How to Start Gentle Parenting
Hey there, mama. So, you’ve decided that your current parenting style isn’t working and you need a change. Maybe you’ve read about the benefits of gentle parenting and you’re ready to make the switch. You’re not alone if you’re wondering how to start gentle parenting – especially if you’re coming from an authoritarian parenting style.
The good news first, though. You can change and it’ll be worth it.
The other news? Sometimes it’s not easy. Okay, usually it’s not easy. Ultimately you have to change yourself before you can change your parenting.
Oh, and your children may feel a little off kilter with the new normal you try to establish.
But, if you stick with it and meet the challenges as they come (and they will) you’ll find yourself and your family on the other side, in the groove of gentle parenting, and developing a wonderful relationship with each other.
Hey, this article is nearly 3,000 words long! Be sure to pin it for later, because I know you probably don’t have time to read the whole thing right now. I get it, mama. 🙂
Things To Do Before You Start Gentle Parenting
I know you’re ready to begin your gentle parenting journey, but the keyword here is journey. You wouldn’t jump into a week’s long vacation or even a three-day road trip without some planning, right? Well, you’ll practice gentle parenting for as many years as you have left to raise your children. Preparation creates a better outcome for you and your family.
So, before you start gentle parenting take some time to do these things.
Evaluate Your Challenges
You’re clearly drawn to gentle parenting because you think it will solve a problem for you and your family. It’s likely that it will, but there are some challenges that will make parenting more difficult no matter what style you choose.
It’s time to get really honest about your circumstances and tease out the things that can be solved through gentle parenting and those that can’t.
Ask yourself the following questions:
Do you have children with special needs?
If you have children with special needs gentle parenting won’t make those special needs disappear. Parenting of any style becomes more difficult when special needs are involved.
I have a child on the autism spectrum and a child with ADHD. I know the struggle first hand. Gentle parenting my neurotypical child played out in a fairly straightforward, by-the-book way. Of course, each of my children is unique and I parented them accordingly, but parenting my special needs kiddos took a little more blood, sweat, and tears. (Mostly sweat and tears, fortunately.)
Don’t look to gentle parenting as a cure for the difficulties associated with raising special needs children. Look at gentle parenting as a way to provide the calm, loving environment that your child needs to meet his or her fullest potential.
Do you have support?
Oh sweet, mama. We moms tend to look around, see that no one is with us, and still forge ahead toward what we feel is best for our children. It’s our natural instinct and thank goodness for it, but having support when you change parenting styles can only help things go better.
Not-so-fun fact – My husband and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on parenting when we first became parents. Like moms do, I went ahead with what I felt was right for my children. In short, the results convinced him and we’ve mostly been on the same page since. You can read more about our story in my article My Husband and I Disagree on Discipline.
If you don’t have your spouse/co-parent’s support for gentle parenting you may feel alone in the daily challenges. Seek support from a like-minded mom friend or a trusted family member. You might enjoy my Positive Parenting Support Group on Facebook, as well.
Do you feel generally overwhelmed by motherhood or by life?
Do you struggle with finances? Are you in a difficult marriage? These are just two of the circumstances that can make gentle parenting difficult to start and maintain.
However, I’ve met many moms over the decades that have committed to gentle parenting despite their stressful home lives. I’ve seen these women flourish, leave bad situations, and create a peaceful and abundant life for themselves and their children.
Your stressors make gentle parenting harder, but they don’t make it impossible. Be aware of how your struggles affect you from day to day and give yourself grace when it’s all too much.
Are you living with chronic illness or mental illness?
If you suffer with a chronic illness or mental illness you may not be able to predict your level of functioning from one day to the next. Keep a support system in place – one that knows and allies with you on your parenting goals – so that your children experience consistency in care and discipline.
And, as always, give yourself grace. None of us has a perfect situation. You’re always doing the best you can for your babies.
Take an Honest Look at How Things Really Are
Do you feel like your day is filled tantrums and tears? Maybe it seems like your children constantly argue. No matter your biggest parenting frustrations you probably feel as if they happen all the time. I can’t convince you that might be wrong about that, so before you start gentle parenting take an honest look at what you’re dealing with.
