Gentle Parenting is common practice all over the world. In many countries around the world it starts at birth when mom and baby are always together and grandmothers train new moms how to breastfeed on demand, baby wear and bed share. There’s no special terms for it, no one has to “explain Gentle Parenting,” that’s just how you take care of a baby.
But in the Western society so often we need to explain gentle parenting to someone else!
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Whether it’s our child’s caregiver or our mother in law, chances are not everyone is on board with your approach to parenting.
But maybe if they understood it better they could be more flexible and willing.
I want to help you!
So many moms believe that the positive discipline approach used with gentle parenting is what’s best for their child, but there is another adult in their life who can’t seem to wrap their head around it. I’m going to give you some tips and you can also download the Gentle Parenting Power Tools.
If you don’t spank, or threaten, or do time outs – but someone who cares for your child DOES then you’re going to want to read this.
Why are so many people doing the opposite of Gentle Parenting?
A lot of moms struggle especially with their own mothers or mother in law’s because they aren’t willing to change. If the tactics they used as a parent “worked” they might have a hard time agreeing to something else.
You might find there are a lot of people who believe that spanking and time-outs “work” simply because it renders immediate “results.” The child immediately stops the undesired behaviour and (hopefully) won’t do it again.
As Gentle Parents we know that this is not effective discipline. This won’t help children to make good decisions, but it will create a fear-based obedience. For those who believe in these practices they might even laugh at your attempts at “positive discipline” because it takes so long to get “results.” They probably don’t realize that you are equipping your child with long-term skills that will make them into wonderful adults. Adults who do the right thing from the goodness of their heart, who know how to regulate their emotions, who have respect and love for others.
Gentle Parenting a child creates amazing adults, but not everyone sees that.
If there is someone looking after or spending extended time with your children then you probably want to explain Gentle Parenting to them if they don’t already know what it is. Here are some tips to help you explain your stand on parenting so they can understand why you’re doing what you do.
If you’ve read this far but you’re not even totally sure what Gentle Parenting is then this post right here can help explain it to you. Or if you’re kind of on the fence about spanking and think it is Biblical check out this post.
Who should you explain Gentle Parenting to?
There are a lot of people out there who believe in punitive parenting practices, but not all of those people will come in contact with your child.
You don’t need to go around to every person you meet telling them all about Gentle Parenting, especially if they don’t ask and don’t interact with your child. You need to ask yourself who do you really need to tell about Gentle Parenting, who just needs a little information here and there, and who you really don’t need to talk to about it at all.
The person you need to thoroughly explain Gentle Parenting to would probably be anyone who spends an extended amount of time with your child, this would be a grandparent, aunt or uncle or any kind of caregiver.
Even if this person doesn’t watch your child 1 on 1 but still spends a lot of time with them, even if it’s in your home. Often times it can be grandparents who feel they have the right to discipline your child “when necessary” even in your own home and most gentle parents can have issues with the grandparents. You want to be able to explain Gentle Parenting to them in a kind way that does not judge the decisions they made as parents but also clearly informs them how your child will be raised.
For the people who don’t spend a lot of time with your child, you might not need to give them the full Gentle Parenting spiel, but there might be a few nuggets of information you need to pass to them now and then. For instance, if you are visiting a distant relative in another State or town over the holidays and they make a passing comment or attempt to do something you’re not comfortable with then you might just want to step in and say, “Actually, the way we do things in your family is like this ________,” and address that particular issue. For instance, if they mention spanking you could simply say, “Actually, in our family, we have chosen not to spank our children.” If they’re satisfied with that answer then no problem, if they want a deeper explanation then you might just have to give them the entire Gentle Parenting spiel.
Then there are the people who don’t interact with your children. I’m sure there are times the topic of Gentle Parenting can come up with other people, and it might really be on your heart to share about Gentle Parenting, and all the power to you! Whenever you are sharing information with people about Gentle Parenting though be careful not to come off in a judgemental way, if you are talking about them and their children it could easily come off as judgemental, and their mama bear instincts of protection are going to kick in.
I know it’s very hard at times to face the reality that some people deeply believe that spanking their children is the Christian thing to do, but we need to be kind and respectful when we bring our parenting style to those who do things differently. We do not want to hurt them, and honestly, the topic of how to bring up gentle parenting to a punitive parent would be an entirely different post. Let me know if you’d be in need of that information.
