Gentle Parenting May Be Hard at First, But It Encourages a Strong Parent-Child Bond | #parenting


What Is Gentle Parenting?gradyreese – Getty Images

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  • Gentle parenting relies on empathy and setting boundaries.

  • This parenting style discourages yelling by focusing on calm communication.

  • Modeling desired behaviors is essential for gentle parents.

  • According to adherents of this parenting philosophy, there is a difference between being in charge of your child and raising your child.

In the world of parenting styles, gentle parenting may sound similar to permissive parenting, but in some ways they’re actually on opposite ends of the parenting spectrum. With permissive parenting, children are generally allowed to do as they like with few limits. Permissive parent, also known as indulgent parenting, moves most of the decision-making power from the parent to the child. Gentle parenting, however, is about making an active effort to understand the child’s feelings and behavior while maintaining boundaries using empathy and respect.

What is gentle parenting?

“If you think your role as a parent is to be an authority figure in your child’s life, gentle parenting may not be an approach for you,” says Tasha Brown, licensed psychologist and parenting consultant. She points out that the gentle parenting approach also isn’t about fully directing the child. Instead, gentle parenting is a collaborative effort in which the parent guides the child by engaging with them.

It’s recognizing that behavior is a form of communication and validating any associated feelings, says Chelsea Elliott, social worker, parent coach and owner of Sōmōcom Lab. Kids have big feelings, and gentle parenting encourages you empathize with those feelings, help them calm down if needed, then continue a conversation about how they felt and why they behaved in a certain way, she adds.

How is discipline handled in gentle parenting?

One of the biggest misconceptions of gentle parenting is that there are no consequences for unfavorable behavior. According to experts, it’s quite the opposite.

There’s a big different between “no discipline” and “no punishment,” Brown says. Gentle parenting relies on enforcing boundaries through collaborative discussion and natural consequences.

For a gentle parent, discipline is more about teaching children through consequences directly related to their misbehavior so they understand what they did was wrong, Elliott says. For example, the natural consequence for refusing to brush teeth is a day filled with bad breath (and, later, possibly cavities).

In contrast, in other parenting styles, punishments are imposed by parents to modify their children’s behavior, and are not always a direct result of the transgression (like taking screen time away because a kid talked back).

Because parents are not the authority in the relationship, yelling is not the preferred method in gentle parenting. According to Dan Peters, a psychologist, author, parenting expert who goes by Dr. Dan, we need to remain calm so our kids can learn to remain calm. “We have three kids who are close in age so there can be a lot of bickering,” he says. “One day, the older sibling was yelling at a younger sibling so my wife or I yelled at her to stop. [Our daughter] turned to us and said, ‘Why are you yelling at me to stop yelling at them?’ She had a point.”

Examples of gentle parenting boundaries and consequences

  • A middle school student has allotted time on the iPad but extends that time limit without permission. Instead of grounding them, their parent asks what the child thinks the allotted time frame should be and why. Together, they discuss a duration that makes sense.

  • A teen continuously has friends over for a sleepover. The parents discuss why repeated sleepovers can be problematic, pointing out natural consequences like being tired all day in school or not having time to complete assignments. The family then decides to pause sleepovers going forward so they can regroup and determine a set of guidelines for when and how often overnights can take place.

  • In a scenario in which a teen driver has the car out too late, the natural consequence would be that they don’t get to drive the car, Elliot says. “The discipline is the conversation about needing to rebuild that trust, needing to take away keys and reinforcing the idea of being safe when out,” she says. “Punishment would be saying they can’t watch tv for the next week, which has no correlation between having the car out too late.”

Is gentle parenting the same as RIE parenting?

While gentle parenting and “Resources for Infant Educarers” or RIE (pronounced “rye”) parenting have much in common, RIE parenting is a very specific parenting philosophy started by Magda Gerber. It focuses on principles like using authentic communication, giving kids the chance to actively participate in caregiving, encouraging self-directed play and expressing emotions, letting kids develop skills naturally, fostering intrinsic motivation, allowing kids to problem-solve and modeling behavior, writes RIE proponent Janet Lansbury. Some parents attend RIE classes to best learn how to put these principles in action.

In gentle parenting, the parent-child relationship is filled with trust.

One of the biggest elements of gentle parenting is the focus on the parent-child relationship. When the parent and child relationship is strong, inside or outside of gentle parenting, children reap the benefits, Brown says. “It helps improve their social skills and self-esteem, and shows them how to interact with others in effective ways based on their parents’ modeling of that behavior.”

Compared to gentle parenting, what’s missing in other parenting styles is the critical importance of parents regulating their own emotions and behavior. Toys such as self-regulating rocks and books such as Big Feelings can also be helpful in children learning to identify and work through various emotions.

Gentle parenting can take a lot of work.

Because this style focuses on self-awareness, discipline and the ability to be proactive rather than reactive, a con of gentle parenting is that it can prove to be challenging for parents. In gentle parenting, the parent is expected to practice patience and model the ideal methods of regulation and communication. It’s something many parents are still learning about themselves.

As such, it leads to many parents experiencing guilt when they find they weren’t “as gentle as they’d like,” Brown says.

Furthermore, some parents are left feeling unequipped to deal with some behaviors, “You can empathize from sun-up to sun-down, which is very draining for parents, and your toddler is still gonna have a tantrum,” says Emily Edlynn, a clinical psychologist and author of the upcoming Autonomy-Supportive Parenting Reduce Parental Burnout and Raise Competent, Confident Children.

“I worry that what parents take away is that any difficulty in an interaction or behavior is a reflection on their parenting even though kids will have bad days regardless,” she says. “So the parents get stressed out, which lends to their guilt and shame.” That stress and potential projection of it can interfere with a building a close relationship to their children.

How should parents handle the situation if they do blow up?

Generally speaking, gentle parenting discourages yelling. Instead, it relies on open communication and a firm voice when necessary. Still, there may be situations in which a parent may lose their cool.

We are human, so we’re going to get angry and may lash out, Dr. Dan acknowledges. When that happens, gentle parents will demonstrate how to repair relationships by “owning” the mistake. “Start by apologizing and say something like, ‘You know what, I need to apologize for yelling. I was really upset. I didn’t mean to do that. I know that’s not effective or helpful. I’m going to work on trying to remain calm when I talk to you, even if I’m feeling upset about a situation,’” he says.

People lose patience and the goal of gentle parenting is for parents to acknowledge it and ask themselves how they can calm themselves down and recommit to parenting in an empathetic way.

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