What Is Gentle Parenting?

Gentle Parenting

Gentle parenting is an alternative to the conventional authoritarian ‘old school’ parenting style. It is a peaceful and constructive approach to parenting.

Empathy, Respect, Empathy, and Boundaries are characteristics of this parenting mentality.

Often ‘gentle parenting’ is used interchangeably with the idea of ‘attachment parenting. Though these two parenting styles are similar, they have their differences.

Gentle parenting is a parenting style that encourages your children to form relationships with you based on their desire and choices rather than parental demands and guidelines.

Gentle parenting encourages children to do what is good by using positivity and patience rather than fear of punishment. 

Gentle parenting helps to raise kids with sensitivity and warmth while also measuring out reasonable expectations and boundaries. 

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, a parenting specialist and author of The Gentle Parenting Book, is a proponent of gentle parenting.

‘Gentle parenting isn’t just about using unique approaches,’ Sarah says. It’s all about developing an ethos and fully altering your mindset. It’s more of a state of mind than a method of action. Approaching all parenting situations with Empathy for the child and trying to understand the reasoning behind their behavior, working together to change it positively and accepting what cannot be changed.’

There are four fundamental principles to Gentle parenting.

They are:

Gentle parenting through Empathy

Gentle parenting requires parents to be aware of their child’s feelings and needs while parenting.

Misunderstanding a child can result in difficult parenting situations.

Instead of dismissing a child as ‘manipulative’ or ‘naughty,’ a parent should try to understand the cause of the child’s misbehavior.

By addressing the root cause of the bad behavior, a parent can eliminate this occurring in the future.

Gentle parenting through respect

Having respect for your child as an adult is another crucial characteristic of gentle parenting. Usually, parents feel the need to set rules and demands – telling a child what to do and what not to do.

However, in gentle parenting, respect is gained by parents respecting their children’s feelings and personalities, and a child will eventually learn to respect their parent.

Children and their parents should respect each other; children should not respect their parents in a vacuum.

Parents should monitor themselves and ensure that they approach their children in a polite and upbeat way rather than being dismissive or condescending.

Listening to a child when they speak and asking questions before reacting is the easiest way to integrate respect into a parent-child relationship.

If a child does something, gentle parenting urges you to identify why the child did that in the first place before reacting to the child’s action.

Gentle parenting through understanding

The gentle parenting method recognizes that children are not fully developed and often lack the same control over their actions and behavior as adults.

With this in mind, parents must alter their perceptions of what constitutes “natural” or “abnormal” behavior in children. This is important when a child is having a temper tantrum or having difficulty sleeping.

Gentle parenting through understanding also requires a parent to understand themselves and their own behavior.

For example, when parents feel compelled to be violent toward their child by yelling or raising their voice.

Being a role model for children requires us to modify our behavior and change our attitudes.

Sarah says: ‘Remember, we are our child’s greatest teacher. Stop and ask yourself if how you’re behaving is what you want to teach your child. E.g., if your child does something wrong, do you want to yell at them or punish them (teaching them that yelling is how to resolve situations), or do you want to teach them how to stay calm and problem solve?’

Offering to understand your child and yourself relieves a lot of stress, tension, anger, and confusion for both of you.

When parents hear their children out and try to understand them, it gives them a feeling of comfort around their parents.

Children who are being heard and understood by their parents would most likely come to their parents whenever they are in trouble or difficult situations, and they will be willing to take their parents’ advice and adhere to their rules.

Understanding focuses mainly on how parents communicate with their children, how they encourage their children to communicate, and the expectations they put forth.

Training yourself on the typical developmental expectations for children is one of the most crucial aspects of understanding.

Parents should not expect children to behave in a way that is too advanced or emotionally mature for their development.

Gentle parenting with boundaries

There’s a misconception that gentle parenting equates to permissive parenting, which allows kids to get away with everything. However, boundaries play a crucial role in differentiating these two styles of parenting.

Boundaries are about showing children a better way of doing things, not about creating endless lists of rules and regulations.

