Hearing someone talk about "gentle parenting" might initially evoke images of a barefooted mother cradling her baby in a field of wildflowers, singing sweet lullabies while the wind blows her hair wildly about. I can assure you that not everyone who practices gentle parenting techniques would be down with frolicking barefooted through a field — myself included, because ouch, there could be stickers — but there are plenty of gentle parenting techniques you should know and try, because according to experts, they really can work.
"Parents that love and support their child in learning how to make smarter choices build stronger and healthier bonds with them," Maureen Healy, author of The Emotionally Healthy Child and child development expert at Growinghappykids.com, tells Romper. "The goal of a parent is to guide their child forward — ultimately becoming a healthy, happier and contributing member of society who can joyfully share their gifts with the world. Gentle parenting is more successful at this than authoritative parenting in my professional opinion."
Healy does caution that the best approach when it comes to trying out gentle parenting techniques is "being strong and soft," providing space to say no to your child, but also fostering a sense of comfort and security. "The ability to be loving and supportive while strong and clear is the path of positive parenting," Healy says.
While these gentle parenting techniques may not work for every family or in every situation, it could prove helpful to give them a try and see what might strengthen the bond you share with your kids.
1. Understand Their Emotions
It is so easy to dismiss a tantrum as just a normal part of childhood when kicking and screaming in the middle of the store effectively ruins your weekly Target run. However, one gentle parenting technique you can fall back on to help quell those outbursts is attempting to understand your child's emotions. Knowing why they are throwing a fit is different than allowing them to throw the fit. If you dig a little deeper post-meltdown and ask your child what might have provoked them, you might find out that something completely out of their control sparked their emotions to combust, or it might be something you can help them with next time.
Communication is key here. Many parents encourage their kids to feel their feelings or put names to them. If you expect them to do so, modeling that behavior when it comes to your own emotions and your understanding of their emotions can help.
2. Provide Comfort
When it comes to kids and sleep, employing the gentle parenting technique of providing comfort may help your babe get some rest just a bit more easily. This may include indulging in those things that make your child feel secure and comforted including co-sleeping (and doing so safely) or nighttime feedings.
"Often helping a baby with settling, such as with nursing or bottle feeding, holding and rocking, carrying in a sling, etc. is said to create bad habits. But in reality these positive associations — they make a baby feel good about going to sleep — are powerful tools," Heidi Holvoet, PhD, sleep consultant and founder of BabySleepAdvice.com tells Romper. "Parents who embrace truly gentle and holistic ways to help their baby sleep well, experience improved bonding with their baby and learn to trust their own instincts. Both of these empower their parenting not only in the first months but for years to come."
3. Practice Empathy
Try practicing the gentle parenting technique of showing empathy by putting yourself in your child's shoes from time. Remember that meltdown in the middle of Target? If it was over being told "no" for the 100th time that day, the frustration your child is inevitably feeling probably played a role in their tantrum. Don't you hate it when your bank account tells you "no" over and over again while you attempt to shop for new shoes, new purses, and new everything? That is probably sort of how your kid feels in Target.
Psychology Today reports that it is possible to "boost empathetic understanding" thanks to signals in the brain that can mirror compassion when you share emotional experiences. A tantrum in Target is the perfect opportunity for a shared emotional experience.
4. Be An Effective Listener
The gentle parenting technique of effective listening can be used by parents who are trying to navigate negative emotions. Letdowns are a natural course of action throughout life, and kids will need to learn to cope with them as they grow.
Dr. Sarah Hornack, pediatric psychologist at Children's National, explains that when parents become effective listeners, children greatly benefit. "There are some simple strategies for being effective listeners when children bring up negative events or feelings, such as using open questions to explore and understand the child’s perspective," she tells Romper. "Reflecting the child’s effect (e.g., 'I understand you are feeling ___ because___.') and labeling emotions can help children feel heard, but also give them the opportunity to practice appropriate emotional expression. If these difficult emotions and situations are raised to parents, they can suggest positive coping behaviors for their children to try."
5. Show Respect
"Every person — including children — need love, respect and understanding as they traverse this thing we call life," Healy tells Romper. "Boys and girls may be new to the world but that likely means they need more understanding and coaching from us — not less. Remember we want to coach and not control our children. This is where the gentle parenting comes in."
When you engage in the gentle parenting practice of respecting your children, that doesn't mean giving in to their every whim. It just means knowing that you can coach rather than control and respect the fact that they are still learning and growing every day when they make a misstep. Showing respect for them may also help model giving you respect in return, which is the ultimate win-win.
6. Be Selective With Your "No"
In the world of gentle parenting, knowing what to say and when to say it is one of the more important lessons to learn from. This is not the easiest thing in the world to do, but not always meeting your kids' requests with a hard no is one gentle parenting technique that helps foster empathy and understanding.
"You want your child to know he or she is unconditionally loved at all times, but sometimes the answer is no. You cannot have the cookie at 9 p.m., but maybe we can put it in a container and put your name on it for tomorrow," Healy says. "This isn't easy, but there is a way to raise children without power struggle and guiding them toward their emotionally healthiest and ultimately, happiest lives."