The top 12 Myths about Gentle Parenting

The following is a short extract from the brand new, fully revised and updated, second edition of ‘The Gentle Parenting Book‘:

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While there are many mistaken beliefs surrounding gentle parenting, the following twelve are by far the most common and it is incredibly likely you will run into them frequently if you share your plans to parent gently with others. Let’s do some myth-busting!

Myth 1: Gentle Parents Don’t Say ‘No’ to Their Children
Truth: The word ‘no’ is an incredibly important one when it comes to safety. Its use is also necessary to uphold boundaries and limits. For these reasons, ‘no’ definitely has a place in the vocabulary of those practising gentle parenting. The word ‘no’ very clearly tells a child that what they’re about to do (or have just done) is categorically not acceptable. It is short, brief and to the point and absolutely cannot be misunderstood. In a heated, or dangerous moment, you don’t want to confuse the children with a lengthy sentence. Above anything else, the safety of your child, other children, animals, and precious objects, are vitally important. Gentle parents are, however, mindful about how and when they say ‘no’, trying to not use it unnecessarily. Unfortunately, we are quite conditioned to say ‘no’ to children a lot, but the subconscious response of ‘no’ is often totally unnecessary. Using the word mindfully means asking yourself ‘why am I saying no?’ If there is a legitimate reason and you believe that it is the right thing to say, then go ahead and say it. Importantly, alongside saying ‘no’, gentle parents also support and explain and make sure they redirect their children, showing and telling them what they want them to do instead. Gentle parents will also try to set up environments where the need to say ‘no’ is lessened naturally, for instance with age-appropriate child proofing. The word ‘no’ is everywhere in life though. A little learning in a safe and supportive environment is great preparation for that, so don’t be afraid to say it to your children.

Myth 2: Gentle Parents Don’t Discipline
Truth: The top myth surrounding gentle parenting is that those who follow it don’t discipline their children. Gentle parenting and discipline are perceived to be at odds with each other; however, this myth is rooted in a misunderstanding of what discipline actually is. In short, discipline, which stems from the Latin word discere meaning ‘learning’. Discipline therefore means teaching children more appropriate and socially acceptable behaviours. Modern western society believes discipline and punishment are the same. They are not. There are many ways to teach children that don’t involve punishing them or making them feel bad. In fact, the most effective discipline makes children feel good. It inspires them to do better, rather than shaming them. The best teaching methods are inspirational and uplifting: ask any teacher. Why would we ignore decades of research on how children learn best? The discipline of gentle parenting focuses on exactly this – teaching children why certain behaviours are not appropriate and teaching them how to do better. How do we do this? By first keeping everybody safe, being a great role model and explaining to children how to resolve problems in more peaceful ways. I would actually say gentle parents discipline more than any other parents.

Myth 3: Gentle Parents Have No Control Over Their Children

Truth: In gentle parenting the children are commonly perceived to ‘run rings around their parents’. The parents are seen as passive and permissive, letting their little darlings do anything they want. This is not true. Gentle parenting is a dance of control. It is a partnership that changes fluidly, sometimes one partner (the parent) leads, sometimes the other (the child). When it is appropriate, gentle parents like to give their children control. Giving control as much as possible allows children to fulfil their need for autonomy and independence and stops unwanted behaviour that commonly occurs when a child is desperate for more control over their lives. Things that gentle parents may give control over include allowing the child to choose their own clothing (after ensuring that it is weather-appropriate), regulating their own eating (after first providing nutritious food), controlling their own pocket money and how it is spent and taking control of their own play. Things that gentle parents don’t give children control over include crossing roads, touching objects that don’t belong to them (particularly if they are fragile) and complete free range over how they spend their day, especially if there are important appointments to attend.

Myth 4: Gentle Parents Are Too Indulgent
Truth: Gentle parents are often believed to allow their child to have and do whatever they want. This is not true. Illinformed critics say that they ‘indulge their children too much’. Mainstream parents commonly believe that children are out to bleed their parents dry emotionally, energetically, and financially. Right from the off they believe that babies are manipulative, crying to get their parents ‘at their beck and call’, they believe toddlers are ‘showing off to get what they want’ and believe that teenagers only sulk ‘because they want attention’. Common discipline methods here all involve ignoring the child. This is mistakenly believed to create a less demanding individual. In truth, all ignoring does is make the child keep their feelings to themselves, they don’t go away, they just stop displaying them. Gentle parents simply allow their children to always show their needs and when possible, they respond to them. A crying baby, a tantruming toddler and a sulking teenager are perceived to all be showing one thing: a need for connection. Gentle parents would try to support their children and their needs. They would try to help their children to feel better by not ignoring them. If this is deemed indulgent, then so be it, but what a callous world we now live in if that is true. Gentle parents just try to remove a little of that callousness in their own family.

Myth 5: Gentle Parents Are All Stay at Home Parents with One Young Child
Truth: Gentle parenting is demanding work; throw in a job, a handful of young children and a teenager and it gets hard, really hard. In fact, there are days when we all think ‘I just can’t do this any more’, but we get back up and we keep on going. Gentle parents seek to better themselves but aren’t martyrs. They know when they need a break, and they allow themselves to be ‘good enough’. Many gentle parents have full-time jobs and multiple children, including teenagers. It may be easier to parent when you don’t work and have only one child, particularly if that child is only a baby or a toddler, but at the time it doesn’t feel easy. As your children grow, so do you. You learn together.