For the purpose of this post, we will be talking about how to explain Gentle Parenting to a caregiver of your child.
6 Steps to Explain Gentle Parenting to a Caregiver
Step 1: Begin with Love
I think this might be the most important step when it comes to explaining Gentle Parenting to a caregiver or family member. You want to start the conversation off in a loving and respectful way so the recipient does not feel put down by your explanation. You might be explaining Gentle Parenting to your own parent, and if your parent chose to parent you in a punitive way then it might feel like a personal attack when you tell them you are not doing it that way.
When you explain Gentle Parenting it is probably best not to do it during an emotional situation.
If your parent has just spanked your child or done something very NOT Gentle Parenting then you might be a little too upset to explain to them why you don’t spank your child and personal feelings from your childhood might come to the surface and make it very difficult for you to really communicate what you have to say and it also might be hard for them to hear.
Begin with love.
Don’t start this conversation in an angry way, but start in a respectful way.
Everyone’s relationship with their parents/in-laws/child’s caregiver are unique so I can’t tell you exactly what to say in this instance. I am a very non-confrontational person, and I think if I were having this conversation with my own parents I would begin by giving them a compliment about how they parent and begin the conversation from there.
Try to think of one thing your parent did for you as a child that was in-line with Gentle Parenting so they can already feel confident that they’re capable of Gentle Parenting. Was there ever a time you felt really comforted by your parent while you were upset? Or a time that they allowed for natural consequences? If you don’t have anything that’s ok, but try to begin the conversation on a positive note.
As you are talking to them even through to the next steps try to use positive language, instead of saying, “We don’t do this and we don’t do that” try to explain what you DO do. They will figure out pretty quickly that you don’t do spankings or time-outs so you will need to equip them with the skills they need for working with your child. Also, the more emphasis you put on what you DON’T do they more it might feel like an attack.
In a nutshell – begin this conversation with love and respect and keep that in mind the entire time. You might have a lot of pain about how you (or your spouse) were raised, or you might be angry about how they have treated your child in the past, but go into the conversation with respect so they will in turn respect you and your parenting decisions.
Step 2: Explain that it’s a long-term parenting strategy
As I mentioned earlier, a lot of people choose punitive parenting because it gives immediate results, so one thing you may want to say is,
“We have chosen to use Gentle Parenting because it is a long-term parenting strategy that will help our child grow into a strong human being.”
Remember, you don’t want to put a lot of emphasis on what you DON’T do, or what’s so bad about the opposite of Gentle Parenting. Speak into the good of Gentle Parenting.
So explain to them that you are not looking for immediate obedience, you don’t need your child to do everything you say on command. Instead, you are setting age-appropriate expectations. Explain to them that you prefer to ask your child to do something or to give them meaningful choices. This prevents them from saying, “No.” all the time. (For more information about using positive language with kids go here.)
In a nutshell – you want your child to want to make the right decision because they truly believe in their heart that it’s the right thing to do, not because they are driven by fear of punishment or for a reward.
Step 3: Explain that respect gives life to respect
Anyone who practices Gentle Parenting knows the importance of treating our children in a loving and respectful way. We honour them, their feelings and their dignity.
To explain this to someone else you basically just want to tell them that you believe children are more likely to truly respect adults when they themselves feel respected.
You can give an example from the adult world to help explain this. For instance, a manager who is really strict, threatens his employs and is overall mean and overpowering might believe that he has respect from his employees because they are quiet when he enters the room, always does what he says, and never talks back to them, but in reality they are probably very scared of him, talk bad behind his back, and actually have no respect for him at all. But a manager who is kind to his employees but who also expects an efficient work environment is probably very highly respected.
If they can understand an illustration like this one it will help them to understand that respecting a child will encourage the child to respect them as well.
Remind them again that it is a long-term strategy, so a child who is treated with respect might not immediate respect the adult, but over time they will. Encourage the adult that your child will do things that are common for their age, and even though the child is still learning how to control their emotions does not mean we should lose control over ours.
For a lot of grandparents, respect can be a really big issue, they want respect from the children and can feel deeply hurt when respect is not given.
During your conversation, it might be a good idea to give an example of a time you have struggled with Gentle Parenting (you don’t want to come off all “holier than thou” as if you are a perfect parent.) You could say something like, “One time my child screamed at me, and it made me very upset and I lashed out, but that just made the situation worse and I don’t think I gained their respect that day. Instead, I should have controlled my emotions so we could have addressed the real problem at hand.”
