Gentle parenting sounds all well and good, but what if your children are... spirited? 1 week ago

Gentle parenting sounds all well and good, but what if your children are... spirited?

It’s all over parenting TikTok, and frankly, it’s driving me a bit mad.

Gentle parenting, a philosophy centred around empathy, respect, and open communication between parents and smallies, is being billed as the be-all and end-all of modern parenting. But what if your kids are anything but gentle? 

Is it possible to achieve this approach with a spirited, energetic little angel? Look at me choosing the most diplomatic ways to describe my wonderful child. 

Understanding gentle parenting

At its core, gentle parenting advocates for treating children with kindness and understanding. It's about respecting their feelings, offering guidance instead of punishment, and building strong emotional bonds. Sounds idyllic. Sounds like something Gwyneth Paltrow dreamed up when inventing her vagina candle. How can it possibly work, in the real world?

There are a few fundamentals involved in gentle parenting; 

Empathy: Understand and acknowledge your child's feelings

Communication: Talk openly and listen to your child, encourage their input

Guidance: Teach rather than punish


Boundaries: Set rules with kindness and explain your ‘why’

Emotional growth: Help your child manage their big feelings

Attachment: Build a strong, trusting relationship

Respect: Value your child's individuality

Independence: Let them make choices (within reason)

Problem-solving: Teach them how to resolve conflict by example

And look – absolutely all of those sound doable, reasonable and quite obvious, at least to me. But how does a kind, well-explained boundary about not flinging a full bowl of Cheerios at the unsuspecting dog, become second nature to a two-year-old who woke up and chose chaos?

How I approached it


In a word? Patience. Patience, of all things parenting, is the one that’s easier said than done. The key is, I found, practicing patience, both with your child and yourself. Kids are born boundary pushers. They need to do the bad things in order to find out that they are, indeed, unwelcome in today’s world. For instance, when my toddler outright refused to wear trousers, or anything below her waist, I explained (gently) that clothes are societally required and aside from at a nudist beach, not wearing trousers would be frowned upon. 

She threw her trousers at me and screamed bloody murder – so I (gently) told her that Miss Rachel LOVES trousers and that her friend Ava LOVES trousers and that princesses wear trousers all the time. I offered her a choice of which trousers she would like to wear. And then I distracted her with a story about the moon and a dinosaur. All the while, being as gentle as possible.

Gentle parenting doesn't mean you can't set limits or have rules. It means doing so with empathy and understanding. Adapting your approach to fit your child's temperament is another pillar of gentle parenting, and on this occasion, it seemed to work. 

My next challenge in being gentle? When I refused to allow my toddler to open and drink from a large carton of Avonmore Whole Milk right there in the middle of Dunnes Stores. In one fell swoop, she was on the ground, kicking her legs and screaming “no mammyyyyyy!” all while making direct eye contact with any available passers-by.

So I did the thing. In a split second I acknowledged her feelings (“I understand you love milk”) and I encouraged her input (which amount to “nooooo no no no!!! MILK MAMA!!!”) and I explained my ‘why’ (“we haven’t paid for the milk, and drinking from the carton would be a disaster for you, sartorially speaking”). I took the gentle route.

Do I need to tell you, at this juncture, that it did not work? So I scooped her up, opened the snack pack I had brought with us, offered her her choice of what was inside, and promised she could watch YouTube videos of dogs playing in ball pits when we got back to the car. I’m nothing if not gently resourceful and primed for bribery.

Guys. It's a journey. Parent gently, parent with love, parent whatever way you think suits your kids. It takes all sorts, and perfection isn't the goal. And thank goodness for that, wha?