The Real Reason Parenting is So Hard

What do you think makes parenting so hard?

Is it the sleepness nights? The constant physical demands – changing nappies, making food and drink, the housework, the laundry? The financial implications? Separation anxiety and growth and developmental spurts? Tackling toddler tantrums? Coping with teen moodiness?

I don’t think it’s any of those.

Sad woman

You know what is the hardest part of parenting? Recognising your own flaws, realising your upbringing was less than perfect, noticing how you lack patience and becoming aware of how quickly you snap and descend into yelling.

Parenting is like twenty years of counselling fast forwarded into twenty minutes. The issues that could be gently explored in the safe hands of a compassionate therapist over many years are all thrown to the surface in a matter of days and you’re left to deal with them all alone. Nobody to hold your hand or help you to make sense of the mess in your head, no wise words or reassurances – just the stark realisation that perhaps you are too selfish, too impatient, too impulsive. The realisation that you are the result of your upbringing and the many years of conditioning feel almost impossible to break. The realisation that unless you work on yourself extensively that you will pass on the flaws you despise the most to your own children. That’s harsh.

It’s not all bad though, if you allow it to, parenting can open up a window to your soul and provide the inspiration and ambition you need to become a much better person. Parenting is like a spotlight on our dark areas, those we would rather pretend we didn’t have. It is a call to action for our hopes and dreams, a chance to conquer our fears and put right our actions of the past. If you allow it to, becoming a parent can transform your life, giving you the chance to raise children who may just transform the lives of others.

This introspection is so very tiring though. It would be so much easier to yell, so much easier to lash out in the way our parents may have lashed out to us. So much easier to leave a baby to cry themselves to sleep, so much easier to send a child to their room without finding out why they are behaving in the way that they are. It often feels as if you have to spend every minute of every day being the bigger person and sometimes you simply don’t want to be the adult.

If you want to be the very best parent you can be though that’s exactly what you have to do, even what it feels like the last thing you really want to do. We spend too much time looking to ‘fix’ our children, but really it is we – as parents – who need to be fixed.

Parenting is not about trying to change our children, it should be all about trying to change ourselves, for that is always the key to raising happy, confident and kind children.

For more on working with your parental demons and changing who you are as a person, for the good of your children, see my Gentle Discipline book.


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What is Gentle Parenting?

What is Gentle Parenting?

In my opinion it can be summed up with just four words:

1. Empathy

2. Respect

3. Understanding

4. Boundaries


1. Empathy

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?


2. Respect

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.


3. Understanding.

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.


4. Boundaries.

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!



Sarah Ockwell-Smith


Author of The Gentle Sleep Book – published 2015.

and The Gentle Parenting Book – coming soon.

The Problem with School Behaviour Control: Why Golden Time, Merit Certificates, Attendance Awards, Green Badges & Traffic Light Systems May Cause More Harm Than Good.

The side of my fridge is cluttered with merit certificates, head teacher awards, attendance certificates and little cards full of smiley faces. Every Friday a newsletter is delivered to me by a hand freshly decorated in lurid nail polish hastily applied during ‘Golden Time’. At least 50% of the newsletter is populated with behavioural reward results of some kind – ‘writer of the week’, ‘tidiest cloakroom’, ‘certificates of merit’ and ‘100% attendance awards’ and I can’t help but wonder where did we go so wrong?


When did our education system become so obsessed with bribing children with rewarding carrots?

Are the powers that be really so all consumed by Gove’s visions of educational factories churning out behaviourally controlled drones? Are they really that blinded by his Matrix like plans that they stop viewing children as thinking, feeling individuals and instead see them as akin to laboratory animals in a 1950’s Skinner’esque conditioning experiment? This isn’t progress.

These strategies have major flaws. Their efficacy is arguable, particularly when holding a long-term view (though of course politicians rarely think long-term – why bother? They will be out of office and can blame the lack of results and complications on the new party in office, in a never-ending cyclical cycle). Not only is the efficacy questionable, but what is more concerning, is what we are doing to our children with this new rewards obsessed system. What are we doing to their motivation, ambition, confidence and drive? and how might this impact (negatively) on their future learning?


