What is gentle parenting?
Updated: Apr 23
Generally speaking, when we have a child under our responsibility, we do our best to try and raise them as the best version of themselves. We try to give them a comfortable environment for them to grow into the person they will become all while trying to teach them the ‘right’ notions and ways to behave for them to become a functioning member of society by installing discipline. But at the end of the day, it’s not as simple as it looks, many factors come into play. Each parent goes about different ways of doing that and has their own notions of what is considered the proper ways to act in society.
There are many ways one goes about disciplining their child. Some prefer the traditional structure of punishments and rewards while others lean toward different, more unconventional methods, and that’s where gentle parenting comes in. But what is that exactly? Gentle parenting, often associated with the term attachment parenting, first introduced by the American pediatrician William Sears, is a parenting philosophy based on empathy, understanding, and mutual respect. There are many ways in which these principles are integrated into parenting routines and discipline.
One of the first places where this method shows itself is in the reward and punishment system found in traditional parenting. Or the lack there off to be precise. Indeed, gentle parenting rejects the idea of rewarding your child for good behavior or punish them when they do something wrong as this will only result in children doing the right thing only for the reward or to avoid punishment instead of them doing good things for the sake of it.
Instead, they prefer to approach disciple in different ways because after all to disciple is to teach your child, to let them try and discover the right things through trial and error. It is believed that this way the child will internalize good behavior because they genuinely believe that it’s the right thing to do.
In practice, parents encourage partnership between them and their children in different ways. For one, they consider that a child's behavior depends on how connected they are with their parents, as such, they see bad behavior as a cry for help or unmet needs. This lies in a well-developed mutual trust between both the parents and children. This also comes into play in decision-making. The parents treat the children as members of the family worthy of participating in the decision-making process and chores. The parents continue to put this trust in the child by not giving orders or commands but by giving them a series of actions to choose from such as asking them if they’d like to take a bath before or after dinner for example.
But while this style gives your child control and space, it is important in gentle parenting to remember that at the end of the day, they still are children whose brains haven’t completely evolved yet. They still have a lot to learn and the parents acknowledge that and don’t judge them by the standers adults are judged by. As such, parents let children learn and discover at their own pace free of any schedule.
Another important aspect lies in giving your child boundaries by avoiding forced affection. When they refuse a family member's affection don’t force the child to accept it no matter how good meant the affection is. They also don’t force the child to respect them but instead, let them make that decision on their own at their own pace. The parents negotiate limits when they can by being flexible and telling the child beforehand how much time he can spend at the park for example. Now of course not everything can be negotiated special when it comes to keeping the child and the people around them safe. In this case, the parent explains why this is a hard limit by telling the child that this behavior might be hurtful for him or others.
Additionally, parent seeks to achieve is a safe nurturing environment. They try to diffuse any tension by taking a more playful approach to chores and other unpleasant actions for example. This will encourage the child to be more comfortable with doing said chores. Similarly, when bad behavior is observed instead of describing the child and associate them with the behavior, the parents go about describing the action and why it’s bad. For example instead of saying the child is naughty, tell them how this behavior has affected you or others, that it made you feel sad or annoyed.
And most importantly, in gentle parenting, a lot of emphases is put on mental health. During a tantrum or a crying episode, the parent lets the child express their emotions instead of reprimanding them for it. They try to listen to the child's complaint or problem and validate their feelings by telling them things such as: ‘it’s okay to feel this way’. The parents also understand how their mental health can affect their parenting skills and methods. As such, they understand the concept of parenting burnout and try to nurture themselves and seek help when they think they need it so they can have space and the right mindset to be able to nurture and help their child.
Finally, It’s important to know that gentle parenting is different than permissive parenting that always seeks the approval of the child and never says no to anything.
In conclusion, there are many ways to go about parenting each with different benefits and disadvantages but at the end of the day, there are no right or wrong ways to go when it comes to parenting methods. It all comes down to the parent's personal preferences and convictions. Parents who opt for the gentle parenting method usually just seek a freer and more fluid way of parenting that doesn't necessarily fit any of societal standards all while giving your child the attention and the space they need to grow.