Can Gentle Parenting Work for Real Moms in Real Life?
Have you heard about “gentle parenting?” Maybe you are unsure what parenting style to take, or worrying about the best way to raise your little ones.
Put your mind at rest because you’re not alone. As parents, we all want to give our kids the best upbringing possible. As soon as we know our babies are on the way, we massively change our lifestyles to fit their needs. As parents, we go through the upheaval of moving into a more suitable home or even area or changing our work and professional lives to take enough time off or adopting more family-friendly working hours, and so much more. Life is going to be different! Then, when they arrive, we face even more challenges. We have to step up to the table, decide which school to send them to, encourage and provide for hobbies and passions, help them make friends, work through big emotions and more.
Parenting can be difficult. You can find yourself exhausted, pulling your hair out, and feeling like a nag. But one of the most significant challenges of parenthood is less about what you provide your children with and more to do with how you raise them as individuals. Everyone has different parenting styles, but we all want to make sure that we adopt one that will give our kids the best start in life, encouraging them to grow into happy and well-rounded adults when the time comes.
Chances are you’re bored and sick of reading parenting guides and books that claim all sorts of approaches and methods are best. So, if you’re feeling lost, this isn’t a surprise. You may have heard a phrase thrown around a lot lately: “gentle parenting.” If you’re interested in learning more about this parenting method, we’ve created a complete guide below!
What is Gentle Parenting?
If you’ve set yourself a resolution to parent better, you might want to learn more about gentle parenting. But what is gentle parenting? Gentle parenting is a parenting technique that has been found to consistently raise happy, confident, and well-rounded children. It is a parenting style that revolves around four key concepts and priorities: empathy, respect, understanding, and boundaries.
A fundamental undertone of gentle parenting is that children don’t misbehave for the sake of misbehaving. While you may think that your kid is just being a pain in your backside, this might be their way of reacting to stress or an unmet need that they’re not mentally or emotionally mature enough to process and understand yet. Your kid might hit another child, throw a tantrum or break a toy because they are feeling jealousy and don’t know how to adequately and appropriately express this yet. In short, children’s bad behavior should be seen as “adaptive” by this approach. Gentle parenting encourages you to try to understand how your child is feeling to understand their behavior and help them better.
Gentle parenting draws a healthy line between strict parenting and excessively lenient parenting methods. Strict parenting can result in overly timid, shy, and people-pleasing children or swing the other way and create rebellious children who break away as soon as possible. Gentle parenting allows you to be kind and empathetic with your children while implementing age-appropriate and situationally-appropriate discipline.
The Main Ideas Behind Gentle Parenting
As we briefly highlighted above, gentle parenting is guided by four key concepts: empathy, respect, understanding, and boundaries. But what does this mean? Here’s a deeper look into each.
Empathy is a significant value to anyone. Sure, your kid can be driving you up the wall, but as a parent, you should be able to practice empathy and encourage your child to engage with empathy. You may think that you are already an empathetic parent, but most of us often fall off this mode of thought and action during day-to-day life. Empathy means understanding your child’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions. As a parent, it’s easy to look at things from your point of view automatically. You have a lot more wisdom and life experience than your child, meaning that you will automatically see things in a different way than they do. Yes, this does generally mean that you know best. But this also means that many parents react to situations in ways that make their children feel invalidated.
Your child may try to engage in an activity or want something that you know isn’t possible or could be dangerous or have another consequence. Most parents in this situation will simply say no, not providing any explanation and resulting in tears or tantrums. To be more empathetic and mindful, you need to be more aware and considerate in these moments, taking time to think of things from your child’s perspective. Looking at things from your child’s point of view can help you explain why certain things can’t be done and provide alternatives that can turn the rejection from a negative to a positive learning experience. Practicing empathy turns you into your child’s emotion, perhaps identifying that they are scared, nervous, anxious, or experiencing other feelings that you hadn’t considered. This approach will also show your children that empathy is an excellent way to engage with others.
Understanding pairs with empathy. It would be best to remember that the world is very different from a child’s perspective. Remember that your child hasn’t learned the life lessons you have and isn’t aware of how the world works. Reality is entirely different for them, and it makes sense that their reasoning, expectations, and wishes will be very different from what you can provide. Ultimately, you have to consistently remind yourself that your child is, in fact, a child – and react to them accordingly. Understanding can help you to see things from their point of view. You should see that a favorite toy being ripped, a kid in the playground walking away from them, or other small situations can be a BIG DEAL for them. You should look into your child’s age and developmental stage for more insight into how your child acts and manage them accordingly.
It can feel challenging to respect a tiny little human in the same way you would an adult, but you need to remember that all relationships in life are based on a sense of mutual respect – including those with your kid. Too many adults feel that children don’t deserve respect simply because they are children; this might not be an utterly straightforward thought process that people are aware of and actively implement, but more an innate understanding of social hierarchy. When you practice gentle parenting, you learn how to respect your child. If a child is respected from a young age, they have a good role model and will learn to respect others. Implementing respect is an essential skill as they grow. It can also strengthen their relationship with you as they grow. They’ll feel able to express themselves openly and honestly if they know that their thoughts and feelings will be respected, regardless of whether you agree with them.