I am more than disillusioned with the current education system. If there was a way, I would home-ed my kids in a heartbeat. I am genuinely worried about the future of our children. Many parents agree, they instinctively feel that this constant bribing of our children with meaningless pieces of paper, badges, 10 minutes of ‘golden time’ and special awards is wrong. They would be right.

It goes beyond instinct though, There is a significant amount of scientific research that supports the notion that these behavioural techniques not only do not work in the long-term – but they may cause serious implications in our child’s future learning and willingness to engage with their own education.

Take for instance the ever-growing current trend of ‘rewarding the good’ – aka: bribery or ‘carrot dangling’. Does this really invoke long-term change? Can it motivate students to behave better, work harder, concentrate more and skip school less? Scientists would disagree.

The issue of intrinsic (internal) versus extrinsic (external) motivation is not a new one in the field of Psychology. What we really want our children to have is a strong internal drive to do well and learn more. That means this drive needs to come from within, in short they need to WANT to learn. How does this come about? Well – usually from an environment conducive to learning, age appropriate (largely focused on play and learning through the senses, particularly for younger children), full of objects, tools and people who inspire a child’s natural curiosity and natural scientist tendencies – an environment such as a forest school or an outdoor classroom perhaps with a teacher who is inspired by the child’s natural inquisitiveness and who fosters and nurtures it as delicately they would a seedling.

Add in to the mix parents who help the child to foster a sense of pride in themselves and a desire to keep trying and improving their skills. Simply put for the most successful education we need a child who wants to learn for no other reason than they want to learn! Because it is inspiring, because it is interesting, because it is FUN! Now how does that fit in with hundreds of stickers, crumpled pieces of paper with smiley faces, SATs and OFSTED inspection driven attendance scores?


The simple answer is – it doesn’t. These meaningless proverbial carrots don’t inspire anything, aside from a short-term behavioural change which then gives way to less desirable behaviour than existed originally. You see it’s not just a case of ‘take away the reward and the behaviour stops’, it runs deeper than that – take away the reward and the behaviour is often WORSE than it was before you gave the reward. This is what happens when you foster extrinsic (external) motivation in children – “if you do this, then I’ll do/you’ll get xyz”. Scientists  have illustrated this correlation many times.

If the rewards don’t work, then what about the punishments? Really rewards and punishments are two sides of the same coin. What of the children who don’t have a ‘green badge’ for their attendance? Or those who are on the red traffic light, sad face or ’15 minutes lost’  of golden time? Will this punishment and singling out (for that is what it is, however ‘cutesy’ it is packaged on the wall chart) make the child more motivated to ‘be better’ next time? Again, it’s a big fat NO. Of course not!

If you were punished by your boss for “not being good enough”, singled out from your workmates, or missed a social ‘do’, would you vow to ‘be a better worker’ next time? Or would you sulk, question your worth and feel a dis-connect with your boss? This is so blindingly, simply obvious I am stunned that almost every school in the country treat OUR children (for that is what they are – not the school’s, not Gove’s – OURS!!) in a way that they themselves would never want to be treated.

What about the cause of the behaviour? Why is that never investigated? (I know the answer of course – no time, no resources) what about the child from the family on the breadline who is malnourished and exhausted, who misses school because of ill-health (no ‘100% attendance’ certificate for him!), or the girl from a family who is treated poorly, whose parents don’t care about her education, or her really for that matter, the girl who has to put up with daily insults and ill-treatment from those who should love her the most. What chance does she have? When she makes it into school 15 minutes late in unwashed clothing, on an empty stomach and it all becomes too much – her pain externalised into a tirade of verbal abuse at a teacher or fellow student. Straight down to the sad/angry face, red light, ’15 minutes lost’ she goes… in the world does this system motivate her? (and in most cases she is the one who needs the most motivation, for her behaviour impacts on the whole class).


