With so many different parenting options out there, how do you choose the method that brings out the best in both you and your child?
There’s no one single answer to this, and chances are, you’ll (knowingly or unknowingly) incorporate several different styles of parenting as you get to know what works for your family. But it can be nice to know what some of the different philosophies are.
Enter gentle parenting. Gentle parenting is built on a foundation of:
- understanding your child
- empathizing with them
- showing them respect
- setting boundaries
It’s about recognizing your child as an individual and responding to their needs.
You can thank British child care expert Sarah Ockwell-Smith, author of “The Gentle Parenting Book,” for putting a name to this parenting style. The belief is that gentle parenting helps you build a relationship with your child that’s based on their willingness and choices, instead of on your expectations and rules.
You may want to look at it this way: The tools of old-school, authoritarian parenting are parental control and punishment. The child is expected to behave in a way that’s acceptable to the society they’re living in. If they don’t behave, they’re pressured to adjust their behavior or be punished.
The tools of gentle parenting are connection, communication, and consistency. Ask any parent who follows this style and they’ll tell you to add a good measure of patience to these three Cs to keep things running smoothly.
Let’s take a brief look at the basic practices that make up gentle parenting. You’ll notice that the three Cs (connection, communication, consistency) run through these practices. That’s because the more connected you are to your child, the more likely they’ll want to behave in way that pleases you.
Good communication and gentle consistency with boundaries help to build that vital connection.
Be aware of your child’s feelings and needs. There’s a reason your child is behaving in a certain way. Be there with them.
Try to figure out what they want and if they’re old enough, ask them. Show them that what’s important to them is important to you too. If your child is crying because they don’t want to stay with Grandma while you run to the dentist, try to find out why they’re balking. Are they afraid you won’t come back?
Children are little humans with their own feelings and preferences. And yet, often, in the rush of life, we seem to forget that. Respect means treating your child the way you’d want to be treated.
Talk to them the way you’d want someone to talk to you. Instead of telling your child to “be quiet” when they interrupt the chat you’re having with a friend in the grocery, explain to them that in a few moments you’ll be free to listen to them.
Gentle parenting encourages parents to check that their expectations are age-appropriate. A child isn’t throwing a tantrum because they enjoy the noise; they just don’t have a better way to ask you for what they want.
If your child has a meltdown in the candy aisle at the grocery store because you’re not buying enough, explain to them that candy is certainly a wonderfully, yummy treat — and that’s why you buy limited amounts for special occasions.
Don’t be afraid to set boundaries for your child, but do remember that the fewer rules you have, the easier you’ll find it to be consistent.
Think of boundaries as rules that teach your child a better way of doing things. For example: We go to sleep early instead of watching movie after movie, so that we can wake up in time to get ready for school without rushing.
Boundaries make your child feel safe. They know what to expect and what’s expected of them.
Reward and punishment
Rewards and punishments aren’t a focus in the gentle parenting method. That’s because of the belief that a system of reward and punishment teaches a child to behave in a specific way in order to get a prize or avoid unpleasant consequences.
Gentle parenting aims to motivate the child from the inside and not to go after the carrot at the end of the stick.
Taking a peek at other parenting options can help you decide which path you’re going to follow.
Attachment parenting focuses on a parent’s connection and responsiveness to their child. This parenting style teaches that you can positively impact your child’s emotional health and future relationships by being responsive to their needs and by keeping them physically close.
Skin-to-skin contact is encouraged and parents see a child’s cry as a call for help rather than an attempt to manipulate them. (This is why attachment parents may opt to use a baby carrier instead of a stroller, for example.)
Attachment parenting and gentle parenting are compatible with one another, although they may emphasize different things.
Positive parenting is a warm and firm style that also emphasizes connecting with your child. A positive parent listens to their child and strives to become aware of their emotions.
A child is taught to name their emotions and to look for solutions to their challenges. If you hear a parent saying, “I see you’re sad about having to come inside, but playtime is over now,” know that positive parenting may be their style.
So-called “tiger parenting” is considered an authoritarian style that puts a lot of demands on the child. Tiger parenting can help children become hardworking, motivated, and conscientious. However, it can come with stress that could lead to emotional problems.
A parent following this style may enroll their child in numerous extracurricular and academic activities aimed at developing them further.
This comes at the opposite end of the scale to authoritarian parenting. Permissive parents see themselves as a child’s friend. Their relaxed and lenient approach has few rules and little discipline. Permissive parents may not stop their child from eating ice cream for breakfast.
Gentle parenting is a newly named approach, so research-backed evidence is scarce. However,
Interacting with your child gently builds millions of neural connections in their brain. The repetition of these positive interactions lays down the neural pathways that form the basis for future relationships, learning, and logic. Think of it as long-term emotional inoculation.
Gentle parenting isn’t for the faint of heart. This style of parenting involves a lot of self-discipline. You’ll need to be proactive instead of reactive. You’ll need to make mindful decisions and role model empathy, respect, understanding, and communication. Remember the generous doses of patience we mentioned?
But in contrast to the self-discipline you’ll have to employ to stay consistent, some critics do argue that a child doesn’t get enough discipline when parents use this method. Gentle parenting relies on your child having the inner motivation to the right thing at times when the wrong choices could have dire consequences, according to some.
Gentle parenting may not be easy, and it may sometimes feel like you’re parenting yourself. The effort you invest in honing your new skills is offset, though, when you see your child mirroring your empathetic and respectful behavior.