Get a notebook and a pen and spend a couple of days writing down every time your children engage in a behavior that normally results in a non-gentle reaction from you. Play the role of a research sociologist as you move through your day. Record each time you react negatively to your children.
You probably think you yell and demand time-outs all day long. In reality, you probably yell once or a twice a day at each child – if that much. And those behaviors that you felt warranted yelling were probably behaviors that could have been prevented through proactive parenting. But, we’ll talk more about that later.
Read, Read, Read
I’m sure you’ve already spent a lot of time researching gentle parenting and you have a good idea of why you want to change your parenting style. If not, then you must read at least a few books before beginning your gentle parenting journey.
Keep several books on hand to quickly reference practical gentle parenting solutions to common discipline issues.
I recommend the books below that you can find on Amazon. Some of the books are available through Kindle Unlimited, which I highly recommend.
I also recommend looking for gentle parenting or positive discipline books on Scribd, where you’ll get 60 days free through my link.
And, of course, if you want the physical book version, always check Ebay for the best prices on pre-owned books.Gentle Parenting Books on Ebay
Take Care of Yourself
Do you ever wish you were a naturally gentle and positive mom? Yeah. Me, too.
Most of us aren’t naturally calm and peaceful mothers. In fact, I believe those moms who come by gentle parenting naturally had it modeled for them by their own mothers or some other gentle female figure who was a part of their early childhood.
Most of us who practice gentle parenting do it because we believe it’s best for our children. It takes effort to become the mothers we want to be.
Some roadblocks along the way to becoming the moms we want to be include the things we’ve already talk about such as chronic illness or lack of support. Other less obvious obstacles to gentle parenting include poor nutrition, inadequate coping methods for stress, or having a difficult relationship with your own mother.
Improve the things you have control over (such as eating real food and learning healthy ways to cope with stress) and seek help via books, support groups, and/or therapy for the things you can’t control (such as frustrating or toxic relationships).
What I’m saying is that taking care of yourself is taking care of your children. Do the work. Do it for you and by default your children will benefit, too.
Think of your top three discipline struggles. You know, those situations where you’re most likely to lose your cool and yell, threaten, or spank. Before you start day one of gentle parenting know how you will handle those situation.
For example, if sibling fighting makes you lose your mind make a plan for what you will do when your kiddos start to argue. When you know ahead of time how to handle a situation you’ll be able to respond calmly instead of reacting harshly.
Things to do on Day One of Gentle Parenting
Now you’re well read and ready to start your gentle parenting journey. On your first day as a gentle parent set your expectations of yourself and your children a little lower than they currently are. I know that sounds harsh. But, you’ll thank me later.
Ok, let’s get started.
Tell Your Child What to Expect
Let your children that you’re trying something new. Keep the explanation simple no matter their ages.
For example, you can explain that you yell too much and you want to stop. Tell them that they don’t deserve to be yelled at when they misbehave and that you’ll handle their inappropriate behavior in a calmer manner from now on.
Tell your children that you will probably mess up at first but to be patient with you. Give them permission to tell you to stop yelling if you raise your voice. Trust me, they’ll jump at the chance to help keep mommy on the straight and narrow.
Apologize When You Mess Up
You will mess up. You will lose your temper. Your children will make you think that gentle parenting is a crock. Trust me. When that happens, give yourself some grace. You already knew it would happen, mama. Then, put on your big girl pants and apologize to your children.
Need a little help with this mother humbler? Check out my article on How to Apologize to Your Child.
Plan an Easy Day
If possible, make the day you start gentle parenting as simple as possible. Pick a day when you aren’t rushed or stressed or sick or exhausted.
Plan a fun activity at home. Nothing can damper your desire for gentleness faster than a toddler meltdown in a public place.
However, if you can’t avoid leaving home on day one of gentle parenting check out my article on How to Stay Calm When Your Child Misbehaves in Public.
Stay in the Moment With Your Child
On the first day of your new parenting strategy be sure to stay in the moment with your child. Don’t let distractions, such as your phone, take your mind away from your most important task.
This quote serves as a reminder for me and I hope it will help you, too.
