Gentle parenting. You likely have heard of it. Maybe you have a visceral reaction to it, or perhaps you experience a flood of shame when thinking about it because you feel inadequate in your own parenting style. Nonetheless, it is never too late to start something new or gain additional skills to help you through your parenting journey.
Parenting is difficult, and most of us who are parents have not received specialized training on how to be a good parent. We utilize the tools and skills that we have experienced firsthand, or witnessed. Now, there are exceptions to this, of course. Those who experienced abuse as children aren’t destined to become abusers themselves, though it does take an extra conscious effort to re-parent yourself while parenting your “outside child.”
The most crucial part of being a peaceful parent, or gentle parent, is learning to regulate yourself when things are stressful. When we think about our own experiences of being spanked, put in time out, or yelled at, it was likely not for our benefit. These experiences are shaming and damaging to a young child's identity and sense of self. Many might argue that “they turned out just fine” while struggling to communicate effectively in relationships, difficulty taming their emotions, and lashing out at their children in similar ways. Committing to becoming a peaceful parent is hard work, but not impossible.
Reasons to begin gentle parenting:
Deeper connections with your children
More communication with and from your children
Teaching/modeling emotion regulation
Encouraging bodily autonomy
Positive social skills
Four steps you can take immediately to becoming a more gentle and peaceful parent.
1. Commit to peacefulness
This means making a 110% commitment to becoming a peaceful parent. When we make the conscious decision to do something different, we are more likely to follow through with it. Begin by making the commitment to practicing peaceful parenting: no more spanking, shaming, yelling, threatening, or secluding. This does not mean that you will be perfect or “get it right” from the start, but rather that you are fully committed to change. Try not to give into the voice of shame when you fall back into previous parenting strategies - this shame will only keep you stuck in the cycle.
2. Slow down
Our culture does not value the art of slowing down. We are busy rushing between school drop off, to work, the pick up line, figuring out dinner, bath, and bedtime. It can be so challenging to slow down and take a breath in the moment when our nervous system is currently wired towards stress. Maybe try making this a mantra for yourself throughout the week, repeating “slow down” as you interact with your children. It is when we are stressed and our nervous system is on hig
h alert when we act in a way that does not align with our values of pursuing gentle/peaceful parenting. Remember that your first job is learning to regulate yourself. This very act of slowing down and regulating your own nervous system will teach your child that they are in control of their own bodies and emotions and have the power to change their responses.
3. Intentionally avoid big reactions
Whether you are a parent to toddlers, teenagers, tweens, or all of the above, children can lack impulse control. Maybe your toddler hits you, or your teenager and you have a hard time not reacting in big ways. Many times this can trigger younger parts of ourselves to react. This ties into slowing down and regulating yourself before responding. Our big reactions unintentionally have the opposite effect than we desire.
4. Recognize that your child is an autonomous human being!
Our children are not our property to be controlled or to appease us. Of course it is great when they listen to us, do as we ask, and behave as we desire. But reality is that they are autonomous human beings with their own feelings, needs, and desires. They deserve our respect just as much as we deserve theirs. The more that we encourage their autonomy and communicate respectfully, the more they will learn to do the same.
Becoming a gentle and peaceful parent does not happen overnight. There will be slip ups, but the more you commit yourself to being a peaceful parent, you will see results in your own nervous system as well as your child.
There are many resources available to assist in your journey to becoming a more gentle parent. Below are a few of our favorites:
Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting by Dr. Laura Markham
@BigLittleFeelings on Instagram
Raising Good Humans by Hunter Clarke-Fields, MSAE
No Drama Discipline by Dan J. Siegel, M.D.
If you are a parent recovering from your own childhood, the following may be helpful to you:
Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents by Lindsay C. Gibson, PsyD
Healing the Shame That Binds You by John Bradshaw