If you’re looking to incorporate gentle parenting into your home, here are ways to handle everyday scenarios to get you started.
You wake up later than you planned, and you’ve got one hour to get everyone ready and out the door. When it’s time to go, you nicely say, “OK, put your shoes on please.” Your child refuses. You try your best, but you end up yelling and threatening to take away their favorite toy. You might make it out the door, but you feel like you’ve failed at parenting once again.
If this scenario feels familiar, you’re not alone. With so much advice floating around it can be hard to know what to try next. If you’re looking for a more tender approach, gentle parenting might be worth trying.
The evidence-based parenting style uses guidance and choices over demands and discipline. It gives children expectations that help set them up to succeed. “The idea is to approach that relationship from a place of respect and empathy, helping children garner the tools they need to navigate emotions as they grow up,” says Shari D. Cameron, head of school at BASIS Independent Brooklyn Lower. “How you respond to them will determine what the relationship will look like years down the line.”
Donna Whittaker, VP of curriculum and education at Big Blue Marble Academy, adds, “Children will be able to take what they have learned out into the world and grow to become adults armed with strong social and emotional skills.”
If you’re curious about how to incorporate gentle parenting into your own life, here are nine common situations and specific ways to react in the moment.
Heading Out the Door
You’ve got seven snack options packed and you’re ready to hit the road. But there’s one more task yet to do: get out the door and into the car.
Whittaker advises preparing your child ahead of time, explaining that unwanted behavior is often eliminated when children know what is expected of them. You can say, “In a little bit of time we are going to leave to go to the store. You will need to put your shoes on now so that you are ready to go.” She explains that young children typically can understand the concept of “little” easier than a specific amount of time.
Cameron suggests having a bag by the door for your child to place a special item they can bring along. When it’s time to leave, remind them to put their special things in the bag and get ready to go.
Time To Turn off the Screens
Ending screen time can be a tough transition. The key here is to set expectations before it begins. Discuss the amount of time allowed and what the plan is for when it’s over.
Cameron suggests using a timer that your child can set themselves. When the time is up, offer an option for them to do next. Say something like, “Once your device is on the charger, you can play with your dinosaurs.”
Your Child Runs Off in Public
Taking kids to a place with a lot of people can be stressful. Before you go, Whittaker says it’s a good idea to set them up for success and tell them your expectations. You can say, “We’re going to the store. It’s important that you stay close to me so that you are safe.”
Cameron adds to be sure to acknowledge their good behavior when you’re out and about. Say something like, “You are staying close to me so that you are safe. I knew you could do it!” Comments like these show kids that you’re paying attention and also make them feel good.
If your child starts walking away or leaving your immediate area, get on their eye level and calmly remind them of your expectations. “We react because we are nervous but shouting at a child and threatening them will scare them more than teaching them,” says Cameron. “We want to transfer an understanding of why something is important instead of transferring our own fears onto our children.”
Leaving the Park or a Playdate
Unfortunately, part of parenting is deciding when the fun is over and it’s time to go. Of course, that’s not always easy to do. Again, discuss expectations ahead of time. Talk about what kinds of things they might do there and that when you say it’s time to go, they’ll have to stop playing and be ready to leave.
If your child has a tough time with transitions, Whittaker says it’s important to make note of their feelings. You can say, “I know it’s hard to leave when you’re having fun, but it’s time to go.” Reassure them that their feelings are normal and that you don’t like to leave when you’re having fun either, but it’s part of life.
Coming in From Playing Outdoors
When it’s time to head inside after playing, do you feel pressure to get your children cleaned up, fed, and into bed at a decent hour? You’re not alone. Keep your own expectations low and don’t put too many tasks on your kids at once either. They can get overwhelmed easily, so keep the directions simple. Say something like, “It’s time to come inside and get cleaned up.”
Once that’s complete, add a new direction. “It’s time for dinner, and then it’s bath time.” It might help to add a more favorable activity to the end of your directions: “First, we’ll take a bath, and then I’ll read you a book. What book do you want to read?”
Your Kid Wants To Buy Something at the Store
For many parents, a trip to the store ends in an argument with your child about what you are or aren’t buying. Cameron reminds not to allow shame to overcome you if you are in public. “Your priority is making sure your child learns how to navigate the situation,” she says. “Teach them how to express what they are feeling and how to express themselves. It’s OK to acknowledge that you’ve heard what they would like, but right now you need their help selecting another item. Remember to remain calm yourself, and if possible, offer a distraction.”
Not Sitting Down To Eat a Meal
Routines are extremely helpful in teaching your child how to know what to expect. Dinnertime is a perfect situation in which to implement a routine.
Cameron suggests explaining to your child why mealtime is important. Tell them that it’s a time for everyone to be together and talk. But also make it fun! Ask them what their favorite part of their day was. Make sure to tell them yours, too. This will help build a connection with your child.
Another way to enhance mealtime is to let your child help. Ask them to get involved in planning and preparing meals or to help clean up. Try to limit your control during this process. It will help them gain a sense of purpose in the household and foster their independence.
Not Listening While Playing Around Water
Water play can be a stressful activity for parents. Always be sure to go over rules and remember to reinforce them each time you are around water.
If your child does something inappropriate, Cameron suggests telling them that if they continue to be unsafe, they’ll need to take a break. And when it comes to safety rules and consequences, she notes that follow through is important. You may need to provide space between your child and the activity until they can show you that they are safe.
Hard Time Getting Used to Bedtime
Many parents dread bedtime. Everyone is worn out, and you still have to get the kids into bed and hope for some kid-free time before your head hits the pillow.
Cameron emphasizes that “routine predictability is key.” Having a regular routine is a great way for your kids to get used to bedtime. Try to keep it the same each night if you can.
Whittaker suggests reminding your child of the bedtime routine until it is well established. You might say, “First, you are going to brush your teeth; second, we will read a book, and third, a good night kiss and sleep.” Each night, use the same process. The goal, Whittaker says, is for your child to follow the routine without your help. She adds it can be helpful for some children to follow simple picture instructions.
The Bottom Line
No parenting style is perfect, and every child is different, so gentle parenting may not always work. But if it’s a style you want to try and follow, remember to always acknowledge your child’s feelings. Give them choices and celebrate when something goes well. And remember, you can always try again next time.