Gentle Parenting Explained: What It Is and What It Is Not
Gentle parenting gets a lot of air time on TikTok and Instagram. Social media is full of parenting experts and not-so-expert persons giving out parenting advice. It can be challenging to understand the fullness of gentle parenting based on a 15-90 second clip.
Learning to sort out the helpful information from the downright kooky stuff online takes time. Before you make any assumptions about someone’s parenting style or adopt gentle parenting as your own style, take some time to gather information.
What is gentle parenting?
The goal of gentle parenting is to find the balance between strict authoritarianism and more permissive styles of parenting. With this style, you are striving to build your relationship with your child through patience and empathy.
There is research on the benefits of gentle parenting. The overall summation is that gentle parenting is striving to set age-appropriate boundaries and expectations for your children while maintaining a calm presence.
Sarah Ockwell-Smith, parenting expert and author of The Gentle Parenting Book, sums up gentle parenting in three words: empathy, understanding, and respect.
“When we show gentleness, especially during stressful times, we model frustration tolerance, and we model flexibility. Staying calm and being gentle and firm sets the tone for positive growth and development,” says Allison Andrews, PsyD, practice owner and primary clinician at Child Development Partners in Boston, MA.
Gentle parenting also encourages discipline but in age-appropriate ways. Discipline methods focus on teaching valuable life lessons rather than focusing on punishments.
What are the benefits of gentle parenting?
There are several benefits of gentle parenting, including the following.
Reduced anxiety for parents and children. By creating a calm environment, you help your child feel less stressed. Mistakes are more easily overcome. Everyone is able to work through their stress.
Improved parent-child bond. Children feel supported by their parents in trying new things. They know that they will be loved no matter the outcome. This helps them take positive risks.
Positive social skills. Children, especially babies and toddlers, copy what they see. Since gentle parenting is rooted in empathy and respect, children learn to model these positive traits—making them more likely to become empathetic, respectful human beings themselves.
Learning how to cope with emotions and conflict. Children learn how to deal with conflict based on how it is modeled by their parents. When you model a conflict style that involves listening to their feelings and helping them work through that process, they learn how to have healthy conflict elsewhere.
When is gentle parenting effective?
Parenting is full of different personalities and seasons. There will be times as a parent when you need to take a more authoritative approach to dealing with your child. Other times you want to give them permission to test the boundaries and try new things.
As a parenting style, gentle parenting is not for the faint of heart. It requires considerable patience and self-control. If you want to tell your child,” Because I said so.” and expect immediate obedience, then you are not practicing gentle parenting.
Gentle parenting is somewhat situational. If a toddler is set to run into the street, that is not the time to listen or reason with them. That is the time to take action. If a teenager is constantly belligerent and fails to meet expectations, you may need to take sterner action.
The main idea behind gentle parenting is to not prejudge a behavior or assume that a child’s intention is wrong.
What it is not
There are a lot of misconceptions about gentle parenting. It can be easy to assume that it is a free-for-all parenting style where the kids run the house. You might assume that the parents always speak in hushed tones and the children are always calm. Let’s talk about some of those assumptions.
Gentle parenting is not permissive parenting. Setting boundaries and expectations ahead of time is key to helping you parent from a place of calm rather than yelling and stressing.
Gentle parenting is not always peaceful. You will still be engaging in a battle of wills with stubborn toddlers and headstrong teens. There will be times you need to step back from a loud, chaotic situation to slow your breathing and calm yourself before starting again.
Gentle parenting is not about your ego. Sometimes parenting can seem like a competitive sport. Everyone out there is judging you based on your child’s behavior. Learning to set aside your desire to look good in front of others will keep you from enforcing behaviors for the sake of your reputation.
Ways to be a gentle parent
Focus on being a calm adult. A child’s meltdown is not a reflection of you being a lousy parent. Your child is struggling with something and the way they express their feelings is through more dramatic outbursts than an adult. Maintaining a calm demeanor will help your child feel safe working through their emotions. Your ability to have self-control will help them learn self-control from an early age.
Give suggestions and invitations rather than commands. Children like taking forays into independence. Giving them the opportunity to make decisions from a young age will give them confidence.
Examples of suggestions include:
“I think the red shoes will look great with your shirt.”
“Would you like to wear your coat zipped or open?”
“Please come and help me set the table and we can talk about your new game.”
Give your child options. This is also a helpful way to acknowledge a child’s autonomy while establishing acceptable boundaries for you. Create scenarios that help everyone feel successful and supported.
Examples of options include:
“It’s time to get ready for bed. Would you like to brush your teeth before putting on your pajamas or after?”“I made lasagna for dinner. If you do not care to eat it you may have cereal or peanut butter and jelly sandwich. If you make those you do need to clean up the mess afterward.”
“You may have 15 minutes of tablet time now, and then you need to do your chores. Or you can do your chores first and have free time on the tablet until dinner.”
Consider age-appropriate responses. A tired toddler having a tantrum in the grocery store is well within the normal range of behaviors. Even older children will have bad days, act out when they are hungry, and have to deal with disappointment and frustration.
Listening to your child is the best way to get to the root of the issue. You are trying to understand the cause of the outburst rather than simply punishing them for having an outburst. Toddlers and teenagers do not have the same problems, but listening can help you with either one.
Our Gentle Father
Looking to God as our Gentle Father can inspire us in gentle parenting journeys. Here are some Bible verses for guidance.
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! – Matthew 7:7-11, NIV
The parenting language used to talk about God is all over the Bible. You as the parent are teaching your children about the nature of God. When you consider how God loves you and cares for you, then you are learning how to love your children as He loves you.
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! – 1 John 3:1, NIV
Though God is the perfect gentle parent, you may need additional help in your parenting journey. Reach out to a qualified Christian counselor with your parenting needs, and you’ll find practical help from a biblical standpoint.
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