What is ‘Gentle Parenting’ and how is it different to ‘Mainstream Parenting’?

I use the term ‘gentle parenting’ a lot when I write and a lot of people ask me what exactly I mean by it. “What is gentle parenting?” they say…… Often they confuse the ‘gentle parenting’ terminology with the idea of Attachment Parenting (or AP is it is commonly known), which isn’t strictly true. Although often attachment parenting and gentle parenting can be and are complimentary, attachment parenting is a style of parenting following specific principles (FYI click HERE for the principles of Attachment Parenting), whereas I see ‘gentle parenting’ as just a way of being that has no bearing on making specific choices to be in-line with a certain style.

So, with this in mind I’ve tried to come up with my idea of the definition of gentle parenting, ultimately I think it can be summed up with three words:

  1. understanding,
  2. empathy
  3. respect

The table below elaborates a little more, as does this article on the Gentle Parenting Website. I don’t mean to be scathing or judgemental of what I’ve called ‘mainstream parenting’ (if there *is* any judgement it’s directed at the mainstream ‘parenting experts’ and societal myths NOT the individual parents!) and I’m sure I’ve been overly stereotypical, but it’s a start. Without wanting to plug, if you don’t understand some of my ideas (the not using rewards/praise is usually the point that is most confusing, my new book HERE has a lengthy explanation of why I don’t support these parenting methods).

 

 

p.s: You might find it easier to read the table contents if you zoom in.

p.p.s: Come and chat with me and fellow gentle parents in my discussion forum here, it would be great to meet you!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    COPYRIGHT NOTE: I am *very* happy for you to share this blog post and spread awareness of gentle parenting,  but PLEASE DO NOT COPY the table and use it outside of this blog post without my permission.

gentle parenting, attachment parenting, mainstream parenting, respectful parenting, parenting methods, parenting styles, punish children, reward children, empathy for children

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About SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.
This entry was posted in Mothering, Preschoolers, Teens, Toddlers, Tweens and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

50 Responses to What is ‘Gentle Parenting’ and how is it different to ‘Mainstream Parenting’?

  1. mongette says:

    Reblogged this on A day in the life of a student mum and commented:
    Hub and I most certainly agree with gentle parenting. I wish more people understood this.

  2. Leslie says:

    I love this and find it an extremely useful summary of my intuitive attitude toward children and a helpful reminder when I am exhausted! I used to be a nanny and have had years to see how much more sense these “rules” make than the mainstream “wisdom.”

  3. Rick Colburn says:

    My wife and I have one child, and unfortunately cannot have more. With Momma in the military, it is on me as the primary parent to set the “Norms” for how our son is raised. I was reading through the List and found that Im a mix of both “Mainstreem” and “Gentle” Hopefully a Healthy mix. Our son is 10 now, and in my opinion, doing Excellent 🙂

  4. I’m not sure there’s as wide a chasm as portrayed here on the praise and rewards spectrum. All else resonates with me. I’d add a bit about nutrition, because I see that gentle parenting advocates pay more mind to healthy eating and connection with nature than the mainstream.

    • Maria Sanchez says:

      “…gentle parenting advocates pay more mind to healthy eating and connection with nature than the mainstream.”? Why, because someone advocating “gentle parenting” added it in her little table? Do you think the rest of the free world offers their spawn rocks and serpents?

  5. great summary, will refer others to.this and share on my fb and twitter – also a great reminder when you’ve had a stressful.tiring day – its easy to.slip back into thinking.your child is setting.out.to upset you!!

  6. Lelia says:

    explained perfectly. Thank you.

  7. sevi lama says:

    i am 30,from Greece mom of 2 boys 3 & 6 years old. I am a mainstream parent, but all these years I have noticed that this kind of parenting leads to nothing. Time goes by & I am still offering nothing vital for my kids education. I am on the way of changing this by looking on the net like this ‘glorious’ post (a teacher & a friend of mine brought me to this link, to be honest). I know I have a long way, but i am young & my kids toο. Good luck to all parents, remember, never is too late! Thank u Sarah..

  8. Lindsay says:

    I was bummed out to find that the book is unavailable. Can you give me a time frame as to when it will be?