Part of treating a child with respect will mean acknowledging their emotions and ideas as valid and important. Instead of dismissing them when they are upset about something you consider trivial it is better to comfort them and talk about it. Offer them love instead of judgment or shame.
You can tell the adult that you like to put yourself in your child’s shoes, so if something was important to you and someone you cared about treated you like it was silly it would make you very sad. Being able to see things from the perspective of a child can really help an adult to treat them with love and respect.
In a nutshell – your child is a person with thoughts and feelings, and you want them to be treated that way. You believe that children who are treated with respect will learn to respect others.
Step 4: Explain that behaviour is communication
You know that your mother might get really annoyed when your child whines and might just want to snap at them to stop. You also probably know that your child just gets really whiney when they’re tired so for you that doesn’t make you snap – it makes you start the transition into naptime!
Well, your mom might not realize this.
All behaviour is communication, and most often children are hungry, tired, lonely or even angry. Explain to them that often times you ask yourself if there is a deeper issue to the behavioural issue at hand. If you know your child is hungry it might be better to sit down for a snack, calm down, and later talk about their outburst.
If you think the adult you are talking to wouldn’t know how to have a Gentle Parenting sort of post-tantrum conversation, and if you’re not ready to get into that, you can just request that they comfort your child and help them to calm down, and when you arrive they can tell you about what happened. Maybe the 3 of you could then talk about the tantrum and you can model what this sort of conversation looks like.
What you really want in this step, is to help the caregiver to understand that a behavioural issue doesn’t mean your child is just “being bad,” but there is probably a deeper issue and that hungry, tiredness, loneliness and anger are the most common.
Of course, there could be other issues going on in a child’s life that affect their behaviour, for instance being sick, moving, parents divorcing – any sort of big change or emotional struggle really. When you drop your child off if you know that there is something that might be bothering them it might help to share this information with the caregiver. For instance, if little one didn’t sleep well last night or if they didn’t eat all their breakfast. You can use this as a reminder that sometimes these things can cause behavioural issues for your child, and that if they start acting out it might mean they need to go for their nap early or have a snack.
In a nutshell – you want the adult to see behaviour differently, and it might take some real life examples for them to understand this. Once the adult sees behaviour as communication they will start to pay attention to what the child is really saying and can start to respond to their needs, instead of reacting to the behaviour.
Step 5: Explain firm boundaries
One of the biggest misconceptions about Gentle Parenting is that it means the children can just run free and do as they please. Whoa! If that’s what your mother thinks Gentle Parenting is then it’s no wonder she’s not on board! She thinks you never say no and you just let your child do whatever they want!
So you need to explain firm boundaries.
With my toddler, I try not to say no to her, and I can do so, not because she is a calm child who would never start emptying my underwear drawer – it’s because I don’t give her access to the things I don’t want her to do. I lock my closet. If she starts emptying my underwear drawer whose fault is that? Mine. All mine. And that’s an age-appropriate scenario, now if she was 10 years old and doing that it would be a different story.
So instead of constantly telling her “Don’t do this, don’t do that,” I just adapt the environment. This works easily in our own homes but it’s as someone else’s house that it can be difficult to control our toddler’s grabbing hands (one reason you might prefer if the caregiver watches your little one at your house).
In the instances that your child wants to do something you don’t want them to do it might require you to stand close to them, to model the appropriate way to do it, or to just remove them from the situation and offer them something else to do.
I prefer to use language like, “I’m sorry but I cannot let you do _______ and I know it looks like fun but it is very dangerous. We are going to do this instead.” Now the key to this sort of thing though is you actually have to not let them do the thing.
Sometimes I leave my bathroom door open and my daughter goes in and wants to stick her hands in the toilet. I very gently talk to her and remove her from the bathroom and close the door. She does cry, but I support her through it.
When I find her playing in the toilet I don’t get mad at her (I’m the one who left the door open) but I gently tell her that I can’t let her play in the toilet and I remove her hand, I will first try to lead her out of the bathroom (while talking her through it) but if she refuses to come I tell her that I have to pick her up because we are going to leave the bathroom and close the door. Once we have left I close the door and I comfort her and validate her feelings and I also try to find something fun for her to do.
