Gentle Parenting Foundations

One of the key components of gentle parenting is that we look deeper than the symptoms.  When our child is “acting out” or “not listening”, we don’t just deal with the current situation – we deal with the causes of the behavior.  Does the child have a need that isn’t being met?  Is there a misunderstanding about what the child is doing?  Is there a misunderstanding about what the parent expects?  Is there a lack of communication?  What is it that is causing the problematic behavior?  What is the cause of the symptom.

As parents, we look at these same symptoms in ourselves, and in our parenting, and we address the deeper issues behind our parenting.  If we are constantly frustrated with our child’s behavior, why is that?  If we are usually on the brink of spanking or hitting our child, why is that?  If we are usually on the verge of (or actually) yelling at our children, why is that?  It isn’t because of our children.  The reactions that we have to our children come from ourselves!

In order to be effective gentle parents, it is very important to lay some real groundwork.  If our parenting isn’t built on a sturdy foundation, it won’t hold up when rough weather comes along!

A few key foundation pieces to gentle parenting:

Address your own issues first

1. Address your own issues first.  What was your childhood like?  What was good about it?  What wasn’t so good?  What did your parents do that you want to incorporate into your parenting?  What did your parents do that you want to do differently?  What are your feelings about how children should be treated?  What are your feelings about how children shouldn’t be treated?  What happened in your own life that is going to be an obstacle to treating your children in the way you want them to be treated?

One big aspect of our parenting is what was modelled to us as children.  We will constantly measure ourselves against that yardstick, whether we count our childhoods as being good, bad or somewhere in-between.  We will think of how our parents did differently and wonder if it was better.  When we are having a bad day with our kids, we will wonder if we are making the right choice.  When the mess really hits the fan, we will fight the impulses in ourselves to react the way our parents did, if it was less than gentle. And sometimes, we will lose that fight.

Dealing with the emotions surrounding our own childhoods is probably THE most important thing that we can do as parents.  Taking the time to sort out all of what was good and bad, and making conscious decisions about our own goals that we can look to in times of hardship is such a huge foundation piece for being the parents that we want to be.  Until we do this step, we will NOT be successful as gentle parents.  And sometimes, we will have to go back to this step again and again.

Dr. Laura Markham of Aha! Parenting has some good tips for this, here.

2. Set realistic expectations of ourselves, and our children.  This step requires a lot of work and effort.  First of all, setting realistic expectations of ourselves is hard.  Do we work, or stay at home?  Do we homeschool, or do we send our kids to school?  Do we feed our kids the right thing?  Do we blog, craft, cook from scratch, macrame, do underwater basket weaving? Do we have enough play dates?  Do we have enough extra-curricular activities?  Do the kids play enough instruments?  Are we helping our children to achieve their developmental milestones?  Are we giving our children enough free time?  Are we too worried about comparing our children to some chart?  Do we hover too much?  Do we give our kids too much freedom?  Do we keep the house clean enough?  Do we spend enough time with our kids?  Do we spend enough time away from our kids?

Hard, hard, hard.

It really comes down to making our own choices about what we are capable of doing, and when we are capable of doing it.  If we want to integrate things that we haven’t yet, we take it in small steps, because that is what is realistic.  If something is too much of a drain on us, we figure out an alternative, because we need to have the energy to deal with our families every day.  And no one else can tell you what you are capable of.  You are the only one who can decide that!  So set realistic expectations for yourself and don’t get bogged down in the expectations of others.

Setting realistic expectations for our children can be JUST as hard, if not harder.  It is very important to know where our children are at developmentally, and have appropriate expectations for their ages and development.  There are many books devoted to this subject.  You might check out the Your ___ Year Old series by Louise Bates Ames for great year by year expectations.  Researching is easy, albeit time consuming.  It is ok to have high expectations of our children, but only within the context of what they are capable of doing.  If some blogger says that your two year old should be able to sweep the kitchen floor proficiently, as part of his chores that he receives his allowance for, we need to evaluate that against our own children.  Is your two year old coordinated enough to sweep a floor properly?  Is he capable of understanding the concept of money as a reward for work?  Is he capable of understanding that this is something you expect him to do on a regular basis in exchange for an allowance?  Mine is not.  But I can’t speak for yours.  This example is purely hypothetical, but I am sure that somewhere is a mother who has such high expectations of her two year old.  And maybe it works for her!  But gentle parenting is about expecting what our kids are capable of, and not more than that.  I see examples daily of mothers who simply have unrealistic expectations of their children who are then continuously frustrated because their children “won’t” comply with the rules.

3. Remember that while we are not responsible for our children’s behavior, we are responsible for our children.  This means that if your child hits another child, you are not responsible for the hitting.  You are, however, responsible for talking to your child about not hitting and a better way to handle the situation, in an age appropriate manner.  If your child needs something when you are leaving the house, you can tell them to get it, but you are ultimately responsible for making sure it goes with you; even if that means getting up and getting the item yourself.  And if the item gets forgotten, it means that you don’t get to be upset with the child over it.  It means that when your kids are fighting, you don’t get to blame the children for it – you get to teach them problem solving skills.  It means that when there is a new skill to learn, you don’t blame the child for not mastering it immediately – you get to teach them how to perform the skill.  Sometimes, you get to teach them this several times.  And as a gentle parent, you get to do all of this gently, without yelling, blaming, name calling or shaming.

Proper tools at hand; inappropriate objects out of reach.

4. Set our kids up for success.  This means that we put up things that we don’t want them in.  We put them in situations where they can live up to our expectations.  We give them age appropriate tools.  We dress them for the occasion.  We give them liberty.  We give them room.  We let them know that we love them just as they are, and just for being them.

These four tools are the cornerstones of gentle parenting.  Laying these as the groundwork for other gentle parenting coping skills gives us a solid platform from which to use those tools.


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