Gentle parenting, also known as positive parenting, is an approach that focuses on building strong and nurturing relationships with children, and on using positive reinforcement and guidance to help children learn and grow. While this seems pretty straightforward, there is one major common misconception about gentle parenting and discipline: Simply put, that there is none!
Many people believe that gentle parenting means that there are no rules, no boundaries and no discipline. This couldn’t be farther from the truth! It’s not surprising that people think this—discipline may look different with gentle parenting than you’d expect with other parenting methods.
What does discipline look like in gentle parenting?
Gentle parenting does not necessarily mean no discipline, as discipline can play an important role in helping children to learn and develop self-control. However, gentle parenting approaches typically emphasize using non-punitive, non-violent, and developmentally appropriate methods of discipline. Examples of this include setting limits, providing guidance, and using natural consequences, rather than using punishment or physical force to control children’s behavior. In this sense, gentle discipline approaches may be seen as providing a more nurturing and supportive approach to discipline, rather than using punishment or coercion to control children’s behavior.
A nurturing and supportive approach to discipline
What does it mean when we say that gentle parenting offers a more nurturing and supportive approach to discipline? This might involve using positive reinforcement and guidance to help children learn and grow, rather than using punishment or coercion to control their behavior.
This approach might include:
- Setting clear boundaries and limits
- Providing children with age-appropriate expectations and rules
- Using natural consequences to help children understand the consequences of their actions.
Real life examples of gentle parenting and discipline
Real-life examples are one of the best ways to get a solid understanding of any concept. So here’s one! If a child throws a toy, a nurturing and supportive approach to discipline might involve explaining to the child why throwing toys is not acceptable, and offering an alternative behavior, such as asking the child to put the toy away gently or give it to someone else.
Gentle parenting means offering support and guidance to help the child learn from their mistake, turning what could have been a negative experience into a positive one.
What is your child actually trying to do?
In the case of a child throwing a toy, you will want to assess whether your child was simply craving the physical/sensory experience of throwing something. If this is the case, you can engage the child in this appropriate behaviour, such as throwing a ball to one another. The goal is to offer a safe a healthy way to express that need. This frames the interaction through the lens of growth and learning, and not through shame.
On the other hand, it’s possible your child was expressing negative emotions such as frustration or anger by throwing the toy. Gentle parents remember that children simply don’t have the emotional regulation of adults, and so our role is to model the healthy way to express those feelings.
It’s also a sign for the adult to think about what’s been going on in the child’s world recently. It could be a short-term situation—as simple as waking up on the wrong side of the bed that day (just like us, kids have bad days sometimes!), or it could be a long-term big-picture change such as welcoming a new sibling that fosters big feelings. Your child likely won’t consciously know the cause of their emotional disregulation—that’s okay. What your child needs in those moments is to be seen, have their feelings validated, and feel connected to you.
Connection is the root of gentle parenting
One concept that propels the mission of gentle parenting is that connection with your child is paramount. A mantra I like to remind myself of is:
Connection over correction
Now, this quote can be easily misunderstood. This does not mean that in each individual moment needs to cater to your child’s every desire. Nope. It’s about having a mindset of connection should be present in every moment—this could be validating your child’s feelings. Validating feelings feels WAY easier by simply reminding yourself that your child is good, and is always good, no matter what they do or say.
For example, if it’s time to go upstairs and get ready for bed and your kid says “NO!”, gentle parents will NOT connect by saying “Okay!” and doing what the child wants. Nope. The connection happens when you validate the feelings. A gentle parent will hold firm on the boundary (it’s bedtime), but will approach it through validation and love. You can say something like “UGH I know, it’s so hard to stop playing and go upstairs to get ready for bed. I see that you don’t want to do that right now.” Your child will most likely continue to protest, so you need to be swift and confident. Saying something like: “It’s time to go upstairs now, do you want to go by yourself, or do you need a bit of help?” Your child may respond to this, or they may melt down into a flailing mess. If it’s the latter, you’re going to need to physically help your child with the kindest intentions possible (this is reeeeaally hard with a flailing child, so godspeed).
Gentle parents make lots of mistakes
So yes, of course, connection is supremely important. But clearly it doesn’t mean everything is smooth sailing and you have breed robot children who listen right away. Before you can get to the point of connecting in those tough moments (let alone any moment), it’s very important to remember that we are all human. Even though we are adults, we were once children, and sometimes our inner-child is, erm, strongly triggered by our own children’s big feelings. Just remember that we all make mistakes. Ever. Single. Parent.
It’s okay to make mistakes. The fact that we make mistakes is not the important part (mistakes can actually be a great learning tool to model to our children, but that’s a post for another time). It’s important that we are open to being self-aware, able to acknowledge these mistakes AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, able to repair. This means apologizing to our child, and committing to try your best not to repeat the same mistake in the future (… but you probably will, it’s okay).
Overall, a nurturing and supportive approach to discipline focuses on helping children to understand and learn from their mistakes, rather than using punishment or coercion to control their behavior.