What is gentle parenting?
Psychologist and parenting expert Sarah Ockwell-Smith is credited with introducing the idea of gentle parenting to the world.
“Gentle parenting is rooted in deep respect for children,” she told HealthDay. “It focuses on building connection, having empathy for what children are feeling and mindful discipline, with a focus on teaching and guiding, and setting up age-appropriate boundaries and limits. In short, I describe it as ‘the way you wish your parents had treated you when you were a child.'”
One study published recently in the journal Frontiers in Psychology revealed that authoritative parenting, which focused on being sensitive to and respecting children’s thoughts and feelings, was “positively associated with learning outcomes.”
Waterford.org and the Cleveland Clinic say that gentle parenting has four main components, which are meant to grow your children into compassionate, happy, independent and self-confidant adults:
- Understand your child
- Demonstrate empathy for them
- Give and receive respect
- Set healthy boundaries
Rather than being a system of punishment and rewards, gentle parenting shifts the focus to making children aware of their behaviors and how those behaviors impact others.
It also gives them the space and understanding to make better choices and demonstrates how healthy, trusting relationships are meant to work.
What is the gentle parenting style like?
“Gentle parenting looks different for every family because all parents and all children are completely unique. Perhaps the most important thing a parent can do if they want to follow gentle parenting is to learn about child development and neuroscience,” Ockwell-Smith noted.
“Understanding what children are capable of at any age helps parents to set age-appropriate expectations of their behavior and helps to discipline in a way that actually helps, not hinders,” she explained.
- Give unconditional love that isn’t just accomplishment-based
- Create a learning-centered environment that welcomes mistakes as opportunities to grow
- Remain positively focused
- Create goals that match your child’s abilities
- Foster playtime, which helps your child learn to solve problems and regulate their emotions
- Encourage independence by presenting new activities they can try, encouraging them to do their best and letting them make decisions about what they like and don’t like
Gentle parenting techniques
Cleveland Clinic pediatrician Dr. Karen Estrella said in a recent article that with gentle parenting, “the idea is to be more like a coach for your kid rather than a punisher.”
For instance, instead of yelling at your child to put on their shoes when they’re having a temper tantrum, you can calmly look them in the eye and say, “I’m going to drop you off at school and then I’m going to work. We need to leave on time. I expect you to be ready with your shoes on at the door when I’m ready to leave. If you’re not ready, then we’ll both be late and I will feel angry. If I get angry, you will lose privileges.”
Ockwell-Smith emphasized that gentle parenting isn’t a group of techniques but instead “a way of life…underpinned by parents who work hard to regulate their own emotions. It focuses on supporting children and working on your connection with them.”
“An example of this would be to understand that toddler tantrums are a normal side effect of toddler brain development,” she explained. “Toddlers who tantrum are not ‘being naughty’ and therefore we wouldn’t punish them by sending them to time out or similar. Instead, we would stop any dangerous behavior and stay with them and support them to regulate their emotions, something they can’t do alone.”
Gentle parenting discipline
Gentle parenting focuses on positive discipline, according to Waterford.org.
The Positive Discipline Association states that this includes:
- Helping your child feel a sense of belonging
- Being kind, yet firm
- Teaching social skills like respect, communication, cooperation and problem-solving
- Considering your child’s feelings, thoughts and understanding of self, to help them thrive
- Fostering self-empowerment and self-determination
Ockwell-Smith emphasized that understanding the pros and cons of how you were brought up, cared for and disciplined is also key.
“Gentle parenting means breaking generational cycles and parenting consciously, not just doing something because that’s what would have been said or done to you if you had done the same thing as a child,” she said. “It is a complete shift in mindset.”
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