Gentle parenting gets a bad rap. I’m going to hold my hands up and admit that before I started it myself, I thought it was weak, wishy-washy, and a sure-fire way of churning out naughty kids…! But I’ve since discovered that gentle parenting is not about pandering to your kids or letting them run wild.
Because there are so many misconceptions about what gentle parenting really is, I’ve put together this list to show exactly what gentle parenting is not, and then we can look more closely at what it is.
Gentle parenting is not …
…letting your kids do whatever they want.
If I had a pound for every time this one was levelled at me, I’d be a rich lady! “You don’t discipline your kids,” they say. Wrong! I don’t yell at my kids or humiliate them, but you can bet your bottom dollar I discipline them! Gentle parenting is not permissive parenting – boundaries and rules are important.
When we set boundaries, we stake out a safe environment for children to thrive in. It might be a set bedtime so that they get enough sleep. It might be ensuring they’re accountable when using social media so they aren’t groomed or bullied.
Those rules are then enforced with kindness and dignity. So children are given a reminder (a chance) of how they should be behaving before any action is taken. And if the behaviour continues, a fair, proportionate consequence is given.
But, at the same time, boundaries and rules should be kept to a minimum. Gentle parents try to avoid the dictator approach and give children options wherever possible. So when you’re about to ask your child to do something, try asking yourself these questions first:
- How important is this? Does it need to be a command or a suggestion?
- Is this urgent or can I let them choose when to do it?
- Is it possible to get my child’s input on this?
Gentle parents do try to be hands-off, letting children work situations out for themselves. But gentle parenting is not lazy.
In fact gentle parenting is really hard – even in the heat of the moment, you have to keep your calm and treat your child with respect. Every consequence needs to be issued in the best interests of the child and done out of love rather than anger.
Empathy takes emotional energy. Respect takes self-discipline. Kindness takes patience.
Gentle parenting is about playing the long game – developing confident, kind, hardworking people of the future, rather than lashing out and forcibly creating compliant, submissive and obedient children in the now.
…just for bare-footed, Mother Earth types.
I’ll be honest – this was my preconception. I thought gentle parents were floaty, airy fairy mums who were too laid back to properly discipline their kids.
But gentle parents come from all walks of life. You can be a high-flying banker or a shop assistant and still subscribe to gentle parenting – it’s simply a belief that parenting should be done in a respectful way. How you interpret that ideology is up to you.
Gentle parenting is…
So we’ve looked at what gentle parenting is not, and now it’s time to work out what it actually is!
…treating your child with the same respect you would give an adult.
Most of us would never yell at a fellow adult. We wouldn’t take something of theirs without asking. We wouldn’t publicly humiliate them.
And yet these things are commonly done to children.
If you want to do gentle parenting, you need to learn to speak calmly and respectfully to your child. Use empathy to imagine how your kids might be perceiving a situation (are they scared / confused / angry / worried?). And give children the same level of dignity that you would give to an adult.
I’m not saying you should let your children make their own rules or give them the same independence as an adult. But they can be allowed an opinion. They can be spoken to politely. They can be reasoned with instead of bossed around.
…using empathy when making decisions about your child.
Empathy is the act of trying to imagine how someone else might be feeling – it’s putting yourself in their shoes.
Too often, we expect children to blindly obey us, and we get angry when they question us or get upset about what we’ve told them to do. But, realistically, do we find it easy to obey others without any explanation and no obvious reason?
Similarly, we expect children to be capable of the same levels of behaviour regardless of the context. As adults, we know what it’s like to have an “off day” where we just feel grumpy, and we know what it’s like to get angry because something completely unrelated to this situation is bothering us.
Children also experience these things but are often punished for it. It’s our job to find out what the real issues are instead of simply dealing with the surface behaviour.
So the important questions for gentle parents are:
- Why is my child behaving this way?
- How might my child be feeling right now?
- How would I react if the roles were reversed?
- How can I manage this situation better?
…creating clear, FAIR boundaries and sticking to them consistently.
Gentle parenting is not focused on making life easier for the adults, but about being fair to the child.
That means creating rules that are fair – not too strict and not too limiting. The child’s wants and opinions should be taken into consideration wherever possible.
It also means being consistent with rules that have been made (even when it’s easier not to!). Rules that can be bent are confusing for children and they may get in trouble later on for breaking that rule when you don’t want them to – that’s not fair.
And rules should be clear – make sure you explicitly tell your child what the rule is or what is expected of them. It is unfair to just assume they know and then get cross when they’ve misunderstood or not picked up on it.
At its heart, gentle parenting is simply this: making the choice to treat your child with respect and empathy in every situation.
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