I'm a mom of 4, and I swear by gentle parenting to raise happy, confident kids

I'm a mom of 4, and I swear by gentle parenting to raise happy, confident kids
© Maskot/Getty Images I’m a mom of 4, and I swear by gentle parenting to raise happy, confident kids

  • Children need help understanding and navigating the emotions they’re feeling.
  • In gentle parenting, there’s discipline, which isn’t the same as punishment.

I just had my fourth baby in five years. Any parent can tell you that those early years require an immense amount of patience.

Unfortunately for me, patience isn’t my strong suit. But by learning about gentle parenting and how effective it is, I was able to gain a better understanding of what my children were going through.

When I became more focused 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 as they gained the knowledge of how to handle them.

Children need constant guidance and examples. Gentle parenting allows children to understand the “why” behind their actions and emotions, rather than how to suppress them because of fear of punishment.

While gentle parenting has been practiced for many generations, the term “gentle parenting” was coined by Sarah Ockwell-Smith, a childcare author and parenting expert. It stems from the attachment-parenting method, which gained popularity in the 1980s.

Children communicate with the limited resources and knowledge they have. 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 to shut down those strong emotions, which are normal, but rather to give kids the tools to navigate them in a healthy way.

How does gentle parenting work?

Gentle parenting can be summed up by the golden rule: “Treat others how you would want to be treated.” It recognizes that your child is a person who carries the same capacity for emotion as anyone else. They just need help understanding those emotions.

Gentle parenting allows the child to participate in the decision-making process and learn through natural consequences, rather than rigid ones imposed by their parents. It focuses more on the need or issue in which their behavior is rooted, instead of disregarding their perspective. It helps children develop the tools needed to regulate their emotions and control their behavior.

Discipline isn’t 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 have them learn boundaries without making them “pay” for their offenses.

To have discipline without punishment, you first need to be clear about rules and expectations. Discipline isn’t reactive. Discipline involves positive reinforcement.

I’m a former preschool teacher with an education in early childhood development, so trust me when I say that positive reinforcement is the way to go. It establishes confidence and rewards kids for following rules.

I have a toddler who constantly feels the need to assert her dominance over her three brothers and, on occasion, will hit them hard. When using gentle-parenting tactics in this situation, I don’t say: “Oh, you hit them. That’s OK. Are you feeling angry? Can we make sure to use gentle hands? Now go on your way and continue playing.”

Instead, I say: “Okay, you’re hitting your brothers, and I can tell you’re angry. Feeling that way is OK, but you cannot hit.”

Sometimes, despite my efforts, my toddler will continue to hit. Safety is always the No. 1 priority, and if she behaves in a way that could cause harm to herself or anyone else, I intervene.

In some cases, I’ll remove my toddler from the situation and take a few minutes to let her calm down. But I always make it clear that I’m there to help her process if that’s something she wants.

Just as adults get angry and want to be left alone sometimes, children do, too. The difference, though, is that children are still dependent on their parents for most of their comfort.

By using gentle parenting, I’m giving my children a strong foundation for learning more about understanding, processing, and reacting when strong emotions take over. It’s something I know they’ll benefit from once they’re on their own in the world.

Chrissy Horton is a former preschool teacher turned mom of four, with an education in early childhood development.

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