April 1, 2013 by mamacravings
It was not long after little Eli came into my world, that it his sensitive nature began to present itself, which was met by my horrifying realization by how sensitive I am not. One of my first fears in parenting was breaking this little one’s spirit. I worried, read, studied and prayed. Then I repeated the process several times…and am still repeating that cycle.
While I dove into different parenting styles, I realized that I naturally started leaning towards gentle parenting. It seemed to make the most sense for my high-needs, tender-hearted baby boy.
The more I practiced, the better I became (and am becoming) of parenting gently. While I am certainly no expert and am hopelessly flawed as a human parent parenting a human child, I have noticed a remarkable difference since embracing the gentle parenting style. I am happier. My son is happier.
Lately, I have received many emails, discussions, posts and texts from other parents wanting to adopt gentle parenting techniques. While I don’t consider myself an expert, I have found that my 6+ years as a classroom teacher and several years in casework have provided a unique perspective with a broad exposure to find out what works best with many personalities of children. I am happy to share what I have learned, to learn what you have learned and to share this journey as we go along together.
Gentle Parenting Defined
According to Dr. Laura Markham of Aha! Parenting, gentle parenting (which she calls positive parenting) is divided into two parts. “All children ‘misbehave’ sometimes, and all parents wonder how to stop the misbehavior. But that’s only half of our mission as parents. The other half is raising a child who internalizes our guidance to become ‘self-disciplined’. The most effective “discipline” for your child is always positive, loving, gentle guidance” (ahaparenting.com 2013).
Many times gentle parenting is confused with permissive parenting. When I first cautiously began to research gentle parenting, I made this assumption. I raised my eyebrows at the idea. But I kept digging and kept studying. I quickly found out that the ideologies of gentle parenting and permissive parenting are not even in the same ballpark.
Permissive parenting is dangerous. It provides little to no direction for children, allowing them to the whims of evolution and Murphy’s Law. Gentle parenting, however, is incredibly and intricately intentional. Children are redirected, respected and guided to be responsible.
Sanity in Choices
Choices are my sanity. “Would you like to have 5 more minutes in the bath or to read an extra story at bedtime?” and “Do you prefer the Spider Man underwear of the Thomas the train underwear?” gives my son age-appropriate power.
With choices, I am establishing boundaries that are safe, doable and that work for the entire family. On the flip side of that, I am allowing my son to take on responsibility. I am also narrowing down a seemingly endless number of options which can be overwhelming.
Skip open-ended questions with young children.
Open ended questions such as, “Which shirt do you want?” is daunting when that closet is longer than you are. When he has picked a shirt, what if it’s not weather-appropriate or event-appropriate? Then you have to discard his choice and ask him to pick something else. In my personal experience, few things are as annoying as someone saying “Pick a restaurant.” and then turning his/her nose up at my choice. Children have those same feelings of disappointment, frustration and hurt at a snubbed choice. But many have yet to develop the communication skills to say, “Am I picking, or not?”
How do choices really work?
Limit your choices to a couple or a few items and make sure they are choices you can live with. It might be tempting to say, “Either pick up that toy, or I’m going to throw it out.” While it does present a choice, what happens if he doesn’t pick it up? You have put yourself in a position to throw away his toy. You either have to back-pedal or to follow through. Either way, it’s not where I like to find myself (though I have on numerous occasions).
Choices are an excellent tool to use for strong-willed children (children who have a strong inner drive to do and say what they feel is right/just). It goes back to power within boundaries.
Choices also work well for kids who are sensitive to “messing up.” There is affirmation in understanding that these choices are okay because a grown up this child trusts has issued them. This will help the child build confidence in his/her ability in making choices.
In my professional experience, I have found that choices empower my students to make choices that work for them as well as for the class. It teaches them how to take responsibility and how to deal with the consequences (both positive and negative) of a choice.
In my experience, I have found choices to be one of my greatest tools in the classroom and at home.
In the classroom, instead of saying, “Sit down!”, I can give the option, “Would you prefer to sit in this seat or that seat?” It changes the nature of the direction, and it changes the tone. While I learned the art of choices in the classroom, I quickly brought it home after my son was born. Giving options to a child shows that you value their input, you respect him/her and that you trust that a good choice will be made.
How does giving choices work in your household?