By Jordan Beach, LCSW – March 16, 2022 –
If you spend any time on social media, you have probably heard the term “gentle parenting.” The quick response to this concept is that it’s “soft” or that we’re not punishing our kids enough and creating a generation that doesn’t respect authority, etc.
A lot of times we hear the word gentle in terms of parenting and assume this means there are no consequences when children misbehave. I implore you to look deeper. Just stick with me and we can navigate gentle parenting together.
First, the concept of gentle parenting is not new. In fact, a lot of you were probably raised this way, or you are raising your own children this way without knowing it had a name. At its core, gentle parenting is simply creating an environment of respect and empathy for your children to grow in. Gentle parenting is not allowing your child to misbehave with no consequences. It is trying to understand your child’s emotions and behaviors and help them work through them.
Children who grow up in calmer environments are better prepared to handle adverse emotions in adulthood. By meeting your child’s emotional needs with empathy instead of judgement, you are teaching them that their feelings are okay and they can trust you to help them navigate hardships.
This is crucial in helping your child develop healthy coping skills. A dysregulated child is not going to be able to take deep breaths on their own. They are going to need a calm adult to help them regulate, or co-regulate, with them.
If your child has a behavior that needs to be corrected, by all means, correct it! The gentle parenting method of correcting misbehavior would be to provide them with a redirection. Be specific and make sure your child knows what they can do instead.
Maybe you’re thinking, “My kid already knows what they can and can’t do, so if they do something wrong it’s because they choose to.” If this is the case, it is important to consider why your child is making an intentional choice to break an established boundary. Are they stressed out and don’t know how to tell you? Are they over- stimulated and don’t know how to regulate? The first question to them is, “What can I help you with?”
In a world where people insist that “kids should be kids,” sometimes we forget that our children’s brains are constantly developing. Children are not mini-adults. Even if we feel a child is overreacting, they’re not. They’re expressing themselves in the best way they know.
It is our job as the trusted adults in their lives to help kids navigate difficult feelings, learn and develop healthy coping skills, and provide them with boundaries and guidance. When we can do this with compassion starting at a young age, we are setting the groundwork for well-regulated teenagers and young adults.