What of the children who try hard every day but are not naturally gifted, those who never achieve high grades or win awards, but those who often try harder than those who do (the ones who are naturally gifted – or even worse, those who never try and are then rewarded for the tiniest bit of effort that they display once in a blue moon), when do they get their award? When do we recognise the constant effort they put in each day, despite never achieving set goals?

What of the child who is too scared to ask to stay home because he knows he will lose his attendance score and the special treat offered, even worse when the special treat is offered to his class – for he would be letting them down if he was ill. How does it help his education when he goes to school feeling ill?

Is it just me that sees this? Are there other parents out there as dismayed as I am? Who roll their eyes at each newsletter ‘rewards and achievements’ section? Who is more interested in how their child feels about their own achievements – whether they were awarded for them or not?

The key to our child’s success does not lie in the domain of certificates, awards, badges and ‘special time’, the key is inside of them, just waiting to be unlocked.

Perhaps if the echelons of educational authorities spent more time on creating a learning environment that met our child’s needs and less money on certificate paper, badges, OFSTED inspectors and behavioural training courses the world would be a very different place – filled with a genuine love for learning and with it a significantly higher level of academic attainment.


p.s: Come and chat with me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram You can also sign up for my free weekly parenting newsletter HERE.


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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Six New Year’s Resolutions Every Parent Should Make

As we approach the dawn of a new year thoughts turn again to resolutions. Many will be resolving to lose weight, stop smoking, cut back on their drinking and to exercise more, others may decide to quit their job, start a new education course or hobby – but for those who are parents there are six resolutions that I think are vital.


1. Resolve to respect your child(ren)

As adults we command respect from our children, and other adults, on a daily basis. We expect to be treated in a certain way – as the dictionary definition of ‘respect’ says, to give ” due regard for the feelings, wishes, or rights of others” – we expect others to take our thoughts, rights and beliefs into account in all dealings with us. If a child in particular shows us a lack of respect we are quick to pull them up on it (especially if they are tweens or teens!), yet do we afford our children the same priviledge? I don’t think so.

If we respected our children we would listen when they woke crying in the middle of the night instead of returning them to bed with minimal eye contact or conversation. If we respected our children we would not force them to eat the untouched brocolli on their plate that they beg us to leave. If we respected our children we would never say “because I said so” or escalate into yelling at tweens and teens. If we respected our children we would not leave a baby sobbing at daycare for the tenth day in a row. If we respected our children we would not ignore their overwhelming emotions when they tantrum in public. If we respected our children we would never consciously hurt them – and would understand that a ‘tap’, ‘pop’ or ‘smack’ anywhere on their body – for whatever reason is unacceptable violence.

If we respected our children they would respect us and not feel the need to display half of the behaviours listed above.


2. Resolve to empathise with your child(ren)

Children have bad days just like us, some days the world is overwhelming, some days they are scared, lonely, confused, anxious or angry. Some days they need duvet days, hugs and for us to listen to them. How would you feel if you were treated in the same way that you treat your child(ren)?

If we empathised with our children we would never leave them crying alone in their crib at night – even if it is for only 5 minute intervals. If we empathised with our children we would never make them sit on a naughty step or put them in ‘time out’. If we empathised with our children we wouldn’t yell at them and we would never intentionally hurt them. If we empathised with our children we would listen to them more and speak at them less.

If we empathised with our children they would grow to be empathic towards others, including their parents, and would not feel the need to display half of the behaviours listed above.


3. Allow your child(ren) to have their own opinions and make their own choices.

For some reason many adults seem to believe that children are incapable of making their own good choices and need steering as much as possible, similarly we often punish a child who holds different opinions to us. We do however aspire to raise children who are thinkers, confident and assertive and questioning of the world – how do we expect them to be so if we take such control over their lives?

