Mommy Hacks: Teaching Little Ones to be Gentle

Hey guys! Here’s an interesting fact: you know that feeling you get when you see something that is SO cute (like a baby’s chubby cheeks or the furriest little kitten)? And you want to just squeeze and squeeze? Well, there’s actually science behind it that suggests that when we see something that evokes such strong emotion, we want to do something about it. It often triggers an aggressive reaction. Don’t get me wrong, most of us don’t mean any harm, but it’s because of “strong approach motivation”. An intense feeling = an intense (almost) action.

Teaching Kids to Be Gentle

We have this quote up on Aden’s wall.

These feelings are easily switched back and forth in negative and positive experiences. That intense feeling of aggression that comes with a negative experience comes from a similar place. Of course, most adults know not to act out on these strong emotions (we’d never want to harm baby, and similarly, when we’re angry, we generally still do not wish to harm others).

There’s a reason I bring this up, and it has to do with young children and toddlers. They experience the same feelings as we do, and it’s important to see where they’re coming from. Positive experiences – like when Aden is so excited to see his baby sister – can evoke that sort of “she’s so cute, let me squeeze her!” feeling. And because kids at this age go straight to expressing their feelings, they immediately want to do that action (squeeze, shake, bite, etc.).

Teaching Kids to be Gentle

Keep in mind that most of the time when children are acting out, it’s because they don’t know how to express their feelings. Teaching them how to do so in a healthy way means lessening the chances of troublesome behaviors. That quote from Despicable Me, “It’s so fluffy I’m gonna DIE!” comes to mind. Lol. The child really feels the need to do something about this pent up aggression-like feeling.

When your child experiences this feeling, whether because of a positive or negative experience, they need to know how to express it gently, without putting themselves or anyone else in harm’s way. The first step is to teach them exactly what gentle means. If they hit when they mean to pat, explain (gently of course) that this (motion with your hands) is gentle, and that we don’t want to hurt anyone. It can help to guide them physically (on a stuffed animal rather than a living creature, of course). Don’t forget to let them know when they’re expressing a feeling correctly!

A similar time when you can teach a child to be gentle is while they are playing with you. When they’re too rough, take this time to teach a lesson that they’ll carry through to play with other kids, pets, etc. It helps to create rules for play.

Lastly, I’ve noticed how important it is to teach these lessons in a calm manner, as difficult as that can be at times. When welcoming a new baby brother or sister, kids of any age will do anything they can, even unconsciously, to get mommy and daddy’s attention. Acting out as the parent gives them attention – though obviously not the kind they need. And if a negative action guarantees that they’ll grab your attention, be warned that they will repeat it! Keep that in mind so your efforts don’t have the opposite effect.

How did you go about navigating gentility with little ones? Have any other mommy hacks topics you’d like to see?