How to be Gentle Without Being Permissive

Published by This Indulgent Life on

So as I was perusing my Facebook feed this morning on the way to work, I came across this post by Karena Smith:

I originally saw it in our “Gentle Christian Parenting: A respectful/non-punitive parenting community” Facebook group and she kindly made it public on her personal page so others could share it. But let me tell you there were a ton of great examples and ideas made in the group and it kinda has my head exploding.


I come from a VERY authoritarian background. Lots of commands, yelling, grabbing, jerking, spanking, even hair and ear pulling on occasion. This was my norm and I thought nothing of it until after my son was born (a post for another day) and thought the only other option was to be permissive. As I get older though with more life and cross-cultural experiences… and because I’m a research-aholic lol, I’m learning there’s a better way, but I still have so much to learn as this post clearly shows me.

gentle parenting scripts

I’ve seen the example before: You ask your child to get ready  (in an age appropriate way) and then you “hold your boundaries” they say… Well what the heck does that look like?! This post kind of helps clear that up for me, and many others it seems. Karena gave a few great examples in the group, but in this particular example you ask once and if they don’t follow through then you need to be prepared to walk over and get the socks and shoes and help put them on yourself (GENTLY and unruffled). By doing this you’re giving them a chance to have their independence, but at the same time they’re learning that when you ask them something you need them to do it or else they’re showing they still need help to succeed at the request.


Here are a few more examples she kindly gave us:

“___ come here please! I need to change your diaper and clothes so we can leave”

– toddler says no, ignores, keeps playing, runs away etc 

Physically picking up the child and moving them where they need to be “you’re having trouble so I’m going to help you 🙂”  and make space for the emotions, empathize, continuing what needs to be done.


“___ stop banging that on the tv, it’ll break. You may hit that on the (couch, ground, outside)”

Child keeps doing it 

“You’re having trouble using this appropriately. I’m going to put it away for now while we go together and find something else to bang that’s safe. I see your body needs to do that right now so I’ll help you.”

Note in this one she’s not asking them to stop doing the activity all together, but she gives them a “yes space” to be able to continue safely. It’s very different from just “Stop banging” that kind of command kind of just stops a kid in their tracks and destroys their creativity because then they have no outlet and no reasoning.


There are a few things to keep in mind though because, while it’s amazing advice, there are a few pieces that will make this easier to keep your cool and follow through while making it easier for your child to succeed (NOT claiming all these ideas, some I know from experience, some are from others such as Karena).

  1. Don’t yell this! Even if it’s just because you’re across the room, it’s best to actually go to the child and speak calmly…. I’m working on this, especially in teaching. It’s so hard in a classroom with so many kids and I’m helping someone and I see someone not following directions and about to topple a bunch of things over, yelling is instantaneous, but from experience I know not as effective in the long-term game.
  2. Get them to look you in the eye before giving the direction. This is especially important for ADHD and ASD kids, but really for anyone that distracted, even the hubby lol. When someone is lost in what they’re doing it can be really hard to focus on someone else talking, especially when its uninteresting directions! Peanuts, the cartoon, comes to mind lol, wah,wah, wah…. So by getting them to look at you it switches their brains to listening mode. I realize this isn’t always possible, but it is best practice. Taking it a step further try to be on their level and even give a gentle touch on the shoulder or arm. By activating multiple senses you get more of their attention.
  3. Examine your motives. Why is it important? Is it really hurting anyone or them? Sometimes we’re so trained into wanting total control and living up to societal expectations that we go into automatic “no” mode. If no one is wanting to go down the slide, what will it hurt for them to climb up it? Unless the new baby is sleeping or you have a headache, is it really that important that they don’t make noise or bang on things? (With my sensory overload issues and my husband’s anxiety this one is HARD for us). Sometimes you just need to let it go. (And now the song is running through your head again, you’re welcome… he he)
  4. Be prepared to follow through.  If you’re not ready to go after them or to help them do what you’ve asked, then don’t ask it. Otherwise you’re setting you and your kid up for failure and frustration and falling back into old routines of asking 20x progressively getting louder and louder till you burst (this is me as a teacher, still trying to figure out how to put this method into practice with over 20 kids needing that help at a time, so if you have an idea leave it in the comments!). So if you have a younger child that maybe you’re feeding and can’t really leave to take care of something, ask yourself is this really an emergency or can I delay this until I’m done? If it’s an immediate need then you better be prepared to put that other baby down to go help your older child succeed with the directions you gave.
  5. And finally… Reduce your expectations. In general this means don’t ask for something that is not developmentally appropriate for your child and to minimize the amount of directives you’re giving and try to offer choices in those times you really need to give them. Their little lives are filled with little to no control over themselves, and that’s frustrating for anyone, even adults.


So see you don’t have to give in to your kids and let them do whatever they want (though I do believe there is a time and a place for that, again another post lol) or use yelling, threats, and corporal punishment in order to get your child to follow directions. Will it always be easy? Heck no! But in the long run it’ll be worth it because they know that if they’re struggling, you’ll be there to help them and otherwise they learn that if they can’t follow through the first time there won’t be a second time. There are no threats to rebel against either! It’s kinda hard to rebel when there’s nothing to rebel against!


Have you tried this technique? How has it worked for you? Leave a comment below!



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