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Gentle Parenting – What is it? Is it easy?

This parenting approach is one that has been receiving increased attention over the past few years – especially on social media. Have you heard of “gentle parenting”? What are your thoughts on it? For some they feel that it is the only way to parent, for others they feel that it is unrealistic. I get that. We all have our own feelings about things like parenting. 


WHAT IS GENTLE PARENTING?

Gentle parenting is an approach to raising children that emphasizes empathy, respect, understanding, and positive communication. The focus is on building a strong parent-child relationship based on mutual trust and cooperation. Gentle parenting encourages parents to be responsive to their child’s needs, to set limits with kindness, and to use positive discipline techniques that teach children how to regulate their emotions and behavior. Punishment is to be avoided. 

It does have other names. You might have heard it as positive parenting, peaceful parenting, mindful parenting or connection-based parenting. They are all the same thing. Just different names. 

Gentle parenting is actually a form of authoritative parenting – not to be confused with authoritarian parenting.

Authoritative parenting is highly responsive and nurturing, but at the same time also has firm boundaries. In gentle parenting, children’s feelings and opinions are validated, heard, and the parent is responsive to these.

It is NOT permissive parenting where children set their own rules and boundaries, and the parent lacks a standard set of limitations or guidelines for the child. 

happy african american family spending time together

KEY PRINCIPLES OF GENTLE PARENTING

There are 4 key principles to gentle parenting….empathy, respect, understanding and boundaries. 

Empathy

This is where the parents seek to understand and empathize with their child’s emotions and point of view. According to a number of experts, children’s feelings are often dismissed or ignored and the children end up feeling like they don’t matter. By keeping your children’s feelings in mind when trying to understand their behavior, you are showing empathy and giving them a voice.

It is important to note that children are learning to communicate their feelings, often unable to put it into words. We need to work on them with that. One thing I often ask one of my daughters is “Do you mean what you say or are those big emotions coming out?” This helps her to know that I see her struggling and want to help her. 

Respect

Gentle parenting is based on mutual respect. We want our children to grow up into adults who respect others. It can’t happen if all we do is squash them, not listen, “children should be seen and not heard” and then not model it. We can start modeling this by listening to our children and acknowledging their perspectives (no matter how warped they might be at first!).

mother and father talking to a child with gentle parenting techniques

Understanding

When your child feels heard and understood, they are more willing to come to you in times of need. They are also more willing to listen. Another component of understanding is to know the developmental expectations of your children. We don’t want to set them up to “fail” by having expectations of them behaving in a way that is too advanced or mature for their age. (For example – we often expect 2 year olds to share but this is not something that is understood or shown until about age 4.)

Boundaries 

Another way of putting this is “Setting limits with love”. Establishing boundaries and rules in a firm but gentle manner, without resorting to harsh punishments, is key. Of course the boundaries will be different from family to family, but they will involve positive communication, connection and positive discipline. With gentle parenting, you want to focus on teaching and guiding your children towards positive behavior through your boundaries, encouragement, problem-solving, and natural consequences.

mother and child balancing on cement block

PROS AND CONS OF GENTLE PARENTING

Gentle parenting can create a healthier dynamic within the family. The boundaries can help your children feel safe, but your children are also given space to express their feelings, wants and needs. 

Some research suggests that gentle parenting may reduce anxiety in children and can have a positive impact on school performance. 

But there are criticisms that gentle parenting can be too lenient or too similar to attachment parenting. If we are purely focusing on the feelings of the children, not also the feelings of others around us, and not bringing in natural consequences, then we are focusing on the wrong thing. 

There are always going to be proponents and opponents to any parenting style. 


IT IS EASY?

No! Parenting isn’t easy – no matter what style you decide to follow. But if you work out how you want to parent and why, it is easier to work towards your parenting goals and style. 

Now, all this to say, gentle parenting is often seen as a more nurturing and respectful alternative to traditional authoritarian or punitive parenting styles. It aims to raise emotionally intelligent, confident, and compassionate individuals by fostering a supportive and understanding environment within the family. It will just take time to work out how it would work for your family. You need to make it feel natural to you.

Check out other videos on different parenting styles:
Authoritative Parenting
Permissive Parenting
Uninvolved Parenting
Lawnmower Parents

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