8 Steps To A Gentle Response With Your Kids

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If you search online for parenting resources, there are literally thousands of results at every turn and in every banner. Because of this, it can be very hard to know where to start.

I have one simple tip for you, mama: start where you are, with what you have in front of you.

What do you see?

What is your child doing?

What are you doing?

Be proactive, not reactive. Do some self-excavation and heal your own wounds, before you project these wounds onto your children.

If you want to speak and teach what gives life to your child, give your child tools in order to know how to handle what life throws his or her direction.

This starts with you, mama. How are you responding and acting, in the heat of the moment? Proverbs always gives help in these situations:

The soothing [gentle] tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse [harsh] tongue crushes the spirit.” (Prov. 15:4)

Words can either be life-giving or life-crushing. You have a choice in how to respond to what is right in front of you. And you have a good reason to be mindful of yourself, of your own wounds and healing, and of how you view and interact with the world – That reason is your children.

Your children are watching everything you do, whether you realize it or not. And they learn pretty quickly how to respond in certain scenarios, based on how you do, not necessarily what you teach them. Have you ever heard the phrase actions speak louder than words?

So model, model, model, how you guide and teach your children to live their own lives. And speak words of life, words that are life-giving.

This includes how we respond to our child’s behavior. Gently, but firmly.

Here are 8 simple steps to a gentle response, thank you to L.R. Knost for these guidelines.

1. What need is my child communicating?

Have you ever heard the phrase all behavior is communication? Well, it’s true. It’s true for you and it’s true tenfold for your child. There is an underlying need behind every behavior you see. It could be hunger, thirst, tiredness, loneliness, or any umpteenth other needs and emotions which are a part of the human experience. Your child only has a handful of years in this world – you have had decades of years, knowledge and experience in this world. Remember that your child is just that – still a kid – and is learning how to live and interact in the world. Show grace, meet her where she is, in her lack, and meet those needs. Just as Christ does for us, for you.

2. Is my response helpful?

This goes back to what is life-giving or soul-sucking. Bluntly put, but it’s true. Sometimes one of the best ways to help is to show support and understanding – to be a safe space. You are your child’s safe space – her person, her mama. So meet her where she is and help her. I once heard a phrase Motherhood is solving problems and healing hearts – and it’s so, so true. We help by coming alongside and teaching our kids how to solve their problems in a healthy way, and we help by soothing and healing hearts, helping our kids to name what they feel and choose what to do with it. Help your kids – ensure that your response is helpful to them – they need you to be that stronghold.

3. Is my response kind?

This mirrors the above – and also the golden rule we all know so well. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This applies to all human beings – yes, especially children. Your child is a person created in God’s image, one whom He loves. When you are in distress, God rescues you. He doesn’t berate you for making a poor choice, and He doesn’t give you the silent treatment because He disagrees with your interpretation. He is your safe space, even when you mess up. The same should go for our relationship with our kids, as we as the parents are here to guide our children each day, and to mirror our relationship with Christ in our parent-child relationship. Therefore – be kind, as Christ is kind with you.

(Note: This doesn’t denote healthy boundaries and limits, but it also means that they are age and developmentally appropriate – a big topic for another day, which I will dive into briefly in the next few points)

4. Is my response about my child or myself?

Have you heard the phrase hurt people hurt people? It’s certainly different to read it on a screen rather than to hear it said with inflection, but read it again a few times and you’ll understand – hurting people in turn hurt other people by projecting their own wounds and insecurities onto others. So heal your own wounds, with the help of Jesus, and mother your children from a place of internal peace that only He can give, a well that springs life. By healing yourself, you will ensure that your response to anything your child does will not be about your own wounds and insecurities you unknowingly projected onto your children, but simply about (1) what you see in front of you, (2) what you know about your child’s development, and (3) the details that come with any individual situation.

5. Is the environment appropriate for my child?

Remember the point about a kind response – within age appropriate boundaries and limits? Deciphering if the current environment is appropriate for your child at his or her age and developmental level is one of the keys in ensuring a gentle response. Your child is not an adult, and doesn’t respond as you do to the same environments –  Remember that she is a child, and will continue to be a child, even in situations surrounded by adults.

She may be overstimulated, over-tired, over-peopled, and simply needing a break. That happens to you too, mama. Sometimes, all we need is a break, a snack and a nap. Never underestimate the spiritual power of a nap and a snack!  (Refer to 1 Kings 19:1-16 and one facet of Elijah’s story)

P.S. This is no different than how your kids feels at many times – this means that they are also human, just as you are! Show grace where it’s needed, and refer to the note above on point 3.

6. Are my expectations reasonable?

Start where you are, with what you have in front of you. Assess the situation. Assess your expectations. Assess your child’s abilities, development, and capacity. Assess your own prior knowledge that you know by age and experience, and how it differs from what your child knows. Bring it all together, and determine if it’s a good idea to proceed, or if the idea or situation needs to be revisited. Are you expecting perfection, or progress? Do you think your child should respond a certain way, but she does the opposite, and now you’re frustrated?

7. Are my expectations clear?

Have you explicitly stated what you expect to see or happen in a situation? Or have you inferred or assumed that your child knows what you are talking about? Even if it’s something routine that’s happened hundreds of times before, it’s easy for expectations to be lost or for mental capacity to be waning because of a situation or circumstance that is prevalent at the time – Or simply because of mental span and developmental difference because of age. This is a complicated way to say that we are all human – you are, mama, and your child is, too. So even if you’ve explained what’s going on or what you need to happen – is there a more succinct or direct way you can phrase it? Does your child need a simple and clear reminder of what to expect?

Take a few minutes to come up with a game-plan with your child, and talk through a situation you are about to walk through together – “We are going to so-and-so’s house, and they expect us to take our shoes off when we walk in. We will do that together, and then you can go play with your cousins.” By talking about a situation before it happens, it helps to clear up expectations, and to be proactive rather than reactive. It also helps to ease anxieties in your child, and puts you both on a level field.

8. How would I want someone to respond to me in this situation?

This brings us back to the Golden Rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. When you are sad, the last thing you would want to be told is you don’t have a reason to be crying – stop it! When you are frustrated, the last thing you would want to be told is grow up – it’s not that bad, anyone could do it, why can’t you? If you can imagine yourself in a situation that would make you sad or frustrated, and you read those sentences feeling angry and annoyed, then it should be pretty clear that you  wouldn’t want someone to speak to you that way in that situation. If you feel that way, just imagine how your child feels! Again, this goes back to the Golden Rule.

When you are sad, you need a friend to come alongside you, to affirm you, and help you. When you are frustrated, you need space to figure it out, or someone trusted you can hash your issues to come to a healthy conclusion or solution. You have been through decades of life to know this – yet your child only has a few years under her belt. Be that safe space for her, and help her to respond in a healthy way. Remind yourself that she is learning, and respond to her accordingly. Remember the Golden Rule, and Teach her how to be a healthy human.

Is there anything else you’d add? What tools do you have in your parenting toolbox to focus on the root of the issue at hand, rather than your own emotional response to it? How have you seen your child respond to different approaches?

~Katherine Newsom writes at Simple Natural Mama

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  1. Amber says:

    This post is so applicable right now! Just the other day I was telling my husband how much I wanted to be more kind and gentle in responses to my kids. Especially as I train and discipline them. These questions will help so much!

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