  9. Marion says:

    It is so funny how I read this blog and it says all I ever say. I always tell everyone who asks or comments about our way of raising our childeren “We raise them with love, respect and a whole lot of patience” it meets a lot from what you are saying here! I’m from Holland, and live in a very small village. In here I don’t know ‘gentle parenting’ and so does no one else. I sometimes feel very alienated when I choose not to punish my child for getting angry. (just this afternoon he was throwing a huge fit at my father’s house. My father said “Just slap his butt to get him ouf ot it” and I said “No, the reason he is angry is because we skipped his afternoon nap, we shouldn’t have done it. It’s egocentrical behaviour of ourselves that makes him behave this way, why should I punish it?” besides, I believe that they can express their emotiones, they have every right to!) We talk a lot with our children and I think we’re doing a great job! People compliment us on how well our oldest child (now 2 years) listens, and this while I am not even asking him to listen. But he just knows what’s normal and nice behaviour and what is not, and he knows it all; not because I demanded this behaviour from him, but we taught him how to by letting him observe and giving him the freedom to make his own choices.
    I love this blog. I really do. Can I perhaps translate this table to dutch? Unless you mind of course! Either way, I am glad you wrote this and made me a little less ‘alone’!

    • Hi Marion, yes of course, I’m happy for you to translate into Dutch, just so long as the original source (this site/me) is referenced. We just trained our first BabyCalm teacher from the Netherlands, so hopefully there will be more awareness too! She’s on naomi@babycalming.com if you wanted to chat with her.

      • Naomi says:

        Hai Marion,

        Wat leuk dat je hier mee leest! Mocht je meer info willen of gewoon even gezellig

      • Naomi says:

        Dan kun je altijd contact met je opnemen! Er zijn hier in NL beat wel veel Facebook groepen ook, als je wil kan ik je wat linkjes sturen. Is heel leuk om mee te lezen en ervaringen te delen! Ik begin in maart volgend jaar met de eerste workshops en cursussen, dus mocht je interesse hebben kun je je tegen die tijd altijd aanmelden!

        Hopelijk tot ziens.
        Groetjes Naomi

    • Multi says:

      Great post

  10. Im not a parent, but I have been a child and I wish my parents had used the gentle kind. Punishment and guilt just destroy a childs self-esteem. Great article with much wisdome ❤

  11. Molly says:

    Attachment parebting is gentle parenting. It’s about respect and it’s a mindset. It’s not about following specific parenting practices like babywearing or cosleeping. This might help clear it up for you: http://kellymom.com/parenting/ap-frame-of-mind/

    I like your post other than that tiny tweak 🙂

  12. Any thoughts/ideas for an older child? Should they be ask to contribute towards house work, like doing the dishes, tidying their room, schoolwork??? What if they choose not to do any of these things???

  13. michelle says:

    umm is there really such remarkable differences between the two, personally I feel my parenting is somewhere in-between these two types! parents please follow your heart, make your own decisions and find what works for your family- you don’t need a label

  14. It’s a funny thing. I have used many of these behaviors already as a parent, and so many of them I just sort of fell into naturally, before I started researching gentle parenting on the web. It never felt right when people said to let a baby CIO or punish them when they act a certain way when they are tired.

    It is a shame that so many people reject the more gentle practices..

  15. Andrea says:

    I will be reposting this!!!
    I have a 2.5 year old who has co-slept with me since day one and we are going through an anger faze and neither of us are handeling it well. My Boyfriend does not understand my parenting style and wants my son so sleep in his own bed and go to time out when he gets upset at night and starts his fits. He does not understand why I do the things I do to try and calm him. Why I don’t spank or put him in time out or make him sleep in a bed all by himself in his own room.
    I will share this, and I will be looking for your book in the near future!

  16. Laura RH says:

    While I personally parent based on my intuition and it lines up more with gentle parenting techniques rather than what you claim as mainstream, I am disheartened to see another article that perpetuates our irrational desire to put individuals and their parenting practices into boxes. Parenting should fall on a spectrum, people dependent, circumstance dependent. While I believe it is great to befriend and find like minded parents, multiple points in your list you shame and belittle other parents’ choices by using words such as “shallow” and “superficial”.

