May 05, 2022
Gentle Parenting is the new buzzword roaming around parenting groups nowadays. Just hearing the term “gentle parenting” sounds heartwarming. You picture a calm parent connecting with their child after a stressful situation, with the aftermath being that their little one is also calm, happy, and has learned their lesson. They then go off to grow up to be happy, self-regulating, responsible adults. Hooray!
However, that’s the ideal, almost fantastical view of gentle parenting. While it looks great on social media, seeing all these parents doling out tips and real-life advice, it can also put tremendous pressure on already stressed-out parents who have a lot on their plate, making them feel guilty about blowing their top off that one time when they were supposed to be connecting and empathizing with their child, instead of yelling.
So how does an ordinary parent apply gentle parenting? The first step is to understand what gentle parenting is. The second step? Apply it as best you can, but don’t beat yourself up on days that you don’t.
In this article, we will talk about:
Gentle parenting has been around for ages, dating back to 1966 when clinical and developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind initially called it “Authoritative Parenting”. With that said, it’s not as new as people think it is. Despite that, it has caught the attention of many parents nowadays—but why so?
Author, mother, and parenting expert Sarah Ockwell-Smith coined the term “gentle parenting” in more recent years, and she describes it as an empathetic, understanding, and respectful way of parenting. In short: You treat your child as a partner. This is the opposite of authoritarian parenting, where the parent is like a dictator and a child is just supposed to follow what the parent says, simply because they’re the grown-up.
Gentle parenting doesn’t come from a place of punishment and rewards; some gentle parenting advocates would even go as far as not telling their child, “Good job!” The logic behind the “no punishment or rewards” way is because, with gentle parenting, positive discipline is key. With the choices that you give your child on what to do with every situation comes a teaching moment, so that they can do better next time. This parenting style aims to connect with the child, to understand what they’re going through without stifling their emotions, and to give them choices or a say in what to do in situations or, generally, choices on what to do with their life. Doesn’t that sound ideal?
Most parenting experts and parents who practice gentle parenting agree that the style does work. It acknowledges the importance of the child in your family, giving them a say and a place in it, but without being permissive about it. It puts parents in a position of what they’re supposed to be as parents—not just caregivers, but also teachers, guides, and role models. Gentle parenting advocates say that through this parenting style, children grow up with the ability to self-regulate, the confidence to make their own choices, and ability to communicate well with others.
Let's face it: Parenting isn’t just cuddles and sweetness. There is no one parenting style that will make this gig easier. Same thing goes with gentle parenting—don’t be fooled by the phrase, because it’s a hard job to be gentle!
So do parents benefit from gentle parenting or is it all to the child’s benefit? Surprise! Since in gentle parenting you treat your child as a partner, both of your needs are actually met when you do gentle parenting. Parents get to practice being mindful, empathetic, compassionate, and making decisions with sound judgment. You also learn how to communicate well, not just with your child, but also with others around you. You might even become gentler with how you treat yourself, too!
You are your little one's superhero and first role model. Consider being gentle when you spend time together.
The short answer is yes, gentle parenting can be done by all parents, and to all kids of all ages and backgrounds. However, it doesn’t happen in an instant. Expect that you won’t be a gentle parent 100% of the time just because you know the basics. Just like with everything, aim for progress, not perfection. Aiming to do gentle parenting every day in all situations is setting yourself up for failure. There will always be hiccups, and that’s okay. What matters is you get back on the saddle and try again.
What about kids? Will all of them respond positively to gentle parenting? As far as experts have seen, yes. No child likes to be bossed around and treated like someone who doesn’t have any control over their own life. Neither do you, right? The key here is to not be permissive nor dictatorial. Gentle parenting is all about understanding the needs of your child, figuring out if there is a need or an emotion to address, and giving them choices—pre-approved by you, of course—on how to proceed.
Sounds great in theory but is gentle parenting for the real world? For real parents? It’s a resounding YES! However, it takes practice, effort, and learning to be gentle towards yourself, as well. Care to give it a try? Here are a few everyday situations that can be made better with gentle parenting:
Authoritarian Parent: "Do it now, or I’ll throw out all the toys I see on the floor!”
Permissive Parent:"Oh, it’s okay, I’ll do it for you.”
Gentle Parent: "These are a lot of toys, looks like you had a lot of fun! Why don’t you choose something we can both play with, then let’s pack these up together so we can go have a snack?”
Why gentle parenting works: Prying away playtime or any situation that’s enjoyable for your child will always be hard, no matter how old your child is. Focusing on their need, which is probably more playtime or that they’re too tired to pack away and need help, will make them more accepting of both packing away and finishing up with playtime. Playing with you is a sweet bonus!
Authoritarian Parent: "If you don’t finish your homework again, you won’t have screen time for a month!”
Permissive Parent: "I didn’t like homework either when I was your age. It’s annoying, right?”
Gentle Parent: "It can be overwhelming sometimes to have to remember so many things. It must have been scary to not have homework to turn in. What time do you want to dedicate to doing schoolwork, before or after dinner?”
Why gentle parenting works: Shaming your child into submission and telling them you’re disappointed at them for not doing certain things like homework or chores will only either teach them to do things to please others, or to avoid the consequences. Ideally, we want our kids to choose to do them because it’s the right thing to do. Gentle parenting works here because you acknowledge the reason behind them forgetting to do their homework, and then you give them the tools to help solve the issue.
Authoritarian Parent: "Stop it with your tantrum! Stop crying, it’s not a big deal! You go to bed because I said so, that’s final!"
Permissive Parent:"If you stop crying, you can skip your toothbrush and flossing time, and we can have extra story time, how about that?"
Gentle Parent: "I see that you don’t like your bedtime routine, and you’re feeling sad and maybe a bit angry that you need to stop playing. Feeling that way is okay. Do you want to think of what you’ll play with tomorrow while you brush your teeth and floss?"
Why gentle parenting works: Tantrums are sometimes the only tool that your child has in their toolbox to express their emotions, and oftentimes it’s a result of not getting what they want. Validating their feelings makes them feel seen and important, while giving them choices on what to do teaches them independence and self-control, while you uphold the limits or boundaries you set for them.
Spending quality time as a family strengthens bonds and builds your children's trust in you.
With social media, societal pressures, and sometimes, even your family and friends judging your parenting skills, it’s no wonder that parents nowadays are so stressed out over doing this parenting thing right. The thing is, it’s exactly that pressure on parents to do everything 100% correctly that makes them snap.
While you are dead-set on raising your kids the opposite way of how you were raised, sometimes old habits die hard; years of experiencing that parenting style and having that modeled for you will take time, mindfulness, and effort to undo.
So what do you do when you’re feeling less than a gentle parent at times?
It's so cliché to say that it takes a village to raise a child, but this rings true up to this day. Parents, no matter how much you give to your child, will never get to meet all their needs. It hurts to think that, but the sooner you realize that your child’s success or failure in life is not completely because of you, then the sooner you can breathe a little easier.
A gentle parent doesn’t equal a perfect parent. You will yell. You will lose your cool. Maybe a “because I said so!” will slip out from time to time. What matters is that you acknowledge your fault, breathe, and try again. Rather than aiming to be a perfect parent, go for being a “good enough” parent. If you’re a gentle parent 50% of the time, then that’s more than good enough to raise your child to be happy, healthy, and confident.
Do you think gentle parenting is for you? Take it for a spin and see how your relationship with your child improves! You can start by spending quality time learning good oral hygiene together.
Shop a pack of Piico Kids Floss Picks for a fun, colorful method that's sure to get your kids excited for tooth time:
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