The Critical Step to Gentle Parenting That We Often Overlook

The critical step to gentle parentingMarianne Williamson said it best when she stated, “There is no single effort more radical in its potential for saving the world than a transformation of the way we raise our children.”

This is not a small undertaking.

Many of us who practice Attachment Parenting and gentle discipline do so because we understand the importance of raising children in a non-violent atmosphere, to help create a non-violent world. We know we want to create a peaceful and harmonious relationship with our children, and raise them to be compassionate, helpful, kind, responsible adults.

But how? How do we even begin such a monumental undertaking? How do we break old patterning, better ourselves, so we can be better for our children? How do we do it every day?

There are a great many books, articles, blogs, even instructional videos emphasizing techniques for gentle discipline and peaceful parenting. These resources are invaluable for daily reminders, for creating a strong practice of gentle parenting, and for re-reading and clinging to on days where you’ve been thrust beyond your limit by one too many inexplicable messes or an extra loud round of competitive screeching.

There’s so much advice available, it can be overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be.

It all begins with one simple first step:

The Golden Rule.

Treat others as you’d like to be treated.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. 

We’ve heard it before. This is common knowledge. This is oft-cited wisdom meant to remind us that we need to be the change we want to see; to encourage us not to be hypocritical in the behavior we expect from others if we cannot provide it ourselves.

But we break this rule consistently with our children.

We expect self-control from our children (often unreasonable for their age and brain development) and then we have grown-up tantrums.

We require patience from our kids, and then we impatiently tell them to hurry up.

We tell our children to be quiet, and then we raise our voice at them.

We demand that our kids listen to us, and then we tune them out.

We tell our children to use gentle touches, to learn to solve their problems without hitting, and then we’re expected by some to hit them to mold them into decent human beings.

Kids these days, after all, are so unruly (a common complaint that has been made for hundreds of years by every generation about the following one).

But what is it that kids are witnessing? What is shaping them? What are they seeing that is influencing their behavior? Are they regularly witnessing kindness, compassion, human decency — not only in the way we treat others, but the way we treat our spouses, our children, and ourselves?

The basis of the golden rule is avoiding the hypocrisy of demanding from others — our children, in this case — what we are unable to show them. This is especially poignant when we consider the fact that our kids do not have fully developed brains, but we do. Our children do not have our level of emotional intelligence or impulse control, because their brains are not yet fully developed.

Ruminating on this should evoke an enormous amount of compassion towards the “flaws” we tend to see in our kids.


One of the biggest struggles many parents have with this is breaking the pattern in which they were taught and raised. It comes as no surprise to many that adults often reflect the behaviors towards parenting in the way they were parented. We do what we know, and if what we know is spanking and time-outs and yelling, then that is more than likely our first instinct when it comes to parenting our children.

Related: The Heart of Gentle Parenting: Building Strong Parent-Child Relationships

But there are ways to break the cycle. And the desire to “break the cycle” doesn’t necessarily mean that you had a bad or toxic childhood. It simply means that you want something different for your children; a more gentle approach to parenting that creates and facilities a harmonious relationship with your child rather than one that is rooted in fear and anxiety. You wish to have a stronger bond with your child and to develop a child who is emotionally available and does not resort to violence when faced with a difficult situation.

Breaking the cycle of negative or unattached parenting can be difficult. Habits are hard to break, especially when they are something that has been ingrained into your psyche since you were a child. But there are ways to do it:

  1. Acknowledge that your parents didn’t have it all right. And stand firm. One of the hardest parts of “breaking the cycle” is recognizing that there are better ways to parent, and that those that raised you may not agree with your style of parenting. Don’t back down though- you are doing what is best for your family, and your parents may be offended that you do not approve of the way they parented you. Try to explain to them gently why you are changing your approach and how you hope it will create a well-rounded child.
  2. Practice mindfulness in your parenting. When you first try to “break the cycle” you might find yourself fighting instincts to yell or punish. But if you practice mindfulness in your parenting whereas you consciously evaluate your reactions to your child and how you speak to them, you will slowly be able to change your instinctual reaction to be a positive one rather than a negative one.
  3. It’s never too late to start. Even if you have parented for several years the way your parents parented, it doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it. You can start parenting with more positive language and behaviors TODAY. You simply have to start. And continue doing it. And you will mess up- we all do- but a slip up is a learning experience for both you and your child, and you can use the opportunity to learn and grow in it.

Our job as parents is not solely to discipline our children. It’s certainly not to punish them, as punishment comes too late. Punishment is the aftermath of a missed learning opportunity.

Our job is to guide and teach. To model the emotional intelligence we want to see. To do unto our children as we would have them do unto us, unto the world.

Our job is to be the change we want to see.

Our job as parents is not solely to discipline our children. It’s certainly not to punish them, as punishment comes too late. Punishment is the aftermath of a missed learning opportunity.

Our job is to guide and teach. To model the emotional intelligence we want to see. To do unto our children as we would have them do unto us, unto the world.

Our job is to be the change we want to see.

Image credit: fizkes/Shutterstock


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *