Whenever I tell someone I practice gentle parenting, I’m met with a snicker and “I was hit as a kid and I turned out fine!”
What does that even mean? Are you happy? What does being happy mean to you? Are you successful? Is that what being fine means?
Well, I was hit as a kid and I did not turn out fine.
No, people don’t turn out fine from being hit as a child, the cycle simply continues and overtime, we are made to believe that’s what parenting means. We attribute it to culture, traditions. We think it’s okay, it’s the right thing to do. If it’s the right thing to do, then why do you feel so guilty afterwards? Why do you need to justify the action, the discipline? And why doesn’t it take care of the problem?
It doesn’t take care of the problem because it is not parenting. Any form of hitting, threatening, yelling, and screaming is abuse, regardless of your past and upbringing. Abuse comes in many shapes and forms: a husband who hits his wife, a man who threatens a woman, a teacher who yells at a child, or a child who smacks another child. Then why is hitting your children glorified as parenting?
If you want a child to learn how to kick a ball, you’d stand up, get a ball, place it on the ground, gently tap it with your feet so it moves, and say “look, I’m kicking the ball.” Or remember when your little one said “banana” for the first time? It might have sounded more like “baba” or “buhmama”, so you laughed and clapped and said “good job, let’s try again. Repeat after me: ba-na-na.” When you hit your child, you’re teaching him that it’s okay to resort to violence to solve problems. You’re promoting aggression.
Children learn by observing, internalizing, understanding, and mimicking what they see and hear.
Empathize. Rather than hitting or spanking them, try to get down to their level, look them in the eye and actually ask them what’s wrong. Allow them to express their emotions. Help them embrace their emotions. Try to understand their side of the story; or maybe try to see if you can bring any positivity to the situation. Especially with younger children, their growing pains and limited communication skills make them absolutely miserable. Being the parent, you’re the only one they can go to for help and to vent, punishing them will just teach them they can’t come to you when they don’t feel good. Create a fostering environment: realize that the behavior is bad, not the child.
Use words they understand. Think about it, what is nice or not nice, what is good or not good. We understand because we’re adults. But children don’t get this abstract terminology. For example, if your child is hitting you, don’t say “be nice” – instead, say “Your hands are hurting me – ow. Please stop. Please be gentle.” and proceed to showing what gentle means. Hitting your child to stop him from hitting you will only confuse your child.
Never underestimate the power of a hug. As an adult, we have bad days. We unwind with a bottle of wine or a high-intensity workout or just by venting to our spouse and friends. To balance our negative emotions, we look for ways to release the stress. Like us, children have bad days and moments too. They don’t have many options for stress relief; so, they resort to what they know: biting, hitting, lashing out, screaming, acting out, crying, etc. All signs to show they need your attention. What would you feel if someone punched you for being stressed or cranky? The same logic applies to children. Allow them to release the stress and bottled up emotions, given they are not hurting themselves or anyone else, and then offer a hug.
Help your children grow into confident, happy, and self reliant adults by practicing gentle and positive parenting.