Yesterday I spent some time with a sweet client of mine. As our session was ending she let me know she really wanted ice cream and was going to ask to go out and get some. It was then that I got to witness a beautiful example of gentle parenting. The conversation went something like this:
Kiddo: “Can we go get ice cream after this?”
Mom: “Oh honey, I love ice cream too, that sounds so good. But no, we’re going home now.”
Kiddo: “Pleeeeeease, dad would take me.”
Mom: “I understand that and it’s hard to hear no from me.”
Kiddo: “Please mom, can we please go, come on.”
Mom: “I hear you want that and we’re heading straight home now.”
Mom kept things moving and they transitioned out. Mom didn’t get rattled, she stayed compassionate and kind while holding her ground. It was a beautiful example of limit-setting, the gentle parenting way.
To be clear, this was a moment when mom was resourced enough to show up in this way. She was regulated and able to use the parenting skills she has learned to support her daughter, validate the desire and hold the line that, “That’s not what is happening right now.”
The child clearly wasn’t happy with mom’s answer. But happiness is not our end goal in parenting. It is not possible for children to be emotionally healthy and always be happy. Our goal is to raise children who can handle the ups and downs that life brings their way with resilience and emotional intelligence.
So the next time your child asks for something that you’re not open to, lean in, say yes before you say no.
And if your child is at a point where they are insatiable, pushing a lot, testing boundaries for things they want and not taking no for an answer, get curious. There is an underlying need leading to the dys-regulation that’s driving your seemingly insatiable little one.
Gentle parenting does not mean flimsy, limitless parenting. Parents can still be the ones ultimately in charge while respecting our children enough to honor and validate their desires. When children feel respected and seen in these ways, they are more cooperative, more understanding, they learn empathy and can respect the limit, even if they have to take a little time to grieve the outcome they were hoping for.