My daughter is about to have her third birthday, so it is about that time of year when I reflect on how much she (and I) have grown. Year three things finally start to make some kind of sense (sort of!) and I wanted to share what it’s been like to use gentle parenting techniques (and what I can pass on to you!) up to this point.
Gentle parenting seems to be trickling into the mainstream parenting realm, which is refreshing to say in the least, and not just because it’s the style I prefer! While no school of thought is perfect, and no one can perfectly implement any school of thought, gentle parenting seems to resonate with a lot of parents in the times we live in.
What I love about gentle parenting is that it feels like emotional hygiene. Emotional health is just as important as physical health (in my humble opinion). A major tool of gentle parenting is the language you use to help you and your child express feelings safely and make compromises–with the understanding that we respect everyone as a unique individual with different needs.
Given that it’s popularity is growing, it can be overwhelming to comb through all the information to finally get to some strategies or techniques you can get started trying out for yourself.
That said, here are 7 simple phrases I find myself coming to over and over:
1. “I hear you.”
I use this phrase A LOT. It’s like a catch-all for the lovely sounds of whiny, cranky babies who just want to be heard. Or for moments when they continue to demand something that you’ve already said no to, which brings me to…
2. “You are (feeling name)”/”You sound (feeling name)”
Reflect feelings! This is a technique I learned in a counseling skills class in grad school. Reflect the feeling they are expressing to diffuse the situation a bit by understanding and relating to how they are feeling.
For example, your child wants a cookie but you say no. They start to whine or throw a fit. You can say, “Sounds like/seems like/I can tell you are feeling frustrated because I won’t give you the cookie.” You can sometimes stop there, but sometimes they might need your help to release their feelings in a safe and appropriate way. That brings me to…
3. “Come give me a hug.” (Or whatever soothes them)
My daughter’s tantrums almost always melt away with a big bear hug. Even when I’m angry and I don’t feel like being affectionate, I put my pride down and reach out anyways.
There are times she refuses or times when she wants it but it’s a huge struggle to hold her. In those situations it seems to me that she wants me to show her that I’m in control no matter how hard she fights me so she can feel secure. If she’s not in my arms already, she will more often than not ask for a hug once the strong feelings have passed.
Sometimes all it takes is a big cup of water and a change of scenery or activity. I try to remember that she’s a tiny, relatively new human being with big feelings that she’s never had before and doesn’t know what to do with them. Some other calming techniques you can use are: deep breaths, counting to ten, a bubble bath, taking a walk, or just giving space. Speaking of space…
4. “I need a minute.”
Know what soothes YOU, too. If you don’t have a handle on your own emotions, you will have a hard time handling your child’s emotions, period.
I admit that I totally lose it sometimes and it sucks. If I lose it, I always catch myself and apologize. If I feel I am about to lose it, I remove myself from the situation and let her know that I need some time to simmer down.
Our kids are totally in tune with our feelings and sometimes they are thrown off balance when we are out of balance. It’s ok and totally normal, just recognize it and address before you explode if you can.
5. “Let it out.”/”It’s ok to cry.”
Allow all feelings. All feelings are acceptable, no matter how unwarranted or bothersome they may seem at the moment. We can’t assume what is going on in our child’s being, nor can they understand the complexity of our emotions. Remind yourself that no feeling lasts forever (even though every second of crying can feel like an hour).
6. “Which would you prefer?”
Choices make the world go ‘round! This I do multiple times a day. It is the ultimate technique that is good for you and for your child. When you use choices (carefully chosen so that both are good for all involved) it really brings dignity and clarity to everyone. It took some practice but now I do it without even thinking. Here are some examples of choices I use all the time:
- We need to take a bath soon. Do you want to go now or in 5 minutes?
- Which shoes do you want to wear? (choose 2 and offer those only)
- Would you like oatmeal or cereal for breakfast?
- I need you to _____. Do you want to do it by yourself or do you need help?
- I see that you are not ready to _____. You can have 5 more minutes, but then we won’t have time for _______.
7. “Let’s go ____!”
Recognize when you need to be the leader. Choices are great, but our children also need us to be the leader and make choices for them at times. This became most apparent to me during potty training. At first I would ask her if she needed to go potty, but being 2 years old, of course the answer was always NO. I learned that when I felt like she needed to go I had to energetically say, “time to go potty!” Or “let’s go potty!” And just take her by the hand and go.
Many times she would be caught off guard and just go with me happily. Other times she’d protest but I would stick to my resolve and accept all feelings but also help her do what I needed her to do, and give her any choices or independence I could in the process.
Even as adults we have a hard time making decisions and can feel overwhelmed, and it’s comforting to really on someone you trust to make a choice for you when you need that support.
I find myself saying these automatically now, which is a very good feeling. When I first started using these methods I felt lost! It was all new territory for me. I had no idea what I was doing and I had to often stop and think for a bit before I reacted or gave instructions. Now it’s second nature! Not to say that I don’t forget, because I certainly blow it from time to time.Nevertheless, I come back to it over and over because it really does work well for us. My daughter is even able to tell us how she feels which, as a school counselor, is amazing! I have many students who haven’t learned the socioemotional skills of telling how they feel yet. Have you tried any of these techniques? How has it worked for you? Let us know in the comments below!
Robin Koogle // Blogger
Robin lives in Miami, married, and mom to 3 kids. She is an elementary school counselor in downtown Miami, yoga teacher, ramen enthusiast, former barista and video game dabbler. You can follow her at https://medium.com/@robinkoogle/ where she writes and shares about the stuff she loves.