There are many naysayers to be found when a parent mentions that they practice Gentle Parenting. I have all but stopped listening to these people because they usually aren’t interested in communicating or sharing ideas, but are more keen to tell you that your kid is destined to be some horrible monster.
Practicing Gentle Parenting was an absolute instinct for me, pretty much from the moment I knew I was *opps* pregnant. I wanted to give Aodhan the respect and love that I knew he would in turn have the capacity to return to the world around him. In addition to a load of other instinctual exchanges and ways of care, our home is also free of conventional forms of discipline.
We don’t time out, we don’t withhold love (ie. ignoring), we do not spank/hit/squeeze, we do not threaten. Nope. Nope. Nope.
Even the word discipline disrupts my equilibrium. I can’t find anyway to make sense of our society’s knee-jerk reaction to yell at, physically harm, or emotionally manipulate children who are looking towards us to guide them in the best ways to get along with their society. If we yell at them, they will yell at their world. If we hit them, they will hit. If we ignore or manipulate, they will ignore and manipulate. Or worse: they will shut down.
I have mentioned before about not offering rewards to Aodhan because I want him to be kind and respectful from an intrinsic and personal place. Similarly, I don’t punish Aodhan because I don’t want him acting a certain way out of fear or simple ‘compliance’. I want Aodhan to really understand why we he behaves a certain way.
Let’s be clear though – Aodhan is developmentally interested in pushing boundaries right now. He wants to push against the barriers that limit him, and the parents that act as his protective perimeter. By understanding this, it helps me to help him deal with his emotions that are the root of his behaviours. Of course he is frustrated – he is a kid.
Aodhan will pour a glass of water on the table to see how it pours, especially if he is tried, weaning, growing and/or had a busy day stretching his brain cells. He is looking for a way to be in control in an otherwise adult-controlled world. On good days, these feelings of needing to control will end up with Aodhan leading play or teaching me about something he has learned. But, sometimes we are too busy, maybe I don’t catch his emotional needs, or maybe he holds back – it happens. Water gets poured, toys get tipped out of baskets, and stuffed animals get tossed.
But, who cares? These little things are annoying to me and I need to spend some time cleaning up – and yes, I will tell him that I am annoyed and I will point out the natural consequence that I can’t spend this time playing with him because I am tidying up. Or, now more often than not, now that he is older, I will hand him the cloth and get him to assist me or lead the clean up. Either in the moment or at a later time we talk very openly and honestly about what happened. I ask questions. He sometimes gives answers. I remind him to connect with me, and I listen.
On a very few occasions, emotional bubbles have burst and he has hurt an actual person. Sometimes this is a true accident as a result of a healthy expression of anger and sometimes he has been so upset that he has pushed against me (or his cousin), or he has pulled a toy too roughly from my hand. In these moments, where stakes are higher, I take a deep breath, think about the entire reason why we gentle parent Aodhan and remove him from the situation.
I do not shame him (by yelling or admonishing in front of others)
I do not disable his feeling of control further (by ignoring him or putting him in a corner)
I do not reinforce this negative way of dealing with anger (by spanking him)
In these moments, I whisper.
I speak very quietly. This helps calm the entire situation and it helps focus his attention, because the kid has to tune in to listen to me when I whisper. I have been doing this recently and find it amazingly effective. I have gone so far as whispering at other times of natural calm – when we are reading, playing, snuggling – as a way to connect those feelings into the more chaotic moments when I need Aodhan to find a more gentle frame of mind. It works amazingly well.
Luckily, and hopefully because of all the gentleness we have shown this young soul, these shitty moments rarely happen. But, they do. I can’t deny my kid the chance to stretch into who he is. I can’t ask him to shut off the rumble of emotions. But I sure as hell can acknowledge that they are happening and look at what I can do to diminish the stress that is invoking these emotional mountains.
I am really confident that if Aodhan were ever to experience a tantrum (which is also appropriate for this age) that this little technique would go far in helping him connect with the calm we foster day in and day out.
In addition to this seemingly silly, crunchy-granola (but incredibly effective) approach to parenting with integrity we also highlight for Aodhan the Natural Consequences (the toys ended up on the floor, you clean them up), lots and lots of discussion, using books and other educational tools, and highlighting positive behaviour of people he admires. We also sink a lot of effort into the front end of parenting. We are quick to tackle low blood sugar, boredom, fear and exhustion. I also will remove Aodhan from a situation where I see too much being asked of him. Recently, we spent a huge amount of time out of our house with a younger babe. He adores this kid and is adored in return. But, after four days it dawned on me: oh my god – we have just asked Aodhan to have a sister! With very little experience of not being the only kid on the block, suddenly there was a second and equally lovely kiddo around. Kids are quick to pick up on the adoration of others and even if he didn’t know it, he was jealous. I quickly made the decision that 4 days was enough to ask of a kid to go from 0 – 100. Before things went to a place that we were all sad about, we went home.
I know I can’t pad the entire world with squishy clouds of love and snuggles. But, I don’t subscribe to that toxic belief of “hey, we have to be tough with our kids because the world is going to be tough on them”. Bullshit. The opposite makes much more sense to me and I sleep better at night knowing that my kid has a place where love is the answer and where he has learned nothing but kindness and felt nothing but support. Because, you know what? The world is tough. Life is tough. I want him to go forth and tackle the pain and sorrow that will come his way with a sense of bravery that comes from a firm base.