When Gentle Parenting Doesn’t Work

It seems like everyday I come across a comment from a parent proclaiming “gentle parenting doesn’t work”, that their baby “still cries all the time” or their toddler “tantrums constantly and still hits his brother” – this despite all of their effort to understand and practice gentle parenting, which can be so much more time consuming (not to mention emotionally consuming) than a more authoritarian conventional way of parenting. The obvious conclusion quickly drawn in these cases is that whilst they understand the theories behind gentle parenting, they’re not so sure that they believe in it, because it’s just not working out for their family.

They are wrong.

The problem lies somewhere in our modern society’s ‘quick fix’ obsession, with our fast food, same day pay loans, 3 day weight loss diets and celebrity nannies who claim to fix any family’s problems with one short visit. Real life just isn’t like that though, really life is messy, real achievements take time and usually require a big re-evaluation of circumstances and a lot of commitment and willpower. Food delivered to you in minutes is never going to be good for you, instant pay day loans carry astronomical interest rates, quick weight loss almost invariably comes back with a few extra pounds to boot and what you don’t see after the super nanny has left is what happens one year down the line.

Quick fixes always come at a price, but that price usually comes after the results. With gentle parenting the price comes before the results and that’s something that our society just isn’t used to.

Gentle parenting is hard, it would be easy to slip into ignore/reward/punish mode with toddlers, it would be easy to buy medication or switch to formula to treat an unsettled baby, it would be easy to sleep train for a few nights to get a child sleeping through, but in the long term – each of those easy decision carry risks and disadvantages. Gentle parenting is an investment, an investment into your child’s future as well as your own and those that will follow down the generations, but it’s not quick fix and it’s not easy. Gentle parenting is about respecting your child and understanding their biological and psychological limitations at any one moment in time, it is about behaving in a way that fosters empathy and connection, it’s forward thinking and then some.

Gentle parenting isn’t about instantly soothing crying babies or stopping toddler tantrums in their tracks. Gently parented babies still cry, they still get colic and they still wake frequently at night. Gently parented toddlers still bite, hit, kick and throw and they still don’t eat their vegetables. Gently parented tweens and teens still talk back, still slam doors and still come home after their curfew, but none of this is really what gentle parenting is about.

In time (and that time may be years from now) a gently parented child will enjoy close relationships with their parents and will feel able to share their troubles – whether that be peer pressure, school work concerns or bullying. In time a gently parented child will find it easier to be happy in their own skin and enjoy the confidence to have meaningful relationships with others, they will find it easier to speak their own mind and be in control of their own emotions and in time gently parented children will raise a whole other generation of emotionally intelligent children.

For those who say gentle parenting doesn’t work, perhaps they just need to wait a little longer?


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Published by SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.

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