In the wake of the holidays, with schedules switching and excitement bubbling, have you tried a little gentleness?

While the holidays have a way of bringing out the best in many of us, they also seem to reveal the worst. We all need some grace. With visitors coming and going, parties and gatherings to attend, meals to plan and family and friends to meet, the juggle struggle is real. It’s incredibly overstimulating for parents and potentially more inflaming for our children. 

When routines fall to the wayside and we’re all out of our element to some degree, many times children are struggling more than we realize in these temporary circumstances. When this happens, have you tried a little gentleness?

Say what? 

Gentleness goes a long way with kids. Although the term “gentle parenting” may seem super soft on the surface, it’s rooted in mental health practices and age-appropriate behavioral strategies. Children are still novices when it comes to comprehending and navigating emotions. Oftentimes, they look to parents for direction and support that can be expressed in the form of tantrums. Outbursts and meltdowns generally stem from the way they are feeling and being unable to come to terms with that emotion. It’s also an attention grab, but more as a grab for reassurance and comfort than attention.

The style has four basic principles: empathy, respect, understanding and boundaries. Parents who regularly practice gentle parenting use connection, communication and consistency to have success. 

But what about discipline?

It’s a misconception that gentle parenting does not utilize discipline, however, it’s the style and way discipline is implemented. Gentle parenting emphasizes redirection rather than punishment.

It also separates the behavior from the emotions. A child might feel scared, angry, shy, etc., but hitting, screaming and throwing because of this feeling is not acceptable: the feeling is warranted, the action is not acceptable. According to the toddler experts behind Big Little Feelings, toddlers’ brains are still developing. At this stage, the capacity for self-regulation has yet to emerge. By modeling behavior through your own responses, you’re demonstrating the appropriate and measured actions to your child. 

Ok, how do I try this?

Say your kids are opening gifts. One is playing with a new toy and the other wants a turn, so they hit the other child to take it. Big Little Feelings recommends following these four steps: 

  • See them (empathy)
  • Validate feeling (respect)
  • Set boundaries (understanding)
  • Act on the boundary (boundary)

Here’s a scenario breakdown following those steps:

  1. See them (empathy) “I see that you’re upset because you want to play with your sister’s new toy.” 
  2. Validate Feeling (respect) “It wasn’t kind of her. It’s OK to feel upset, but I can’t allow you to hit her.”   
  3. Set boundaries (understanding) “It’s not ok to hit someone.”
  4. Act on the boundary (boundary) “I’m going to hold your hand to keep everyone safe.” 

It may take some adjusting and concerted effort, but over time, the difference is abundantly clear. While punishment-based (authoritative) options may seem to work, ultimately, they are fear-based and encourage negative self-feelings. Also, they force the brain into fight or flight, restricting the brain’s ability to think effectively. Bottom line: Kids cannot learn in this frame of mind. It restricts their ability to connect the dots for next time. 

So, when it all hits the fan on your holiday escapades, remember to breathe deep and try a little gentleness. Not only are you creating mentally healthy kids, but you’re also cultivating positive habits for the whole family.

Want more? Check out these accounts for insights, tips and tricks:

What Is Gentle Parenting? (2021, September 4). Verywell Family. Retrieved October 21, 2021, from

Parental gentle encouragement promotes shy toddlers’ regulation in social contexts. (2019, October 1). ScienceDirect. Retrieved October 21, 2021, from

Augustine, M. E. (2015, May 1). Temperament, Parenting, and Moral Development: Specificity of Behavior and Context. Wiley Online Library. Retrieved October 21, 2021, from

Malik, F. (2021, June 10). Developmental Stages of Social Emotional Development In Children. PubMed. Retrieved October 21, 2021, from

@biglittlefeelings. (2021, October 4). MANTRA TIME! ALL FEELINGS ARE OK, ALL BEHAVIORS ARE NOT. Anger and sadness? They get a bad rap. But [Instagram post]. Instagram.

@littlebigfeelings. (2021, August 16). Spanking, threats, yelling, timeouts. They can work in the moment. They can stop that bad behavior in its tracks [Instagram post]. Instagram.

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