What is Gentle Parenting?

What I Thought Gentle Parenting Was

Before I had kids I would often see posts from people (mostly of an older generation, but not all) poking fun at the term gentle parenting (which is also known as respectful or responsive parenting). I have to admit I thought it must be some loose approach to parenting where the child never hears the word no and there are no rules or discipline. Back then I had no reason to research further so that remained my perception of the term until a became a parent myself. When my baby entered toddlerhood I started researching the term more. It started by googling toddler discipline and ultimately lead to discovering gentle parenting. My pre-mom idea of the term couldn’t be further from the truth.

What did you think when you first heard the term gentle parenting?

What Gentle Parenting Really is

As I read it did not sound revolutionary, but just a common sense and loving way to parent your kids.

The 3 facets of gentle parenting are:

  • empathy
  • understanding
  • respect

It is a style in which the parent seeks to understand the reason behind the behavior and support the child in expressing and managing their emotions. The Cleveland Clinic says “The goal of gentle parenting is to raise confident, independent and happy children through empathy, respect and understanding, and setting healthy boundaries. This parenting style focuses largely on age-appropriate development”.

You may be wondering why can’t kids just listen to what their parents say because they are the authority? Think about yourself and how much more willing you would be to do something for someone, say an employer, if they showed you empathy and respect when you made a mistake instead of just point out what you did wrong and dish out a consequence? I bet many of us can think back to our own childhoods. Did you want to follow your parents rules when they did not seek to understand you or provide emotional support or did you rebel even more? If you did grow up with empathy, understanding and respect I’m sure you know someone who did not. How did that work out?

Common Misconceptions About Gentle Parenting

Just because gentle parenting focuses on empathy, understanding, and respect when a child misbehaves does not mean they can do whatever they want. That is confusing gentle parenting with permissive parenting. Gentle parenting is authoritative, not to be confused with authoritarian. Read more about the 4 parenting styles here. A major component of gentle parenting is to hold firm boundaries.

Janet Lansbury, a respectful parenting expert says “Our acceptance and validation of our children’s feelings should most certainly not be confused with letting children do whatever they wish when they’re upset. In fact, this approach I recommend is the polar opposite of parental passivity or indulgence.  We must learn to be so comfortable with (or, at least, accepting of) our child’s feelings that we can give respectful, honest boundaries confidently, all the while acknowledging, “I know this isn’t what you wanted”.

How Does Gentle Parenting Compare to other Parenting Styles

Compared to other styles gentle parenting is a balance. Like gentle parents, permissive parents may have a strong bond with their child and support them emotionally, but lack in establishing boundaries. Authoritarian parents have strict boundaries, but lack emotional support and understanding.

Benefits of Gentle Parenting

  • Focuses on child’s positive traits. Ever hear you become what you are told you are?
  • Can reduce anxiety
  • Children learn from their actions
  • Strengthens relationship between parent and child
  • Parents get to work on their own emotional regulation and self discovery

Cons of Gentle Parenting

  • its challenging on parents behalf and requires time and patience.
  • Need to be consistent to be effective
  • Can be confused with permissive parenting and neglect the boundary component
  • Traditional rewards and consequences are not part of this philosophy

Gentle Parenting techniques

Here is an example of how I implement gentle parenting in my daily life. My toddler doesn’t not want to brush his teeth. He screams and cries saying no. I acknowledge his feelings “I understand you don’t want to brush your teeth right now and you are upset. It is okay to not want to and be upset about it, but it is something you have to do. You have food on your teeth and can get cavities if you don’t brush”. After this I offer 2 choices such as “do you want to brush your teeth or do you want mommy to do it” or “do you want to use the yellow or blue toothbrush”. He still has to brush his teeth, but he feels a little more in control now that he has been given some choices in how he does it. I have come to understand that brushing teeth is a control issue and that is why offering choices in how he does it helps in this situation.

I’m far from perfect in implementing this parenting style. I don’t think anyone is or it works every time, but you have to try your best to be calm, patient, consistent and persistent. There have been nights where he was over tired and all that would work was letting him look at my phone and even some nights where going to bed without brushing his teeth happened, but most of the time this does work.

You might ask why not just hold him down and brush his teeth if hygiene is a non-negotiable?

Well, let me admit, that is what we did with the booger sucker and 18 months later he will not let us use it on him no matter what and we can barely even wipe his nose. It got the boogers out in the moment, but hurt in the long term.

You might think that gentle parenting means not saying no. You will say no, but kids will respond better if their feelings are validated and no is rephrased and explained.

For example, when my son starts to get a little rough with his baby brother I say “he doesn’t like it when you do that, it hurts him”. If he doesn’t respond to this then I pick the baby up and say “I’m sorry, but I won’t let you hurt your brother. I will have to hold him for now”. Then I try to understand the behavior. For this one it’s often because he wants my attention. I put baby somewhere safe and ask if he wants a hug or for me to play with him.

Conclusion

In conclusion gentle parenting is a parenting style in which you can have positive relationship with your children while still enforcing boundaries. It takes a lot of work on the parent’s part to be calm, patient and consistent, but pays off in the long run. I by no means am perfect at practicing this parenting style, but I try my best everyday and so can you if that is what you want to do. Stay tuned for more articles and tips to help navigate toddlerhood and beyond with gentle parenting.

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