    I do like that you have taken a practical approach to explaining what gentle techniques are and how they differ in comparison to more “mainstream” techniques, but I would have appreciated that you chose your words more carefully. Whether these were targeted at experts or not, many parent’s do use these methods and to describe them as shallow and superficial is simply rude, and I think simply saying they are not viewed as necessary would have explained the differences well enough. Funny how two words for me personally tarnished what otherwise was a great delivery of information.

  17. Brandi Harper says:

    Can you or anyone elaborate on the time out section/punishment for bad behavior? I read the gentle parenting method but I do not understand it.

    • Susan M says:

      Brandi, my understanding is that “bad” behavior, especially in young children, is recognized as having deeper roots than just acting out or pushing buttons. Rather than punishing the child for expressing their anger, frustration, boredom, irritation, sadness, discomfort, exhaustion, etc, in an unacceptable way (for example, by hitting or throwing or having a fit), the parent is a facilitator, helping the child understand the emotion that s/he is feeling, how to manage it appropriately, and finding out where it’s coming from. It could be as simple as a missed or too-short nap leading to loss of self-control, or it could be something more complicated, such as the child overhearing or witnessing his/her parents having a disagreement and not understanding what that means for the family. Young children tend to act out when they don’t know what else to do or when they don’t have adequate tools yet for coping with their feelings, and punishment won’t equip them with those tools – and worse, may shame them into hiding their emotions instead of feeling safe to express and explore them. In older kids, I think acting out is a mix of both some of these same emotional things, as well as an issue of respect between child and adult (especially if the adult shamed and punished the child and did not work to show respect and build a healthy relationship – the child will grow up not respecting the adult, in turn), and possibly an issue of learned behavior (bullied kids often turn around and bully others because that’s the way they know people to act).

  18. Chris says:

    Well said! I think think the biggest one is to respect the human beingness in the child.

  19. I too am a mix of mainstream parenting and gentle parenting but I was a little surprised at how negative you make mainstream parenting look. I was raised with strictly mainstream parenting as a child and I am perfectly fine, normal, respectable human being. I mean needless to say that the article is not really about if either parenting style will bring about healthy children, but I can’t say that I felt connected or really loved by my parents, but I also can’t say it was because of their “mainstream” beliefs. This article is great just to see how a lot of the “gentle” parents see the mainstream parents. however, I think it definitely is a little degrading to those who choose to be a little more authoritarian.

  20. too smart for this blog says:

    What a crock of sh*t! Bad fruit comes from BAD parenting. Worship kids as leaders of your house and their world. Soon both will be in shambles.

    • Liz says:

      And I assume you are a shining example of the wonderful fruits of mainstream parenting?

      I will immediatley convert to your way of thinking I want all my kids to turn out as kind and respectful as you.

      (Sarcasm Above)

    • Judy says:

      Yes I agree with you wholeheartedly. It certainly IS a crock of sh*t. Gentle parenting seems to be nothing but lazy parenting and totally copping out of the very serious job of raising a likeable human being who is worthy of respect and knows right from wrong. Babies NEED to be guided into a routine for the sanity of parents, and as they grow and mature toddlers and children actually LIKE to know what is expected of them and therefore their boundaries. I am personally privy to my grandson being “gentled” and all I see is a very clingy, confused, out-of-control little boy with no sense of wellbeing. Who makes up this shite? Ratbags!

      • I’m so sad that you really don’t seem to understand Gentle Parenting Judy, you seem to believe all of the common misconceptions about it which leads me to believe that your research into the subject has been incredibly limited or shallow. Your impression of this parenting ethos is completely incorrect, it is not one without boundaries and limits and has been scientifically shown to improve wellbeing. In addition the very nature of a baby is to be ‘clingy’, independence only happens after the child has been allowed to be dependent. Attachment theory (a well known and well accepted psychological paradigm backed by much science) has shown that the best predictor of a confident, happy and independent child and adult is one who is “well attached” (what I presume you call “clingy”) in infancy. Lastly it is anything but lazy, most popular parenting methods could be described as such, but gentle parenting requires a huge amount of thought and effort. I hope for the sake of your grandson and your relationship with your son/daughter you will further explore their chosen parenting style to help support them and nurture your grandson in the way his parents have chosen to raise him. A grandparent’s input is a vital one, but only when it is not at odds with the way the parents have chosen to raise their child, where it can cause nothing but conflict, confusion and heart ache all around. You can find more on http://www.gentleparenting.co.uk

      • Maria Sanchez says:

        I agree with you completely. There is a young family in our neighborhood that “gentle parents”. The problem as I see it is that no one, not even the schools want to deal with these children(so they homeschool). No one wants to host play dates, no one wants to let our children play date at their house as mummy will coddle poopsie but say nothing as poopsie plays the bongos with jr’s head. These children are now 7, 5 and 4, not as if they are still babies that have no understanding.