Children are not distractions from more important work. They are the most important work. – C.S. Lewis
Take it One Hour at a Time
Do you know how Our Small Hours got its name? Long story short, in the throes of parenting a toddler and a baby while combating postpartum depression, taking on a whole day of motherhood seemed an impossible task. So, I told myself to take the day one hour at a time. That made a world of difference and I’ve never forgotten this stroke of insight that my brain managed to conjure on little sleep and not enough adult conversation.
I suggest this advice to all mothers. Just focus on the hour you’re in. Just make it to the next hour without losing your cool. You’re only responsible for this moment right now.
Before you know it, it’s bedtime and you’ve done it!
Things to do in the First Weeks of Gentle Parenting
Your first few weeks of gentle parenting may be tougher than you anticipated. This is totally normal, mama.
Remember, even gentle moms aren’t gentle all the time. Let yourself be human, stay humble, but be proud of yourself for doing what you feel is best for your family.
Start Fresh Every Day
When you wake up each morning, forget about when you yelled yesterday. Don’t stress over the situation where you couldn’t find a gentler solution than the one you used. Learn from each interaction, but don’t beat yourself up when you respond in a way that’s less than ideal.
Just do a little better today than you did yesterday. That’s all.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. -Benjamin Franklin
Gentle parenting requires more work upfront than do conventional punitive parenting styles. Reacting to your child’s behavior is easy. He misbehaves and you whip out a yell, a threat, or a time-out. You shut him down and it’s done. (Well, sometimes . . .)
To be a gentle mother you have to spend some time preventing situations and behaviors. You wouldn’t leave a knife on the coffee table for your toddler to grab, right? That’s being proactive.
Think about taking your toddler to playdate when she’s hungry or tired as akin to leaving a knife on the coffee table. Just don’t do it.
If you know your children fight over which show to watch, set a schedule that allows for them to compromise.
If you know your child will throw a tantrum when you say it’s time to leave the park, talk to them ahead of time about how you expect leaving the park to go. Then, give them 20-minute, 15-minute, 10-minute, 5-minute, and 3-minute warnings before it’s actually time to leave. Give them something to look forward to when they leave.
There are too many examples of proactive parenting to list here and the details will depend on your specific situation. Take time in the early weeks of gentle parenting to figure out your proactive parenting strategies and you’ll find gentle parenting to be much easier.
Learn to be Firm but Gentle
Please don’t mistake gentle parenting for permissive parenting. They aren’t the same thing. In fact, I’ve written an article addressing the question “Is Gentle Parenting Permissive Parenting?” Please take some time to read through the differences.
Learn to be a firm, but gentle mother. Your children need boundaries and routines to be emotionally and physically healthy. Permissiveness is not gentle parenting and gentle parenting is not permissive.
It Takes However Long It Takes
In the early weeks of gentle parenting you’ll probably feel like throwing in the towel. Probably more than once. I encourage you to stay the course.
Your whole family experienced a paradigm shift when you decided to start gentle parenting. Paradigm shifts require an adjustment period.
Your children aren’t going to stop their age-appropriate misbehaviors just because you speak calmly instead of yelling. In fact, they may ramp up their difficult behaviors as they try to learn where the boundaries are.
When you feel like giving up, check out my article “Does Gentle Discipline Work?”
Remember Discipline Means to Teach
To discipline means to teach. Your children are your little disciples, mama. Discipline isn’t synonymous with punishment. Punishment doesn’t teach children how to make amends but it does teach them to be scared to make mistakes. We don’t need more people in the world who can’t make proper, real, meaningful amends or people who are terrified to mess up.
As you move through your day think of each situation with your children as an opportunity to teach them. I promise you’ll learn a lot, too.
Always Put Relationship First
You’ve decided to use gentle parenting because you feel it’s best for your child. You probably feel it’s best because it provides a safe environment for your child to grow into an emotionally healthy adult.
If you put your relationship with your child at the forefront of every interaction with them you’ll succeed at gentle parenting. Of course, this is easier said than done, but you’ll get better at it as time goes on.
Before you react ask yourself if your actions will bring you and your child closer together or further apart.
It helps to consider how you would have wanted your own parents to react to you in the same situation.
Your child will trust you more if protecting their heart is your number one goal. When your child trusts you they are more likely to follow your rules.
Most importantly, remember that children who feel well behave well.