Psychology

Gentle parenting

Every family is different. The dynamic of siblings, home environment, work-life balance and other factors all work together to make us special as a unit. This means that multiple parenting styles have evolved in just a single generation. One of these is gentle parenting.

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Gentle parenting encourages a positive relationship between parent and child. It promotes kindness as this allows children to follow rules out of love rather than fear. This parenting style achieves its goals through connection, communication, and consistency.

Dr Becky Kennedy, a child psychologist specialising in gentle parenting, believes it can influence children for the better. ‘Our kids are watching us and learning how we respond to stress and uncertainty. Let’s wire our kids for resilience and not panic.”

There are five crucial elements of gentle parenting. Follow these steps to introduce this parenting style in your child’s life.

Gentle parenting argues that the absence of discipline does not equal disorder.

Empathy

In order to practice gentle parenting, you need to feel comfortable empathising with your child. This means putting yourself in their frame of mind before responding to their actions. If they are upset, for example, you can ask them to explain their feelings rather than assuming. So rather than shouting at a child for crying and acting out, you could take a moment to stand back and evaluate the situation.

Respect

Try to always treat your children in the same way you would like to be treated. After all, children may not be adults, but they deserve as much respect as any other human being. And just because you are in a position of power, you don’t have to use that authority to silence or force them into complicity.

Boundaries

Gentle parenting argues that the absence of discipline does not equal disorder. You can still set boundaries, such as enforcing rules around bedtime mealtime. To do this, the NSPCC recommends setting simple boundaries, encouraging open conversations about them, and being willing to adapt and negotiate as your child grows and develops.

Understanding

Children are continuously growing and learning, but they don’t always understand how to communicate their wants and needs. Gentle parenting argues that you must strive to understand the emotions and feelings of your child, even if they don’t have the emotional intelligence to do this for themselves.

Discipline and reward

Parents are encouraged to communicate with children in calming tones, choosing to discuss mistakes rather than shouting as a form of punishment. So if they cry because they want to wear their favourite wellies and raincoat on a warm summer’s day, try to explain why they can’t, instead of simply saying ‘because I say so.’

On the other hand, you should also be cautious about rewarding children for simple acts. If they have won a game, for instance, comment on how the game developed rather than simply saying ‘well done’. Dr Beth Kennedy explains this as wiring your child for independence.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS

It’s no secret that gentle parenting can be challenging. In any stressful situation, your immediate response might be to force your child into obedience. There are many benefits, however, that might help you persist with the parenting style.

Reinforcing calm

Children learn everything from their parents. No matter how small the action or reaction, they will learn how to replicate this for themselves. So you can reinforce a calm mindset by staying calm in the face of chaos.

Establishing social skills

Everyone is taught to follow the rules, but children may realise that they don’t necessarily need to follow them. By establishing simple and understandable rules at home, children are more likely to respect them when they get to school and beyond.

Reducing anxiety

Imagine being shouted at by someone twice your height and size. You would almost certainly feel anxious. So it makes sense to remove this negative behaviour, both in and outside your home.

There is no ‘right’ way to raise your child. All you can do as a parent is try your best.

WHAT ARE THE DRAWBACKS

Gentle parenting can be overwhelming. It isn’t easy to face every emotional breakdown with calm. Sometimes parents struggle to find an equal balance between setting firm boundaries and being gentle.

Sami, a mother of three from Lancashire, found that her daughter acted out due to poorly executed gentle parenting. Instead of encouraging her child to behave, gentle parenting led her daughter to misunderstand her kindness for weakness and she began to misbehave regularly. Now Sami is learning how to set firmer boundaries.

There is no ‘right’ way to raise your child. All you can do as a parent is try your best. If you believe that a gentle parenting approach can work, then you should feel confident to introduce it, knowing your child is being appropriately raised.

On the other hand, if you feel more attuned to an authoritarian or permissive parenting style, you’re free to explore these other options too. Everyone is different, and that’s okay!

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