Coolly, Calmly and Compassionately Raising Your Kids

Coolly, Calmly and Compassionately Raising Your Kids

Gentle Parenting Best Practices

Your 10-year-old ignores repeated requests to stop wrestling his little brother (and shrieking). Or your tween fills her water bottle twice with a slushy at the movies--without paying. Instead of reactively scolding your child to remorse, consider a coaching mindset to teach the moment and challenge the behavior with a more collaborative, reflective approach. Experts say this kinder, gentler style will help the child to better process emotions and improve behavior for long-term healthy growth and development.

Model Sangfroid: discusses key elements in gentle parenting of empathy, respect, understanding and clear boundaries. It advises parents to model compassion they want in their children, enforce consistent boundaries and respect the child's feelings. That might mean comforting the crying baby at 2 a.m. rather than getting upset.  "When we show gentleness, especially during stressful times, we mold frustration tolerance, and we mold flexibility. Staying calm and being gentle and firm sets the tone for positive growth and development," says Allison Andrews, Psy.D.

Be a Rule Maker: Set clear guidelines on appropriate behavior with high expectations, which gives children security and structure. So state specifically that your teen cannot drink alcohol and consistently enforce the no device at dinner policy. "This means a child will feel assured enough to explore new environments while also knowing they're being protected. In the end, this encourages confidence. With older children, keep their age in mind before reacting to their behavior. Doing so will help you better understand their mindset to help them through their feelings in an appropriate way," says Verywell Family.

Seize the Moment: Cleveland Clinic explains the shift from the punishment/reward framework --no sticker charts and timeouts--to a more collaborative approach that gives the child emotional awareness and space to improve behaviors. So think thrice before you yell, "You're acting ridiculous and might make me late for work!" since the child might fearfully stop but quickly revert. "The gentler response is to stay calm and firm, pause and say calmly, 'I'm going to drop you off at school and then I'm going to work.  We need to leave on time... If you're not ready, then we'll both be late and I will feel angry. If I get angry, you will lose privileges.'"

Have an internal plan to step back and respond efficiently. Praise four times more than criticize. Discuss outcomes, consequences and behavioral triggers, which help kids feel more calm and less aggressive. "Studies show that this mutual understanding and team approach to parenting increases a child's sense of attachment to their parents. This greater sense of attachment is then associated with fewer depressive symptoms and greater levels of gratitude and forgiveness later in life," it states. notes other benefits of less anxiety and positive social skills. It recommends separating action from the person and consistently parent with kindness, empathy and compassion--no more drill sergeant. So if your preschooler refuses to put on her coat for the store, ask your child in a neutral voice what he is thinking. “Listen with patience and understanding and then come up with a solution that works for all parties involved.”

Just Do It! A New Yorker article by Jessica Winter discusses how it centers on a child's feelings and motivations behind challenging behavior rather than correcting it.  The child learns to control emotions as the caregiver affirms them as important. "The kid becomes a person who is self-regulating, kind and conscientious because she wants to be, not because it will result in ice cream."

But amidst hectic routines, there may be no time for such didactic dialogue.  It critiques its deference to a child's every mood and view of bad behavior as a "physiological response to stress" requiring an "emotional security guard." And it risks "over-validation and under-correction." Yet whatever the limitations, Winter affirms the healthier response than impulsively raising her voice and dragging her son out the door.  "It has changed how I speak to my children  and how I attempt to negotiate tough moments with them, and for that I am grateful."

However one chooses to discipline, every parent can incorporate a more patient, loving approach to raising kind, thoughtful children as 2024 unfolds.