How To Gentle Parent When You’re Not Gentle

How does gentle parenting work?

We’re joined by Peaceful Parenting Coach, Lauren O’Carroll, who has been kind enough to write a blog for us explaining how gentle parenting can work for all kinds of families. Lauren is an ADHD mum of 2 girls with a passion for helping neurodiverse parents and parents of neurodiverse families to access the wisdom of current science-backed parenting research and reduce overwhelm and chaos in their homes.

Take it away, Lauren!

When I Say Gentle Parenting, What Do You Imagine? 

I used to imagine a serene mother walking around her perfectly uncluttered, neutral-toned, child-proofed space.  She gracefully crouches down to speak to her perfectly behaved older child before sitting down with the baby in a pristine corner to breastfeed, a glass of freshly poured iced water sitting beside her (on a coaster of course).

As a peaceful parenting coach with a large helping of ADHD reactiveness and explosivity, I can assure you this is not reality.  I have worked with many of the big names in the field and they all own the bad moments.  Their homes aren’t picture-perfect (except perhaps for the space they’ve cleared for their Instagram shoot) and they all admit to shouting at times.

Of course, some parents are more naturally peaceful than others. And I’m guessing you’re here because you find this stuff hard.  I’m right there with you.  

Aim For 50 – 70%

Let’s start with the fundamental truth.  It is not possible to be perfect.  Yet when it comes to parenting, so many of us strive for perfection and beat ourselves up when we fall short.  This is doubly troublesome as it not only makes us feel bad. 

It also makes us more reactive.  Winnicott’s research conducted in the 1950s informs us that parents only need to get it right up around 70% of the time for children to be securely attached.  Susan Woodhouse pushes this back even further in her 2019 research on babies’ attachment suggesting that we only need to get it right 50% of the time as we learn our new role as parents.  The conclusion?  Let yourself off the hook.

Self Compassion

The best thing we can do instead of beating ourselves up is to be self-compassionate.  When we are kind and understanding towards ourselves, we are in a much better place to extend that same compassion to our children – in a genuine way.  If your kids aren’t responding to your empathy and compassion this is a surefire sign that you need to work on your own self-compassion. 

They are not responding to it, because they don’t believe it.  They don’t believe it because you, subconsciously, don’t believe that anyone is really deserving of empathy and compassion either.  It is a message you probably internalised as a very young child.  This is a life’s work but start with this:  Give yourself permission to be human, apologise when you have stepped out of line, and then forgive yourself and allow yourself to move forward and learn.  The three steps to a self-compassionate moment are:

  1. Get mindful:  Stop what you are doing, close your eyes and notice what is going on in your body.  Breathe
  2. Common Humanity: Remind yourself that you are not the only person who would be finding this moment hard.  This experience is a shared human experience.  You are not alone
  3. Self-kindness:  What do you need right now?  Can you give yourself some kind words? Can you give yourself a hug? Do you need to lie down for a minute?  Meet that need as best you can.

You may find coming up with a self-compassionate mantra that you say when things get hard will remind you to do this.

I use:  Roots, Nurture, Space (more about this later).

‘This is a hard moment.  Anyone would find this hard. You will get through this.  You’re doing great.’

Notice Your Stressors And Triggers:

Try to notice the times you react.  What everyday things present stressors?  Can you minimise these as much as you can?  Are there any triggers that persistently come up?  These are usually those times when you seem to react for no apparent reason.  The trigger is what is behind the reaction, and it usually comes from our childhood.

Roots, Nurture, Space

The framework I use is roots, nurture space and I use this both to regulate ourselves in the moment and as a framework for supporting families more broadly.  

Let’s Start With Self-Regulation:


Stop what you are doing and ground yourself.  Take some deep breaths and imagine roots growing down from your feet deep into the earth and steadying you.  You are safe.  You are held.


Notice your body.  What physical sensations are you feeling?  What does your body want to do?  Sit down? Stamp? Squeeze? Pummel something?  Try to follow the movement and allow the emotion to move through you without trying to push it away without getting stuck in the story of what is upsetting you.  Just notice the sensations.  Did you know emotions only last in our bodies for 90 seconds if we do this?  And the even better news is, once we start to process them they’ll stop coming back!


The final piece is space.  This is just a prompt to see if you are ready to return to the battlefield or if you need more space.  It’s also a prompt to ask yourself whether your child/ren needs space or if they are ready to connect.

Peaceful Parenting Includes Self-Love

Parenting is one of the most rewarding yet challenging roles we’ll ever undertake.  It’s the most important job we’ll ever do and one in which there is a huge amount of scrutiny, very little support and the expectation that you can undertake it with absolutely no training.  

I encourage you to serve yourself a huge helping of self-compassion, let go of perfect aim for good enough and reach out for help if you need it. 

Check Out Lauren’s Website

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Guest Author

This blog was written by a guest author. That means it was either created by an industry expert, medical professional, or someone from within the parenting community. You will be able to find out more information about them within the blog. Thank you so much for popping in to give it your support!