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How I practice gentle parenting (on myself and my kiddo).

It doesn't come naturally to me, that's for sure.

Typically, our first reaction on how to parent is to do it the same way our parents did. Sometimes, even though our mind says "I'm going to do things differently," our actions don't show that same desire.

It's hard...

Gentle parenting means that when your mind is frantically shouting "DO NOT DO THAT!" your voice has to say something different.

It means that when chaos (aka your toddler) is running rampant through your home, you have to sit back and think about the "whys" behind their actions.

I'm no expert, but I have found a few things that are really helpful for our family.

*Understanding. *Empathy. *Respect.

~ Tell your littles what to do instead of what not to do. This one takes some serious thinking when your first start, but the longer you practice it, the easier it gets. Their minds have a hard time processing lots of words and often times they only remember the last few words of a sentence. Here are some examples:

  • "Do not run!" -- "Please walk."

  • "No hitting!" -- "Let's use gentle hands."

  • "Stop licking the windows!" -- "Keep your tongue in your mouth." 🤪 (Yes these are inspired by real life events.)

 ~ Keeping their developmental phases in mind. I'm sure you've heard of leaps and "growth spurts" for babies, but often times mainstream trends try to encourage us to treat toddlers and children like "little adults" when they are simply not little adults. Staying mindful of your child's immature brain development and adjusting your expectations accordingly can be super helpful when it comes to deciphering behavior.

~ When you do this, you no longer label behavior as "bad" or "good," but simply as developmentally appropriate behavior.

  • Because of this, typical "praise" and "punishments" are not necessary. Look for ways to make "bad" behavior into a learning opportunity. Instead of gushing over every little thing that your child does that you like, ("OH GREAT JOB CLEANING UP YOUR TOYS, HONEY. WHAT A GOOD GIRL!") simple statements that observe the desired behavior are used. "You put all of your blocks back in their bag. That's how we take care of our things."

~Respect your child's need for control of their own life, when appropriate. So much of their life is decided for them. It can be really helpful to allow your child to make this or that choices.

  • Would you like to wear a pink shirt or a blue shirt today?

  • Would you like an apple or a banana for breakfast?

  • Should we do a puzzle or read a book next?

~ When your child displays behavior that is not kind, or undesirable, you take action to model appropriate behavior and give positive reinforcement.  

  • For example, your child and another are playing blocks. Your child snatches blocks and yells "mine!" At this point you might be tempted to say "Hey, quit being so mean and share those blocks or you're going to time-out!"

  • Gentle parenting understands the egocentric nature of a toddler and suggests joining in the play (to model the desired behavior) and saying something like "Hey, there are plenty of blocks to go around. Let's be kind and give a few to our friend."

  • Most unwanted behavior can bee seen as a cry for more attention and connection with the parent. Look for basic unmet needs when their behavior is undesirable. Are they feeling safe? secure? heard?

~ I can't tell you how many times grown adults have gotten offended that my child will not just jump into their arms. Gentle parenting recognizes the needs of the child as an individual. Every child has individual likes and dislikes, as well as individual speeds of development.

~ Boundaries and limits are saved for the things that really matter. When I find myself automatically saying "no" to something in my mind, I like to take the time to investigate why my brain is saying no. Is it because I don't want her to make a mess? Is it because it was something I wasn't allowed to do as a child? I try to take my own emotional reaction out of a scenario and only do what is logical and developmentally appropriate.

  • For example, Violet is squealing and running down the hallway. My initial reaction may be a startled one. My brain might say "sit down and hush!" Taking her development into consideration, I can see that life is exciting and energy has to get out somehow. If I've had a rough day and can't deal with the sounds, I might ask my husband to take her outside to get her squeals and need for speed out.

~ That takes me to my last point, which is that when we practice gentle parenting, we must also be gentle with ourselves. If our cup is empty, if we are burnt out, we have to make time to take care of ourselves. My buddy Nora Montanye gave me some great advice on this topic that I have been practicing for a while now.

  • Make a list of all the things that fill your cup.

  • When I wake up and the day automatically feels like it's going to be "too much," I refer back to this list. I check off as many things on the list as I can that day, until the rest of the day's tasks don't feel so difficult to accomplish.

  • Sure, that means I may not get Violet dressed until after lunch... or nap time, but it means I do it with a heart of joy instead of a burdened heart.

  • Taking care of ourselves first isn't selfish, it's necessary.

What are your gentle parenting tips? <3 <3 <3 

Photos by Rebecca Shelton

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