This is a firm boundary I have to set, but instead of snapping at her, or telling her it’s disgusting, or quickly and suddenly snatching her away from the toilet (which she loves), I treat her with respect, recognize that she enjoys playing with the toilet while gently removing her from the situation and talking her through it. The more I practice these principles when she is young the more natural it will come to me when she is older.
Note – I probably should try to keep the bathroom door closed all the time, and I do realize it might be confusing to my toddler that sometimes she “gets to play in the toilet,” but I know I am not perfect and I will forget sometimes. If I were to keep the boundary consistent it would definitely make it easier for her.
You want the caregiver to understand that there will be expectations for your child, but they will be age-appropriate and they will be delivered in a loving and respectful way.
This may be hard for them to understand, but the more you model it to them, or give examples the easier it might be for them to understand. You can ask them questions like is there anything your child does a lot that they don’t want them to do when they are at their house, and you can give them some tips on how to set a firm boundary with that issue while also considering what is age appropriate.
If your mother in-law expects your 14 month old not to pick up the crystal bowl on the coffee table then the firm boundary might just be to suggest she put it up somewhere high when you visit because that expectation isn’t age-appropriate. You can assure her though, that as your child gets older this won’t be necessary because you will be able to teach her the right way to handle things, what not to touch, etc. The caregiver might be concerned that Gentle Parenting means “babying” a child forever, which is why it’s also a good idea to shed some light on how things will change as the child gets older. Often times the caregiver might have the right idea about setting a firm boundary – but they are expecting it at too young of an age.
In a nutshell – you want to reassure the caregiver that Gentle Parenting does set boundaries and that you won’t allow your children to do anything they like, but that when you do set boundaries you do so lovingly and you keep them as consistent as possible to help the child adapt to the boundary.
Step 6: Tell them exactly what they should do when your child disobeys
Now you want to address that particular issues that the caregiver or family member might face with your child and how you expect them to handle it. This is a good time to remind them that you don’t spank your child, yell at them, or give time-outs.
But you do need to equip them with the right tools to be able to handle any issues they face.
This step is really going to be unique for whoever you are talking to. If you have a really punitive parent or in-law that is going to have a really hard time adjusting to your Gentle Parenting ways then you might not even want to ask them to babysit your child without you around. Sadly, some people will spank another person’s child when they are watching them but it’s usually because they feel that’s the only option they have (and that’s also very sad).
So if there is someone you just don’t trust to leave alone with your child then find a way to graciously avoid that from happening. But if you do visit them often and you are sometimes in a different room while they are with your children, then you could simply ask that if your child ever does something they don’t like to immediately call you into the room. You could also encourage them to comfort your child, but you might find that the adult is too emotional to even do that.
If you have someone in your life though that will be watching your child while you are away then you definitely want to give them some tools to use for disciplining your child in a gentle way.
I have a great resource for you – my Gentle Parenting Power Tools ebook. It’s not very long, but a great introduction to Gentle Parenting for anyone on the fence about Gentle Parenting, so printing it and giving it to another caregiver for your child can be super helpful to make sure everyone is on the same page. Download below:
Remember – learning how to Gentle Parent doesn’t happen overnight
I am constantly learning more and more about Gentle Parenting and I’m sure you are too. Even after studying early childhood education, working with children all over the world for years, and even raising my own little one I am still learning new things.
Remember to be gracious with the adult watching your child, but I would also encourage you to be firm.
If they aren’t willing to adapt to your style of parenting it might not be worth it to allow them to watch your child.
I hate confrontation but I also wouldn’t want my child in the care of someone who thinks God wants them to spank her.
You have to do what’s right for your child, and that might not always be easy. Some grandparents will take several years to adapt to your ways. It might just start with you modeling Gentle Parenting in front of them and who knows, maybe one day they’ll be comforting your child through a tantrum instead of threatening to spank them.
Give them grace and remember to pray for them as they adapt. Gentle Parenting might be extremely different from the way they were raised and from the way they raised their children. They might need to see it for their self that it actually works before they bother to even respect your choices.
Some people might never respect your choices, and you might never be able to trust them alone with your children. This is sad stuff but it does happen.
Others, of course, might think it’s awesome and totally support you, maybe you’ll only have to have this conversation once and they’ll be good to go. That’s great!
Whatever your journey is with the adults close in your child’s life I wish you the best on it. I hope they will be able to respect your decisions and to respect your child! Don’t forget to download the Gentle Parenting Power Tools ebook before you go.