Signals of respect between adult and child include:
- Not raising your voice (if you can help it!)
- Talking to them reasonably
- Avoiding overt commands and threats
- Generally working as “partners”
Gentle parenting works to exchange strict and steadfast rules for boundaries. Setting boundaries gives you control over your child’s development, ensuring that they are in age-appropriate environments and scenarios in life. For example, some parents will try to teach their children respect and follow commands by placing temptation in front of them and expecting them to restrain themselves and not follow individual impulses. For example, putting sweets in front of the child and telling them they can’t have them while leaving the room. Gentle parenting, instead, would suggest moving sweets out of the child’s way, setting a clear boundary that they are not allowed the sweet. Limitations are put in place primarily to protect your child’s wellbeing and safety. Examples of this are setting a baby gate at the bottom of the stairs, holding hands when crossing the street, supervising outdoor play, or adding cupboard locks to cupboards.
Gentle Parenting vs. Alternative Parenting Methods
Chances are, you’ve seen a host of other alternative parenting methods discussed on the internet. Here’s a quick look at how gentle parenting compares to some of the most common.
- Tiger Parenting – “Tiger parenting” is an authoritarian form of parenting that places demands and pressure on a child. This is thought to raise hardworking, motivated, and driven children. Examples of tiger parenting include pushing for good grades, enrolling children in extracurricular courses, encouraging challenging hobbies such as languages or instruments, etc. However, it’s important to note that the pressure and stress resulting from tiger parenting can cause children to burn out and experience mental and emotional problems later in life. Gentle parenting is much more lenient and compassionate than tiger parenting.
- Attachment Parenting – the main focus of attachment parenting is your connection with your child. You will aim to be a very responsive parent, encouraging skin-to-skin contact and practicing empathy, helping your child rather than getting them to do what you want them to do. This parenting style can positively impact your child’s emotional health and future relationship with your child. Attachment parenting and gentle parenting are relatively similar and can be practiced alongside one another.
- Permissive Parenting – permissive parents are hugely lenient. They will allow their child to do what they want when they want. They place themselves as a child’s friend rather than an authority in their child’s life. Of course, this type of parenting can easily lead to problems, as children have to enter into a world that isn’t quite so permissive. Children may experience issues at school, as teens, or, later in life, while working. It can also result in children being left to make poor decisions for their health and wellbeing. Gentle parenting implements much more structure and safety.
Can Gentle Parenting Work for Real Moms in Real Life?
Now, the idea of gentle parenting is pleasant enough. But is it possible for real moms to implement this parenting style in real life? Often, gentle parenting forgets that parents are real people facing many challenges and difficulties as part and parcel of day-to-day life. Sure, some of us can spend all day with our children, gently encouraging them and taking the time to see everything from their angle. As a mom, you have a zillion little things to worry about every single day. You may be working a nine to five and caring for multiple children. You may be trying to keep up with a host of social and financial commitments and rushing to take the bus home with the kids and armfuls of food shopping. Your main priority might not be getting to your child’s level and slowly talking through why they can’t have a specific chocolate when they start bawling in the middle of the grocery store.
You can also find that gentle parenting gets more challenging when your child acts in unacceptable ways. For example, when your child hits another child, consistently throws their food on the floor, pulls the dog’s tail, puts peanut butter in the air vent, or other unacceptable behavior, you find that repeatedly approaching the situation with gentle parenting methods isn’t working. You may have to find more severe forms of discipline such as grounding, sending to the naughty step, or confiscating toys.
Finally, you should also be aware that, while children do sometimes misbehave to express their unmet needs or inability to express more complex emotions, there are cases where children will misbehave for other reasons. Perhaps curiosity, mimicking someone else they’ve seen behaving in the same way, and more. You need to avoid racking your brains or blaming yourself for your child’s “unmet needs” in areas where this may not cause their bad behavior.
At the end of the day, gentle parenting can be great. It can be a positive way to organize your parenting and implement consistency and boundaries in your child’s day-to-day routine. But the best way to approach this parenting method is to make sure that it works for you. You don’t have to be perfect all of the time. It’s okay to be upset by your child’s behavior. You are allowed to react in a way that might not agree with gentle parenting’s methodology every once in a while. We are all human, and we make mistakes. It’s important that you go easy on yourself and make your main focus trying your best rather than your end goal being perfection.
As you can see, gentle parenting can prove to be a handy tool for raising your children. But it’s important to remember that it’s not always necessarily the easy and positive journey that we see plastered over social media and parenting guides. In the real world, gentle parenting can be challenging, and you might fall off the wagon from time to time. What’s most important is that you try your best to implement it where possible, give yourself grace, and love your kiddos fiercely.