According to Sarah, ‘Boundaries are just a collection of family rules.’ It’s important to make these decisions with your partner or co-parent in mind.

Others who will be caring for the infant should also be involved. It’s preferable to have fewer rules that are important to you and that you know you will follow rather than an extensive and confusing list that no one will follow.’

Gentle parenting encourages parents to set boundaries that promote a safe, caring, and secure atmosphere. Boundaries vary by family, but they typically include aspects of communication, behavior, and expectations.

Gentle parenting features

Bonding with your kid

Gentle parenting is about creating a bond between parents and their kids. According to Nicole Beurkens, Ph.D., CNS, a licensed psychologist, “Gentle parenting, is sometimes referred to as attachment parenting or constructive discipline and its focus is on the importance of the parent-child relationship in assisting children in developing internal self-control and the ability to manage feelings and behaviors.

In reality, it appears that rather than enforcing strict expectations or consequences, parents spend time engaging with their children about their choices, emotions, and challenges.”

If a parent takes out time to discuss with her kids, listen to them, try to understand them, and respect them, they will become very comfortable being around their parents, which would create a strong bond between them. 

Autonomy and choice

This section is about seeing a child as a human who is capable of experiencing feelings and emotions. One of the key components here is treating the child as the parent would want to be treated.

A gentle parent has to give room for autonomy and choice, understanding that behavior is always rooted in some need or underlying issue—and seeking to understand the child’s perspective before making assumptions about their emotions or behavior.

Gentle parenting encourages parents to give children the freedom to make choices and learn from them; open communication; Respect for all family members; problem-solving when challenges arise; addressing things in playful ways when appropriate.

Avoid punishment as a way to discipline

Instead of punishing children, gentle parenting focuses on moving away from retribution and on learning from the child’s mistakes, and determining if they want to make amends. This has a positive impact on children’s attitudes.

Gentle parenting encourages parents to talk things out with kids, understand their actions and the reasons behind them instead of meeting out punishment.

Being mindful of the way you use praise

Praise as a motivator for children can be effective at times. However, you must be careful not to overpraise them in an effort to boost their morale, as this will weaken their confidence.

Kids develop the belief that they need external reinforcement to feel good about themselves or that they must continually receive praise.

Allow kids to be part of the parenting process

This one relates to choices: if you want your child to grow up to be self-sufficient, you must teach them that they have options in both big and small decisions.

Yes, everyday annoyances and tasks are included. 

What are the benefits of Gentle parenting?

The benefits of gentle parenting include:

  • Gentle parenting results in happier parents
  • Children raised under gentle parenting grow up with more self-worth
  • Gentle parenting makes children more intelligent
  • Gentle parenting gives children a level of independence
  • Children grow up with better self-esteem, as they can believe in themselves and trust their ability.
  • Children are more responsible and resourceful
  • Gentle parenting allows children to learn essential life skills at an early age, and this will help them in the long run
  • Children raised by gentle parents are more likely to have a healthy relationship with others when they become adults
  • Gentle parenting helps children to respect other people’s feelings, opinions, 

What are the downsides of Gentle parenting?

Gentle parenting can quickly move into an area of no boundaries, and that’s something you want to be careful of.

Being gentle with kids, giving them room to make certain decisions, have their own opinion on matters, etc., can make them start feeling like they can do whatever they want.

This is why parents who adopt gentle parenting are advised to set boundaries.

In an effort to be gentle with your infant, you may mistakenly believe that any indication of anxiety, expectation or other emotion is evidence that you are not behaving “gently,” which is a trap.

Often, be mindful of your own needs—part of being a “gentle” parent includes being gentle with yourself. Sometimes parents may stop paying attention to their own needs in a bid to focus on their children.

As such, parents have to be very careful when practicing gentle parenting.  

The takeaway

While the term “gentle parenting” is a “trend,” the idea is based on behaviors that scholars have been debating for years—and that parents might already be employing. The ultimate objective of gentle parenting is to build a strong bond with your child that is built on confidence, development, and security.

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