Myth 6: Gentle Parents Are All Alternative Liberal Hippies
Truth: There are hundreds of thousands of gentle parents, from all walks of life, all with different beliefs. There is no special ‘person specification’. You can have rainbow dyed shaved hair or spend thousands per year on the perfect balayage and hair extensions. You can be vegan or eat steak every day. You can home-educate or use mainstream school, breastfeed or formulafeed, you can wear tie-dye, vintage, Primark or designer clothing. Atheist, Christian, Muslim, Pagan – religion is irrelevant. So is age, sexuality, gender identity, and political leaning. That said, there does tend to be far more diversity (and acceptance of it) amongst gentle parents and surely that is an amazing thing to teach our children?

Myth 7: Gentle Parents Inhibit Their Children’s Independence

Truth: Gentle parents are commonly perceived to ‘stifle independence’. For instance, they don’t leave their babies to cry at night, so some believe they are ‘not teaching them to self-settle’ or somehow causing an unhealthy attachment and need for their parents at night, resulting in a sleep problem and bad habits. The key with gentle parenting, however, is that the attachment always occurs because of the child’s cues and parents responding to the child’s needs. When the children are ready to detach, gentle parents open their arms and watch them fly. Independence always starts with dependence; you can’t force it to happen. It happens when children have had their needs met, and as a result feel confident enough to go out into the big wide world alone, knowing that if they need them, their parents are there for them. Gentle parenting creates, not stifles, independence!

Myth 8: Gentle Parents Create Snowflakes, Ill Prepared for Real Life
Truth: If you read an article on gentle parenting online, there will inevitably be a comment saying something like ‘but real life isn’t all hearts and flowers. Real life is full of disappointments and demands, rules and regulations.’ The mistaken belief here is that gentle parenting ill-prepares children for life. A life where they will have to follow rules, not bend them. A life where they will have to endure harsh discipline. The argument – from those who don’t believe in gentle parenting – is children should be raised harshly, so they are better equipped to cope with our harsh world. The argument – from those who follow gentle parenting – is why not raise children to make the world a better place? Gentle parenting also means raising children with better self-esteem and self-confidence; those who are therefore more resilient and able to cope better with the demands of adulthood. Does this mean gentle parenting encourages raising rebels? No, it means raising empathetic thinkers. Thinkers know when questioning is appropriate, and they know when to keep their head down. Thinkers understand respect; respect for others and themselves. They know when to respect boundaries and rules (after all, they have respected their family’s rules for years). Gently parented children are empathic, they understand how others feel and when certain behaviour would be inappropriate. They know when they can rock the boat a little and when they
should leave it be.

Myth 9: Gentle Parents Are Raising a Generation of Spoilt Brats
Truth: This is one of the saddest criticisms and one of the most common. It mistakenly presumes you can spoil a child with love. You cannot, however, love a child too much. Ever. If you love a child as much as they need, you allow them to flourish. They become more empathic and more secure. Security and empathy are the keystones of respect and understanding. They create kind, confident, and compassionate individuals, the very
opposite of the shallow, self-absorbed spoilt individuals created by mainstream parenting. Why? Because when the child’s needs for love and emotional support aren’t met, they spend their life trying to fulfil them, some through constant unhealthy relationships, some with food, some with alcohol, some with drugs. Science is quite clear – the parenting style most responsible for raising anti-social individuals is authoritarian, or in other words one full of punishments and strict control over children.

Myth 10: Gentle Parents Are Scared of Making Their Children Cry
Truth: Gentle parents probably allow their children to cry far more than mainstream parents. Crying is normal, it is a healthy way to release difficult emotions. As parents, allowing your child to cry and supporting them when they do is the healthiest response. Our society is too full of dismissing tears. We say, ‘stop crying, don’t be a baby’, ‘big girls don’t cry’, ‘crying is for sissies’, ‘boys don’t cry’, ‘man up’ far too much. We try to distract children from feeling and dealing with their own emotions and we wonder why they grow up to struggle with them as adults. Crying is not the problem here. When we discipline, gentle parents will often make children cry and that’s OK, because when they do we support them. Do we always revel in tears? Absolutely not, tears from a baby or young child always need a response, whether it is day or night.

Myth 11: Gentle Parenting is Toxic; It Isn’t Gentle on Parents
Truth: This goes back to the mistaken belief that gentle parents are all perfect martyrs. They’re not. They make mistakes, they yell, they get things wrong, they sometimes need to prioritise their own needs over those of their children and all of this is OK. Gentle parents mess up, they’re not perfect, they’re real, they’re ‘good enough’. They understand their limits and they accept their mistakes with grace, viewing them as a learning opportunity. Gentle parents practise self-kindness and although they set the bar high when it comes to expectations of themselves, they know that they aren’t superhuman and that messing up is a natural part of life. Most importantly, gentle parents know how important it is to ‘rupture and repair’ when they get something wrong, and the fact that they know how to do this means they carry a lot less guilt than others who may mistakenly believe that not being perfect is highly damaging to children. To practise gentle parenting, it is vitally important that you are
gentle to yourself.

Myth 12: Gentle Parents All Have ‘Issues’ They Are Trying to Solve Through Their Children
Truth: There is a grain of truth in this. Those who practise gentle parenting understand that the key to how they behave with their own children is understanding their own childhoods, and the subconscious beliefs and behaviours that stem from them. Most of us are a little bit messed up and have issues from ten, twenty, thirty or more years ago. The difference between gentle parents and others is that a gentle parent will take time
to try to uncover their triggers and understand any destructive behaviours, so they don’t continue the cycle and pass them on to their own children. Where this belief is wrong, however, is in presuming that gentle parents are trying to solve their own issues through their children; the reality is actually that they are trying to solve their own issues for their children.

Do you want to learn more about Gentle Parenting and how to apply the techniques with your children? Check out the brand new, fully revised and updated, edition of The Gentle Parenting Book.

Published by SarahOckwell-Smith

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

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