in this situation more than I would like to admit, and I’ve also felt the shame that comes with losing my cool after the little ones are all tucked in at night and I have time to reflect on the day. After a recent incident, I found myself Googling “Is it too late to start gentle parenting”?

Here’s what I learned about gentle parenting:

What is gentle parenting

Very Well Family defines the gentle parenting discipline method as “an evidence-based approach to raising happy, confident children. This parenting style is composed of four main elements—empathy, respect, understanding, and boundaries—and focuses on fostering the qualities you want in your child by being compassionate and enforcing consistent boundaries. Unlike some more lenient parenting methods, gentle parenting encourages age-appropriate discipline that teaches valuable life lessons.

Those who practice gentle parenting encourage working together as a family to teach their children to express their feelings, but in a socially acceptable, age-appropriate manner. Gentle parenting is viewed as a beneficial method for raising happy, independent, and confident children.”

Ok, sounds easy enough, but…

What is my parenting style

After some middle of the night internet research, it seems that for the past decade, I have been “reactive parenting”. I have a reactive dog at home and know how much work has gone into his training to help with his reactivity, so it’s my turn to be trained, I guess. After quickly adding the book “Break free from reactive parenting” to my cart, I decided that I would invest some energy into learning to become a gentler parent…after I attempted to get a few hours of sleep of course.

How to gentle parent

Step 1: Take a deep breath before losing your shit. Seriously, this is the only concrete step I found.

After too many hours spent researching gentle parenting techniques, it seems that this is what it takes to be a gentle parent:

  • Direct your comments towards the action, not the child. Make an effort to separate the action from the person when you speak. For example, "You're being mean to your sister" is directed towards the child, whereas "I don't think your sister likes it when you yell at her. Let’s try talking in a calmer voice and see how she reacts." This helps the child realize that they made a mistake and find a way to fix it, but doesn’t make the child feel like you are attacking them personally.

  • Demonstrate kindness, not only towards others, but also to yourself. And yes mama’s this one is hard AF. Modelling kindness towards yourself can show your child how to be curious and compassionate about their own feelings. If you're tired and miserable, use the opportunity to share what self-care looks like to you (bonus – this can force you to practice some self-care). You can say, "Oh my goodness, I am so tired today, I didn’t sleep enough and now I feel grumpy. A nice bubble bath will wash away my grumpies, and I will go to bed earlier tonight so that I feel more rested tomorrow". Not only will you be teaching your little ones that adults can have bad days too, but you will be helping them find solutions to figure out and manage their own emotions and feelings in the future.

  • Replace commands with an invitation to work together. This can be as simple as rewording “go get a sweater” to “let’s go pick a sweater, its chilly outside today. Do you want the red one, or the blue one”.

  • Find alternatives to the word no. I am finding this one tricky, I didn’t realize how often I say “no” in a day until I actively starting trying not to. It turns out that there are plenty of alternatives to saying "no” if you are willing to put in a little effort. Gentle parenting means you choose to set clear boundaries and underline what you are asking of your child. Limit your request to focus on the action you do want to encourage. Instead of saying “no, you can’t touch that, you could break it”, try replacing that with “This is very fragile, so its only for looking at”.

Gentle parenting consequences

This is a tricky one for me because I spent so much time on time out or grounded growing up, that I naturally have done the same with my 3 children. But it turns out that grounding my kids from electronics, for example, is actually a punishment for me when I need a few minutes of quiet time or to use the bathroom. So even though I haven’t fully drank the gentle parenting koolaid yet, I am becoming a huge fan of natural consequences instead of grounding my kids. These “natural consequences” aren’t necessarily less painful from a parenting standpoint, sometimes they are even a huge pain in the ass, BUT from what I have seen so far, they are pretty effective.

Here are a few examples of natural consequences for difference age groups:

Make a mess - Mess has to be cleaned up by the person who made it

Child refuses to wear a coat - child is cold

Your kid wont eat - they will be hungry

Teen wont study - teen fails the test

Older child doesn’t wash their laundry - older child will miss their soccer game because their uniform is not clean

Gentle parenting resources

There are TONS of resources to help you on your gentle parenting journey, or, if you are like me, resources that can help you be a more balanced parent that yells and swears a little less. These are some of my favorites:

Books and audiobooks:

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