Gentle parenting: it’s one of those marmite things – you either love it or hate it. Some people are drawn to the laid back, forgiving approach; and others are horrified at the lack of traditional discipline.
The problem is, both of these camps have missed the point completely.
Gentle parents come from all walks of life and all levels of strictness. There are gentle parents who breastfeed, bottle feed, use a sling, use a pram, watch from a distance or helicopter!
However you want to parent, you can incorporate gentle parenting into it because gentle parenting is an attitude, rather than a checklist of parenting rules.
What is gentle parenting?
Gentle parenting simply means that whenever mum and dad make decisions, those choices are
“made out of respect and empathy for their children, as well as themselves…”
— The Gentle Parenting Book by Sarah Ockwell-Smith
Gentle parenting is the belief that children are worthy of respect and should be treated the way that an adult would wish to be treated.
That’s not to say that they should be trusted with the level of responsibility or independence of an adult. But children can be offered these things in an age-appropriate way.
Sometimes we run our households like a dictatorship, barking orders at our children instead of asking for their opinion. We fall into the trap of lying to our children to manipulate them into doing what we want (I’m looking at you, Elf on the Shelf!). There may be times when we tower over our children to intimidate them or make fun of them in front of others
All of this stuff is disrespectful and, ultimately, unkind.
Every human has feelings. Every human wants to know they are safe and loved. Every human wants to have a say in what they do and where they go.
Sometimes, we grown-ups forget that children are humans too.
We expect them to be happy every day, even though we know that our own emotions dip and dive. We get annoyed when they ate something yesterday but won’t today, even though we have days when we just don’t fancy eating something we usually like. We brush over their friendship troubles, even though we know that fall outs can be really upsetting.
Gentle parenting doesn’t mean pandering
But lots of people have taken this idea and interpreted it as “I must not upset my child”. They are so worried about making their child unhappy that they give up their position of authority and let their kids rule the roost.
Nope! That’s not it!
Gentle parents still need to create and enforce boundaries because that’s how children learn what’s expected of them. It’s our responsibility to nurture our children into kind, capable adults and that means holding fast to the principles that are important to us. We have to let our kids know what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour by creating rules and sticking to them.
But discipline must be carried out respectfully.
Did you know that the root word for “discipline” is discipulus [Merriam Webster Dictionary] which is the latin word for “pupil”? This is because discipline is about guiding and training rather than punishing or belittling.
We all love our kids but sometimes we don’t treat them in a loving way. Gentle parents work hard to consciously love their kids with every action and every word. They try to be consistent in their approach as this reassures children and gives them a sense of security. The relationship is child-centred with the parents seeking to understand their children and the underlying causes of behaviour.
Gentle parenting in practise
Gentle parenting is still relatively new – it’s probably not the way you were raised – so you may be wondering how on earth you can enforce rules without employing punishments. Well here are a few quick thoughts to get you started.
Gentle parenting discipline should be:
Pre-warned – if your child is misbehaving, point out what you would like them to be doing instead. Explain that this is a warning and let them know what will happen if they continue
Beneficial instead of vengeful – choose things like moving them away from the situation – this will break the cycle of behaviour and give them time to think. Hurting someone (physically or emotionally) is never respectful
Enforced – if your child continues to misbehave then set the discipline in motion (and don’t be tempted to back down even if they plead – it helps children learn that their choices have consequences)
Calmly deployed – try to remain calm and collected so that you can deal with the situation objectively – your child deserves to be dealt with fairly, not dependent on how emotional you are
Explained – explain to your child what they did wrong and why you needed to intervene with discipline. Then tell them what should have happened instead
Appropriate – before you issue your warning, think carefully about the consequence you are going to issue; remember – small offences only need small consequences
The end of the story – once the consequence has been completed, move on – your child has made amends and it doesn’t need raking over anymore
Is this definition of gentle parenting what you expected? Would you describe yourself as a “gentle parent”? Do you parent the same way as your parents did or have you made some updates? I’d love to hear your thoughts so let me know in the comments section below.
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