  21. Kirsten says:

    I read the table with interest, and it does come across as extremely judgemental, pushing the philosophy that there is only one right way to raise children. I have 4 children with ten years between oldest and youngest, so I’ve observed a wide range of parenting styles and philosophies – some I agree with, some I disagree with. Whether I agree or disagree, when the children are loved and wanted, they grow up just fine, allowed to validate their emotions and explore their world safely. So I don’t think parents should be condemned as “shallow… inconsistent… over-strict” on the basis of some generalisations.
    My own techniques are a blend of gentle/ mainstream according to your chart – my main concern with anyone sticking strictly to the “gentle” rules is – How do you teach your child empathy if you don’t identify bad behaviour? I fully support that children are allowed to express their emotions, but when “no behaviour is seen as bad” how does a child learn not to hurt other people, or consider someone else’s perspective? My children have always been taught that they are allowed to be angry but they are not allowed to hurt people, but I’ve met “gentle parents” who tolerate not so gentle behaviour from their children without any concern for other kids being hurt or belittled.

    • Tiffany says:

      “No behavior is bad” does not mean there is no such thing as unacceptable behavior, but it does mean that there is no benefit in labeling a behavior as “bad”, since the child will typically take that to mean that they are bad. It is, of course, very important to set limits on inappropriate or unacceptable behavior. It is also critical to recognize that EVERYthing a young child does is ALWAYS developmentally appropriate and it is the parent’s job to help guide them to act in ways that are *situationally* appropriate.

      • Kirsten says:

        I appreciate that children always act in a developmentally appropriate way – lying for example, is a natural development advance for children, as they learn that adults are not omnipresent, so a child can say a certain thing happened/ didn’t happen. I would never “label” a child bad for lying, but they need to understand the consequences of dishonesty – there are a lot! Sometimes parents do need to put artificial consequences in place to help the children learn. I’d rather the kids learned consequences from me than a police officer in 10 years time. I don’t mean hitting them or telling them they are bad, I mean practical consequences, such as spending time in their room for hitting another child.
        My son, at three, was viciously kicked in the stomach by an older child, whose mother closed her eyes and kept them closed while someone else moved her child away. She said to me afterwards “I know you probably want to see me punish my child, but I’d like to think I’m a better mother than that.” The boy was not expected to apologise either. Her reasoning was that “boys will be boys” and he will learn naturally not to be violent. Again, I don’t think this was a bad boy, but he was shaping up to be a bad violent man, if he thinks it’s acceptable to hit and kick smaller children.
        Maybe guides like this should give advice on HOW parents can guide children to act in situationally appropriate ways, rather than saying the current methods (time out, expecting apologies etc) are ALL wrong.

    • Nosy Parker says:

      Yes, I share Kristen’s concerns with some people who feel they are being “gentle” but haven’t figured out a way of teaching their kid how to behave more gently. It’s sad, but I’ve seen kids not invited for play dates because other parents don’t want to deal with the aggressive or other unacceptable behaviour. However you teach your child, it’s not fair to send them off into the world without some social skills.

      Also bad v. unacceptable is semantic; using Tiffany’s argument if you call a child’s behaviour unacceptable, won’t he typically feel that he is unacceptable? As long as you call out the behaviour, not the kid, I don’t think it matters whether you call it bad, unacceptable, inappropriate, ect.

    • Amy says:

      A friend recently described “gentle parenting” as her parenting method (in addition to attachment parenting) so I googled it because I didn’t know there was a term for it. Unfortunately, at least with her children, it has had a bad result, which I detail below.

      I agree with Kirsten (a commenter above) about the issues/concerns she has with gentle parenting. BOTH methods described in that table are problematic, though there were good points for each in some of the categories. But really the table only covers two extremes.

