What is Gentle Parenting?
In my opinion it can be summed up with just four words:
Parenting with your child’s feelings in mind as much as possible. Using empathy (or what some psychologists call ‘mind-mindedness’) to gain insight into your child’s behaviour and using empathy to decide what action you should take in response. The key here really is thinking “would I like it if somebody did this to me?” if the answer is “no”, then why would you do it to your child?
Respecting your child as much as you would respect an adult. For some reason in our society we afford children little respect. We constantly tell them what to do, what they like and dislike and perhaps worst of all the constant “be quiet” commands. We don’t really ‘hear’ them enough. Why did he hit the other child? Why did she bite? Why did he kick? Why doesn’t she want to go to bed? Why doesn’t he want to eat? Why doesn’t she want to go swimming today? Children are real people – just like us. If we want them to respect us, then we need to respect them.
Not only aiming to understand our children’s behaviour and communication and communicate in a way with them that they can understand us – but most importantly – understand what is normal for the child at any given age. Does your child really have a sleep problem? Or do you not really understand normal sleep physiology for a child of their age? Does your child have a problem with sharing? Or do you not really understand normal social skills for a child of their age? Is your child really ‘clingy’, or do you not really understand the development of self soothing and emotional self regulation?
It’s also about understanding others and not being judgemental of their parenting choices, even if they differ from your own.
Gentle Parenting is not permissive parenting. Children do not always ‘get their own way’, parents do not say ‘yes’ all of the time, scared of the upset if they say ‘no’. In fact often they can be more strict, with more boundaries in place than others. I am an incredibly ‘strict’ parent – in the sense that we have *many* family rules and lots of boundaries and limits that are consistently enforced. This last part is important. There is no point in having boundaries if you do not consistently enforce them. These limits give children a sense of security and they are vital.
That’s it – Nothing more, nothing less. Gentle Parenting in a nut shell.
There are no rules to follow, no lists of ‘product recommendations, no exclusions.
It doesn’t matter if you bottle feed, give birth by elective C-Section, use a buggy and your child sleeps in a cot in their own room. Just as it doesn’t make you a ‘gentle parent’ if you breastfeed ’til 3, homebirth, babywear and bedshare. These ‘tools’ are pretty much irelevant, they don’t define the conscious actions and thoughts behind your parenting. Your age, gender, social class, education level, hobbies, green credentials and how you chose to keep your child healthy (vaccinate or not, conventional medicine or complementary) are also irrelevant, they too do not define the thoughts behind your actions.
Gentle Parenting is a way of being, it is a mindset. It’s not about how you wean your baby, or what type of education you chose. It’s not new, it’s not trendy. Gentle parents come from all walks of life, all ages, all ethnicities and most don’t even realise that their style of parenting has been given a new name, it’s just the way they have always been.
Come and chat with me and fellow gentle parents on the GentleParenting Facebook page, it would be great to meet you!
Author of The Gentle Sleep Book – published 2015.