There has been a lot of talk about gentle parenting in the parenting media lately.
A first article denigrated gentle parenting in a few choice words, and a steady stream of responses came out defending the practice of gentle parenting.
What is soft parenting that people would line up to take sides with?
Depending on the person practicing gentle parenting, it may vary in understanding and application. Basically, it’s a way of parenting that reflects and applies what we now know about healthy child development in a more thoughtful way. It considers more than success or obedience and looks at healthy emotional development for children’s thriving.
Gentle parenting is an interesting development of words because it sounds like the opposite is “strong” parenting, so “gentle” must mean weak. In fact, it takes more power to use good parenting skills than to “make the law.”
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Since most of us weren’t raised with gentle parenting, it’s harder initially and takes practice and support to develop. There are no shortcuts.
There are many parenting synonyms for gentle parenting, names for types of parenting styles that challenge authoritarian or conventional parenting, reward-and-punishment parenting, or permissive or forgiving parenting—all of the most common types of parenting in our society.
Parents who work to avoid authoritarian parenting may end up with positive parenting, attachment parenting, natural, mindful, conscious, active, caring, authoritarian, or gentle parenting as a solution. Despite their differences, all of these types of parenting share an intention to strive for parenting that prioritizes healthy child development over parenting for control and comfort or parenting out of fear.
These positive parenting styles are based on knowing your child and nurturing the child’s early secure attachment; they consider what is age appropriate; they engage with boundaries through discussion and modelling; they cultivate character; and they are based on empathy and respect. The result is children who are happy, confident, and connected because they invested in their lives early on.
Children work in their own way to meet their needs with the resources and skills they have—and sometimes that seems pretty counterintuitive to us. When we raise like a detective, we recognize the needs behind their actions. If parents rely only on punishment, praise, and bribery, they miss the important clues and are deprived of real parental learning as the child grows up and is soon able to reason reasonably or even fight back.
“My way or the highway.” “Because I said so.” “You understood me.” If you have read these sentences, you know that they leave a deep impression. They definitely don’t help kids learn and grow. We usually say them out of frustration, so we know it means we’re not in control—the very skills we ask of a very young child to control or face punishment.
In fact, a good test of your relationship with your child is to examine your relationships with others. Do you force or embarrass your spouse or co-workers to work together? You must be more skillful, patient, and skilled in your communication, and have enough relationships as a basis to work together. As parents and carers we want to teach a child to grow in awareness and responsibility and we do this by being understanding, responding with sensitivity and encouraging.
Children who grow in trust and love thrive. They can focus better, have more self-control, have better long-term emotional health, are more resilient, and have better parenting relationships.
As parents, it’s stress that robs us of patience and creativity, the parts that make parenting so sweet. Practicing gentle parenting helps us be better and more equal parents because it requires a steady and constructive approach.
It’s a shame that we have to find words to describe “gentle parenting” to free ourselves from the kind of harmful parenting that we have practiced. Spending your day yelling at, shaming, or even ignoring your child feels like pretty tough parenting not only for your child, but for you as well. It’s not what you set out to do.
Ultimately, parenting requires skills that you can acquire, and as you acquire those skills, parenting becomes gentler for you and the child. Most importantly, gentle means that we are sensitive to someone’s brain development and understand child development and the importance of our role in encouraging them to thrive
Regardless of parenting style, positive parenting requires information, encouragement, and practice. When a parent struggles with any parenting, be it gentle or even traditional, that struggle is a sign that they need support and skills.
What is the real selling point of gentle parenting? We don’t practice gentle parenting because we’re told to, we do it because it’s respectful and healthy. It makes our children thrive, it prepares our children, it builds peacemaking skills, it helps them be resilient, it keeps them from blindly following commands to obey, and it helps them be problem solvers and world changers.
Don’t like the name? You don’t have to call it gentle parenting. Call it what you will, but base your parenting on evidence and the science of brain development, and most of all, respect, love, and know your own child. What is a possible description of your parenting style? It’s (insert your name) (insert child’s name) parenting.
Samantha Gray is a mother of three, Bristol’s Promise Parenting Education Network Coordinator (BristolsPromise.org), Nurturings Board Member (Nurturings.org), and author of Directing Confidence: Cathy DeCaterina’s Theater Bristol and Let’s Dress Up and Pretend whether” (TheatreBristol.org).