Children need to make mistakes, the best way for them to learn what is a good and what is a bad choice is to let them experience the natural consequences of their actions. The best way to raise a child who respects the opinions of others is to respect the child’s individual opinions ourselves. That also means allowing them to make age appropriate decisions as much as possible. If they are not of an age where they are capable of making a big decision about their lives – then we owe it to our children to not make that decision for them unless it threatens their physical health or psychological wellbeing.

If we allowed our children to make mistakes and valued their opinions they would grow to respect the opinions of others and know the value of good and bad choices at an age when they need to the most.


4. Reset your expectations to what is age appropriate and normal

Much parenting angst stems from our skewed perceptions of what is and isn’t normal when it comes to babies and children. From night waking to naps, eating to behaviour, our perception of what is normal and what is “a problem” is usually far from the truth.

It is normal for babies to wake regularly throughout the night well into their second year, it is normal for toddlers to bite, throw and hit, it is normal for preschoolers to not want to share, it is normal for a 5 year old to not understand – or care – how their actions can upset another and it is normal for a tween or teen to have uncontrollable bouts of anger that result in door slamming or wall punching. All of these behaviours are related to brain maturation (or rather the lack of), they are not behaviours that mean you are raising a monster they are just a relection of biology.

Make your new year’s resolution to understand the normal physiology and psychology of children, particularly the same age as yours and throw out any books or magazines that are ignorant to this knowledge and stop visiting parenting websites that are full of forums and advice article that promote otherwise.

When we reset our expectations of our children based on biological fact it is easier to be kind to ourselves as well as our children and will also result in more respect, empathy and allowance of control too.


5. Take time to nurture yourself

Parenting is really hard, particularly in the times that we live in. We are not meant to parent alone, we are meant to do it as part of a group – who provide emotional and physical support. We are not meant to parent and take a full time job, parenting *is* a full time job. We are not meant to worry about our physical appearance 3 weeks post partum.

As parents today we have so much added stress that we forget to see parenting for what it is – the most important job in the world. If you spend all day doing nothing but cradling a fractious newborn, bouncing a teething 6 month old or laying with a poorly toddler you haven’t “failed” or “done nothing” – you have done *everything*, you have done your (parenting) job and then some.

We get so frazzled as parents – with money worries, relationship issues and work concerns, we are exhausted dealing with all of the sleepless nights alone and our stress rises. We become so full of our own overwhelming emotions that we are unable to ‘hold’ any from our children. So we snap. We shout at them, we send them to their room when we know what we really should have done is talk. We leave babies to cry themselves to sleep because we just can’t face another night with no sleep. These problems though are ours, not those of our children. They don’t need fixing – we do.

Taking care of yourself as a parent is not a luxury or a bonus if you have a spare 5 minutes, it’s is a vital part of who you are and what you do. When you nurture yourself in body and soul you will have more patience, more respect, more empathy and more understanding of your children and your increased ability to deal with their issues as well as your own, will mean you will have far less pf their issues to deal with.


6. Give them your attention.

Many ‘parenting experts’ comment that babies and toddlers only behave in a certain way in order to elicit the attention of their parents, like this is a bad thing. Parents are advised to ignore the attention seeking behaviour, when what they really need to do is to see it as a need that should be met.

Our lives are so busy, so full of screens and half hearted “in a minute honey” and “that’s nice dear” comments, so full of rushed bedtimes, meals on the run, clubs, classes and playdates. Our lives are so full of ‘stuff’ – toys, apps and equipment – that our children are growing up ‘stuff rich’ but ‘attention poor’.

If children persisitently act in ways we do not like in order to get our attention – be that hitting, biting, throwing, crying, tantruming, door slamming or sulking – by far the easiest way to distinguish the unwanted behaviour is to give them our undivided attention. Not only does this have untold benefits for our children – but for us too, for it means we slow down and begin to see the wonder in the world once again.

For support in making these resolutions and to learn more about becoming a gentle parent join my Facebook page HERE.

