Google+ Authentic Parenting: When Gentle Parenting Doesn't Work (rerun)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

When Gentle Parenting Doesn't Work (rerun)

I often get questions like the following: "I have tried all the tricks in the book, but gentle parenting just doesn't seem to work for us. What do I do?"
Indeed sometimes it seems like we get stuck with gentle parenting and it doesn't yield the results we seek. The alternative can seem very enticing. So what to do when you get to this point?

Reframe the way you think about your child's behavior
It's easy to see your child as defiant, since that's the way we are programmed to see a child who doesn't cooperate with our every desire. If we try to see through what we think is defiance, we might find a happy and confident child who is just trying to find its way in the world.

Consider the words you use about your parenting

Image: Ha-wee on Flickr
"I can't handle my kids.", "They never listen.", "How can I get them to do X?", ...
If we analyze how we think about our parenting, it can become very clear that we're acting out of a position of dominance and coercion instead of one of nurturing and equality. We'll see that we are only trying to get them to do what we want.
Gentle parenting is about fostering authentic choice and individualism, which we can't reach when we act dominantly. Our children's authentic choices don't need to coincide with ours, quite on the contrary. We are only there to guide them on their path and help them along to make sound choices for themselves when they need us.

Step back and look at the big picture
It's very easy to get overwhelmed by the little things every day: your child doesn't want to get dressed, they wear mismatched shoes to grandmother's birthday party, they pull all of your neatly ironed clothes out of the closet. The little things can get the best of us... but it is important to see how futile they are.
If you take a moment to relax and look at the entire day, the week, or the year, you may find that you're actually doing quite well. That you are getting along fine and that most of the time you can find ways that please everyone.

Make sure your engine is fueled too
Probably one of the most important, but equally undervalued parts of peaceful or gentle parenting is making sure that you are fine too. A crippled horse can not draw a cart, so there's no way you can parent gently if you're broken, tired, hungry, depressed, lonely or what not.
By caring for yourself, you're not only doing yourself a favor, you're setting a great example for your child and you'll be more peaceful too. Find more about how to nurture yourself in these posts.

Remind yourself of your goals
If your child isn't cooperating with you, if every day seems like a drag, ask yourself what you're going for in the long run. Do you want to raise an obedient child, or a creative thinker? A follower or a leader? Someone who crumples at the sight of authority or someone who follows their dream?
Individualism can only be reached through error, so allow your child to make them, and create a safe environment to make them in.
Maybe a bit of 'defiance' and 'rebellion' or hardship is a small price to pay for raising an individual.

And when you do fail?
Sometimes even the nicest person can lose it. Kids tend to get under our skins and trigger all the painful emotions and unwanted reactions can happen. Maybe you yell, maybe you call your child something you regret, maybe you become aggressive or spank...
Peaceful parenting is not about being the perfect parent, it's about trying to get better at it. Working to overcome the hardwiring, change and daily practice. When we fail, the most important thing is to move on and try again, and not get sucked in a spiral of conflict and coercion. Every small effort is a step in the right direction, and this parenting gig is about the journey, not the end.
Read more about dealing with your mistakes.



  1. Very insightful post. It's a reminder to me that parenting is not about your day running smoothly, but about helping your children become the best people they can be. Oh, and a reminder to be kind and forgiving with myself, too.

  2. Thanks! I needed a message like this after a huge fight with my hubby yesterday concerning our different parenting styles...

  3. stepping back and looking at the big picture is the piece I keep forgetting about. It does change the way things look in the moment.
    This is a wonderful reminder.

  4. I have a friend who has a post it in her kitchen that says " Remember you're not raising an inconvenience, you are raising a human being." This was helpful for me.

  5. When peaceful parenting doesn't work, it may be the child has a brain issue such as ADHD. I was very frustrated until I got the diagnosis for my son. Then I took two courses on positive behavior supports and got him into a better school and childcare that also use PBS. We also needed for him to be on medication, this gave him a better chance to make good decisions and also allowed him to learn at school. And we now able to be at peace. We understand why the behavior gets out of control a lot more when he gets extra tired, so we lower expectations for behavior and don't take it personally,and give him extra rest/time when needed. :)


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