You might have heard the term ‘gentle parenting’ mentioned on social media, but what is gentle parenting?
There are a lot of labels for the way people choose to parent their kids – attachment parenting, authoritarian parenting, the Ferber Method, the Gina Ford technique.
Many of these terms come from the time when your parents were raising you.
Gentle parenting is a newer approach that aims to raise kids who are happy, independent, respectful, and emotionally articulate.
You might have heard people sneer at gentle parenting, saying that it’s just an excuse to let your kids walk all over you.
But this criticism usually comes from people who haven’t read up on the theory at all.
So what is gentle parenting, and why should you try it?
In this article: 📝
- Origins of gentle parenting
- What is the gentle parenting approach?
- Respectful parenting vs. gentle parenting
- Is gentle parenting good?
- What’s wrong with gentle parenting?
Origins of gentle parenting
The term ‘gentle parenting’ went mainstream in 2016 after the British parenting expert Sarah Ockwell-Smith published The Gentle Parenting Book.
None of the ideas in the book were particularly revolutionary.
But when you combine her key principles, you get an easy framework that helps parents to understand and support their kids’ emotional growth.
What is the gentle parenting approach?
Gentle parenting has a lot in common with the Montessori method of education, where the mantra is: Help me to do it myself.
It takes the same principles of supporting your kid as they learn, but it focuses on their relationships and their big feelings.
Still wondering how to gentle parent? Ockwell-Smith boils it down to four things.
You don’t have to be an expert on child development to be a gentle parent, but you do need to set your expectations according to how old they are.
How can you apply this to your family?
- You can understand that little kids aren’t deliberately ‘immature’, especially when it comes to their (lack of) self-control and thinking about other people’s feelings.
- You can set age-appropriate boundaries and logical consequences for stepping outside those boundaries (so ‘if you throw the toy, I take the toy away so you can’t break it’ – not ‘if you don’t go to bed now, you can’t watch TV tomorrow’).
- You can consider what your kid can do to be part of your family team, and give them simple chores to do.
Hopefully, if you have a better understanding of where your kid is at, you can be more empathetic towards their feelings.
Gentle parents acknowledge their child’s emotions in any situation or decision.
When things get stressful (like when a kid is throwing a tantrum) they also manage their own emotions so they don’t make the problem worse.
Ockwell-Smith focuses on the idea that a child ‘acts out’ when they don’t feel like their needs are being met.
This isn’t the same as being manipulative – it’s just that they’re reliant on adults for almost everything and they’re not capable of being as patient as you.
Gentle parents want to be respected by their kids, but they recognize that respect has to be earned.
Unlike some older parenting styles, though, they don’t earn respect by being frightening.
Instead, they create a home where there’s a balance of power between grown-ups and kids.
Treating kids like whole people whose emotions matter is really important in building this mutual respect.
Another easy strategy is to avoid giving commands like ‘put your coat on now’.
A lot of gentle parenting techniques give your child choices while letting them know the logic behind the instructions – ‘let’s find some shoes that will keep our feet dry in the rain today’.
A lot of people criticize gentle parenting because they believe that you can’t say no to your kids. This is really, really far from the truth.
Ockwell-Smith recognizes a few key things in her book:
- Boundaries keep kids safe
- Having boundaries creates teaching moments about why the rules are there
- If you enforce boundaries consistently, your kid knows where they can explore and they feel freer to learn about the world and themselves
What’s more, if your kid does cross a line (and they will, because they’re kids), gentle parenting isn’t against discipline.
It’s just that gentle discipline comments on the thing that the child did wrong, not on them as a person (‘your friend didn’t like it when you took the toy before they finished playing’, not ‘you were naughty to snatch’).
Respectful parenting vs. gentle parenting
There’s not a lot of difference between gentle parenting and respectful parenting – after all, respect is a pillar of gentle parenting.
The core idea of respectful parenting is to treat your child as you would want to be treated, or, to look at it another way, to never treat them in a way that would be disrespectful if they were an adult.
In essence, it’s another way of a family working together to make sure that everyone’s needs are being met.
Is gentle parenting good?
Many child development experts say that gentle parenting is one of the healthiest ways of bringing up kids.
It’s also one of the easiest for families to use.
You can start when your kids are babies, you don’t have to follow a strict schedule, and you can follow the ideas without feeling like a failure if you have a bad day.
And, because gentle parenting isn’t just letting your kids do whatever they want without consequences, it doesn’t come back to bite you when your child is older and they have to follow the rules in school or at work.
What’s wrong with gentle parenting?
Basically, there’s nothing wrong with trying the gentle parenting approach.
People can sometimes feel like your choice to gentle parent is a criticism of the way that they were raised.
‘It never did me any harm’ is something you might hear a lot if you choose to parent more ‘gently’ than the people around you. That doesn’t mean you have to listen.
But if there is something that makes gentle parenting hard, it’s this:
Parenting is always tough, and gentle parenting asks you to be patient, consistent, and kind even on the hardest days.
It’s really important for gentle parents to show their kids what it looks like to be a well-rounded, emotionally stable adult so that they can grow up into well-rounded, emotionally stable adults.
Gentle parenting needs you to be gentle with yourself as well as your children, and it can be hard to find the balance where you empathize with your child’s needs while making sure that you don’t get burned out.
Right now, you might be trying to parent in a way that’s different from how you were raised.
This can be exhausting.
Parenting in a pandemic has also been a challenge that a lot of us could never have imagined.
So, if you feel like you’d like some extra support as you go on this journey, the Peanut Community can help you talk about the good stuff and the tough stuff.
And the best part? We’re always there.
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