      There is actually a good middle ground between authoritarian (left side of table) and permissive (right side of table); it is called authoritative parenting. Studies show that it has the best outcomes for a child’s well-being into adulthood. Here are great articles about the various styles and their outcomes: http://www.parentingscience.com/authoritative-parenting-style.html. And here is a quiz you can take to find your “style:” http://psychologytoday.tests.psychtests.com/take_test.php?idRegTest=3261. My husband and I have done the “authoritative” style without knowing that’s what it was called.

      So, about my friend: I don’t know about others who use the “gentle parenting” (e.g. permissive) method, but in the case of her children, while she shows them respect, they have respect for no one… not her, each other, or other people. They came to our house once, and we haven’t invited them back because of the amazingly bad (or “unacceptable” if you like) behavior they displayed. They were 7 and 4 at the time. They barged in the door while bumping into and going right past me and my husband and daughter, not greeting us or looking at us, which surprised us quite a bit. They immediately ran forward and started playing with everything they saw: opening and banging loudly on the piano, grabbing things off shelves, etc. The 4 year old boy hit/kicked my daughter a few times during the visit, which received no response from his mom other than “don’t do that, that isn’t nice” in a placating tone which elicited no notice from her son. My daughter who was 5 at the time got upset and frustrated throughout their visit. I was reminded of Thing 1 and 2. We have not invited them over again, and have not had any behavioral issues with any other children visiting us before or since.

      I visited her house a few months later after she had a baby to bring over a meal and do some cleaning. While there, the boy started violently shaking the bouncer the baby was in (unsafely on the table; I moved it after I told him to stop) while his mom was upstairs. He climbed up into a high chair, which his older sister rocked until he fell over backwards in it onto the hard floor (his mom was still upstairs). The kids are unschooled and do not do any activities separate from their mom, so they have no frame of reference for what is “acceptable” behavior other than what they receive at home and among other homeschooled families.

      Hopefully not all “gently parented” kids are this way, but the article on permissive parenting describes studies which show that does tend to be an issue with this style.

      • gentle parenting *is* authoritative parenting, it’s certainly not permissive – more here: https://sarahockwell-smith.com/2012/11/26/why-gentle-parenting-is-not-permissive-parenting/

      • Amy says:

        Thank you for the article link. I appreciate some things that were clarified in it. On this page you say, “I think it can be summed up with three words: understanding, empathy, respect.”

        But in that article you say, “I describe Gentle Parenting as simply “parenting with empathy, respect, understanding and boundaries.” In my opinion the boundaries are just as important as the empathy and the respect.”

        On this page you left “boundaries” off the list. And it is 2nd to last in the chart. Which gives the impression that little need is seen for it, along with my own experience of someone trying to follow what they believe to be “gentle parenting” in which no boundaries were set. Other commenters gave similar examples of kids of “gentle parents” without discipline or limits.

        So I wonder if they aren’t getting the message you laid out clearly in that article? Or perhaps they latched onto “gentle parenting” as a way to justify their natural tendencies toward permissiveness? (I’m naturally permissive myself and my husband is naturally strict, and over the 7 years since we had our daughter we’ve both worked very hard to come much closer to the middle. What helped me the most was to see how my permissiveness negatively affected my daughter and my relationship with her.)

  22. Lucy Theo says:

    Bravo on the chart.. Brilliant as ever Sarah.. My only thought is wondering if there is a way to re write it in less (!) intelligent and articulate prose so it can be read and understood by some parents who may be drawn to more simplistic language . I know that sounds counterproductive and perhaps condescending ,and I do feel that your writing is very accessable, but I am only thinking of some of the very young, often uneducated and unloved mums I work with who could benefit from learning about ‘gentle parenting’ and need it to. be ‘sold’ to them in super user- friendly terms . I am increasingly becoming more and more disturbed and saddened by incidents I witness of children ( some toddlers. ) being slapped or hit as if this aggressive adult behaviour is acceptable …… You cannot teach a child to respect others if you disrespect and shame them in turn I believe. If this generation of parents were more open to the successful outcomes of ‘gentle parenting’ ,
    the legacy of shame and low self worth that so many carry as internal scripts could be broken.

