Markus Spiske

Parenting preschoolers is amazing and exhausting all at the same time. It's one of my favorite ages with my children but also the most challenging. Gentle parenting has helped me be a better mother. It has helped me have more joyous times with my children and get through the not-so-fun parts of parenting.

While it may seem like just another buzzphrase style of parenting, gentle parenting is a method that's been around since the beginning of time. This parenting method is about building a strong bond with my children while setting healthy boundaries.

If more traditional parenting methods have seemed harsh or outdated, gentle parenting may be what you've been looking for. Giving our children the freedom of choice while nurturing them in a safe, healthy environment is the key to gentle parenting in our house.

What is Gentle Parenting?

An evidence-based approach to raising children, gentle parenting focuses on empathy, respect, understanding, and boundaries. Enforcing consistent limits and modeling respectful, compassionate behavior are cornerstones of peaceful parenting. 

While more traditional parenting approaches may make kids feel like they should be “seen and not heard,” gentle parenting is about teaching and allowing children to express themselves and their feelings in age-appropriate ways.

How to Get Started With Gentle Parenting

Open communication is another critical component of gentle parenting, and a cornerstone of the foundation of your relationship as your child learns to navigate life. It is up to us to ensure that our little ones are prepared for adulthood most healthily. 

Allow your child to have a voice, treat them like an actual human being capable of making their own choices, and instill respect both to and from your child.

Give Choices

It is crucial to allow our children – even from a young age – to learn how to make their own decisions. During the preschool years, this may look like asking your child if they want apples or oranges for their snack. 

Asking, “would you like to wear your green tennis shoes or the blue ones?” will yield much better results than saying, “you must wear these shoes.” Children want choices. They crave independence. Giving them safe options to choose from is the first step in them learning how to make those decisions when they're older. 

The two choices I mentioned, green or blue tennis shoes, can also prevent them from grabbing flip-flops during the winter. If you notice your preschooler is always going for shoes that are not weather or school appropriate, limit the choices to proper shoes. Put the other ones up, or save them for “home only” or “weekends only” use.

If your child chooses to run inside when they should be walking, you may say, “We use walking feet inside, but we can go outside and run!” You can use many phrases that are more positive and empowering for your kiddos than saying, “no running in the house!”

One big difference with gentle parenting is that we teach our children bodily autonomy. If Uncle Larry wants a hug at Thanksgiving, but your child doesn't want to hug them, that is their choice. You don't force, bribe, or shame them into giving physical affection or allowing others to touch them when they don't want to be touched. 

Learning to retrain your brain and rephrase your thinking is a big part of gentle parenting, especially with more traditional parenting methods.

Does Gentle Parenting Include Discipline?

Contrary to some people, gentle parenting doesn't mean it's a free for all at our house. Traditional discipline methods such as yelling, shaming, and spanking does not align with gentle parenting philosophies. Instead, we use positive discipline techniques with a significant focus on troubleshooting and meeting our child's needs.

You may need some time-ins if you're transitioning into more gentle parenting. Yes, mom time-ins, not time-outs for the kids. Raising healthy, happy, well-adjusted kids means we have to check ourselves from time to time. When kids “misbehave,” it's usually because of an unmet need. Instead of getting outwardly angry and yelling, we take a step back to assess the situation. 

Why are they acting out? Are they overstimulated? Tired? Anxious? Angry? What do they need? How can we help them get back on the right track? Instead of punishing a child for making a mistake or acting out, take a moment to troubleshoot, and problem solve.

Gentle parenting isn't about being a pushover or never saying “no” to your child; it's about giving your child the power to make their own choices and own their truth at any age.

“Pick Your Battles”

A well-known phrase regarding parenting is “pick your battles.” With gentle parenting, it's not that the “battles” disappear but are minimized. Are our kids always perfectly behaved? Of course not. Nobody's children are perfect, and there are no perfect parents. For us, gentle parenting is about love, nurturing, and attachment.

Instead of creating battles, remember it's your family against the world! Work together to accomplish your goals. Enjoy spending time together – yes, that includes the kiddos! 

Stock Up on Patience

Gentle parenting is not for the faint of heart, especially if you're transitioning from more traditional methods you may have used in the past. Patience is something you'll need mounds and mounds of. Make sure your partner and you are on the same page, also. Using different parenting methods will make it difficult for either to “stick.” 

Modeling the behaviors you want and expect from your children is the best way to incorporate gentle parenting. For example, keep your cool, give yourself time to walk away, and collect yourself if necessary, but always keep your responses respectful. Modeling teaches our kids they can do the same, even when upset.

Gentle Parenting in the Real World

If you're interested in beginning your gentle parenting journey, here are some books that have helped me:
Gentle Discipline Book:
Raising Good Humans:
The Whole-Brain Child:

Remember: nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes. When you do, get back on track as quickly as possible. If you yell or get outwardly angry, it's okay (and healthy!) to apologize to your kids. Apologizing is something they have to learn how to do as well, so modeling that behavior will help everyone. 

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