“I want to be a gentle parent, but”

Welcome to the “Ask Flora” column, where you can ask your parenting questions (for ages 2-10), and get answers from a Licensed Counselor & Parenting Coach of 12 years.

Q: Help! I want to be a gentle parent, but my son does NOT listen to anyone. I find myself getting angry or very frustrated with him sometimes and I become an angry mom which I think hurts in the long run. 

Thank you so much for your openness and honesty.  First off, what is gentle parenting? The Cleveland Clinic explains it by saying, “The goal of gentle parenting is to raise confident, independent and happy children through empathy, respect and understanding, and setting healthy boundaries.”

I find many parents end up becoming the “angry mom” when they are leaning more into the empathy side (affirming feelings with understanding), but don’t have effective strategies to enforce boundaries.   Here are the key components:

  1. Use “I love you AND…(boundary)” as a clear way to keep a respectful/understanding relationship, while still holding your boundary.
    1. Ie. “I love you AND we are turning off the ipad.” Or “I love you AND when you throw a toy, it will take a break above the fridge ‘till tomorrow.”
    2. I love you AND I notice your bike is still not put away
    3. “I love you AND when your backpack is hung up your can go play.”
  2. Be clear with your child that “ALL feelings are accepted, yet certain actions must be limited.” (How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk)
    1. “I hear that you are angry.  When you are done screaming, I’m happy to talk to you about it.”
    2. “You seem disappointed with what I made for dinner.  Whining about it is not going to change what’s for dinner.”
    3. “You’re sad to leave your friend, and it’s time to get in the car for soccer.”
  1. Follow through on the boundary you set.  Instead of repeating yourself 100 times, and getting to the end of your rope, have a more clear plan, and follow-through after only 1-2 prompts:
    1. “I was clear that if you hit, you sit. (then take them by the hand to take a break somewhere to calm down).” 
    2. “I see that you chose to throw that.  Now the toy is taking a break on the fridge.”
    3. “I see that you are not walking to the car, so I’ll take your hand and help you walk there.”

I imagine that what you want MOST in your gentle parenting is to have a healthy, happy relationship with your child.  So I encourage you to lean into the side of gentle parenting that includes enforcing boundaries, in order to have a more balanced approach of both kindness and firmness at the same time.

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“I want to be a gentle parent, but”

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