  23. I have used both the gentle and mainsream methods in raising my 5 children. As a Christian I believe what the Bible says over any other book. There are times when a spanking is warranted for bad behavior. A child should not be given the “freedom” to express themselves in a disrespectful manner just because they are tired, have had a bad day, etc. They need to be disciplined and learn to keep under control. I have seen parents who are so embarassed in public while their little one puts on an “all-star performance” with no fear of any “negative” consequence. When I spanked my children I always held them after and told them I loved them. I let them know that their behavior was bad,not them. I told them they were good, but that their bad behavior would not be tolerated,not in public or at home. Kids seem to know that we feel more at a loss to discipline in public so they will take liberties when out. If you are consistent, all the time, they learn that the standard is always in place and then there is no confusion. If they act up in public, take them out to car and set things straight. Take them to a public washroom and wait until you have privacy. Always spank with loving instruction and let them know they are loved no matter what they do. They learn pretty quick that you won’t be “held hostage” anywhere. We have been out at a restaurant and more than once had people come over to the table and comment on how well behaved they were. My kids range in age from 31 to 17. They all have a good work ethic and do well socially. When a child knows they are loved, no matter what they do, they are very secure.

  24. Hyphenista says:

    Really helpful, thanks!

  25. Chianna says:

    I think that although i agree with all said in the gentle side of the table, it can come across as permissive… Would you be able to add a comparison column to show the difference from gentle and permissive parenting? A friend commented on how gentle doesn’t enforce any boundaries and the negative impact that has…so it would be nice to show in the table the differences between gentle and permissive as its put some people off looking at gentle parenting re the confusion thinking gentle means permissive. I’ve read your blog about the differences, but just thought if it could be added to the table it would really help more people understand?

  26. Hi, unfortunately until a few months ago I was one of those ‘mainstream parents’ I didn’t realise there wa another way, having never seen it myself. I am trying and have been doing my best to be a gentle parent, but sometimes I find it really hard, my son is still very argumentative and confrontational, about everything. I’m not a bad parent, I like to think, but I’m stuck and don’t know how to deal with this in a gentle parenting way. Example, he won’t leave somewhere when it’s time to go, and won’t listen to anything I have to say. He won’t get ready to go out, and anything I say he will argue with or fight against. I’ve never been physical with him, and never would, but I used to be strict. I’m a single parent. Please help!

  27. Jaclyn Kent says:

    Thank you for this post! I’ll be linking it in my post about night nursing!

  28. Deegs says:

    That’s a marked caricature of normal that you have listed as “mainstream parenting”

  29. Amy Garcia says:

    We are involved in DCS-mandated “Parenting Classes”. We are being told to use “time-outs”, deprivation of toys and privileges, as well as verbal reprimands to interact with our children. I have explained our beliefs and the gentle parenting approach to our Parent Aide. I would really like to be permitted to print the above chart to share with her, as well. As it is, she has asked that if I create a blog or vlog on my cooking, to please pass it to here to share with the many McD&Cheetos parents. We cook a full meal every time she comes to our home, while she says that every other family she has ever worked with provides 100% fast food and junk food snacks only to their children for meals, where she is present. I would love to give her some resources that she can share that go beyond the “don’t hit your kids too very much” concept and brings more people to the awareness of gentle parenting a really, gentle *being*!

  30. Muddling Through says:

    I do agree with the principals of gentle parenting. Children are individuals and their little brains are immature. I found the table above very judgemental. I don’t wholly buy into any parenting method. I base my parenting around my child’s needs. If he needs ‘shallow, meaningless’ praise then he gets it. I need to be praised now and again, it boots my self esteem so I imagine ut is true for my child. They don’t know if helping mummy put the laundry away is a good choice or not, they just have fun playing at being a grown up. It’s only when I say how much of a super helper they are that they know it’s good. Similarly, they need to know that hitting/punching/kicking etc is socially unacceptable.

    I think going into gentle parenting wholly is just buying into a philosophy isn’t treating a child as an individual. It’s contradictory in its very nature. I agree with treating your child like a child, loving them for who they are, being aware of their little personalities and most importantly, listening to your child. But I do believe that children need boundaries. They cry out for boundaries. “Tell me what you want me to do.” Some children (in my experience – most) thrive with a routine, they like to know what is going to happen next. It gives them security.

    I am not a mainstream parent. I am not completely a gentle parent. I’m just me. Muddling through the best I can.

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