Happy new year!


p.s:  Did you like this post? Want to read more similar content and receive weekly top tips, reader Q&As, hear my take on current parenting research and enter the odd competition? Then why not sign up to my new FREE WEEKLY NEWSLETTER and get the latest in gentle parenting delivered straight to your inbox. I promise I will never share your email with anybody else and if you don’t like what I send you can unsubcribe straight away!

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When Our Guilt Gets in the Way of Better Parenting

I am a parent. I have made mistakes.

These two sentences have always and will always go hand in hand with each other. A vital part of the parenting journey is learning and growing – and we can do neither without making mistakes. Mistakes are an important, indeed crucial, part of parenting – but only when we learn from them.

Only we don’t always do better next time do we? Why? Enter the big ugly monster known as ‘guilt’. Guilt means “Remorseful awareness of having done something wrong“, but I’m not so sure I agree with that. I think sometimes the guilt is so all consumingly overwhelming that the awareness gets buried, at least consciously, because it’s just too painful to be mindful of it.


If we cannot process our guilt and allow it to seep out of our body with grace as easily and quickly as it entered then we remain entrenced in a position of parental suspension. We experience the worst of both worlds, the constant nagging pain reminding us of a decision made at a time when we either didn’t know or couldn’t do better and the inability to move on using the experience to lift us to a new level of awareness.  Many parents remain in this uncomfortable limbo throughout their entire parenting journey and eventually the guilt turns to bitterness which manifests either as an internal attack upon themselves or externalises into criticism of other’s parenting choices. Sadly this criticism usually manifests itself towards those who are closest, friends and family, but they aren’t the real problem – neither is their parenting – the real problem is the uncomfortable feelings these people generate within ‘the guilty ones’, though by this stage they are long past recognising these bitter feelings as their own guilt.

I am a parent. I have made mistakes. I have made parenting choices that I am not proud of now and I would not make again if I knew then what I know now. Everyone has, but I welcome my guilt for it teaches me to be a better parent. When we know better we do better. My own childhood taught me that life is too short for regrets, life is too short to hold onto those feelings that make us feel bad. Life is about living in the now, parenting is about living in the now, not dwelling on what happened yesterday.


If ‘we’ are to change the way society parents, if we are to raise the next generation to be better than our own we have to come to terms with the guilt that parenting brings.  We have to see the guilt for what it really is – an opportunity. An opportunity to learn, grow, change and make tomorrow a better day.

All too often I see parents too consumed by their own guilt, unable to hear truths about the choices they made during their birth or in the early days of parenting their baby. I know it hurts, but we MUST recognise and process our own guilt and we must not let it stand in the way of making a difference for those who follow in our footsteps. Just because a certain piece of information is hurtful for us to hear (whether it be about birth, breastfeeding, sleep training, discipline or something else) we must not be slaves to the guilt, we must use it as a driving force for good, for social change – not just for the good of our children, but for ourselves too, for when we use our guilt in this way it becomes positive, it has a purpose and a funny thing begins to happen – we begin to heal.

We MUST see the bigger picture here. When a piece of research is published that shows that a common parenting practice may cause harm, or may be less positive than we believed when we did it with our own children we must embrace it, no matter how it makes us feel. It’s time to end the cycle of what Dr. Michel Odent calls ‘Cul-de-sac-epidemiology’:

” I call it cul-de-sac epidemiology. This framework includes research about topical issues. Despite the publication of this research in authoritative medical or scientific journals, the findings are shunned by the medical community and the media. Cul-de-sac epidemiological studies are not replicated, even by the original investigators and they are rarely quoted after publication.”

It’s time to stop denying the validity of science because of how it makes us feel. It’s time to move on. It’s time to remove the road blocks of guilt and aim for a wide open highway of parental growth. When we know better, we do better.



p.s:  Did you like this post? Want to read more similar content and receive weekly top tips, reader Q&As, hear my take on current parenting research and enter the odd competition? Then why not sign up to my new FREE WEEKLY NEWSLETTER and get the latest in gentle parenting delivered straight to your inbox. I promise I will never share your email with anybody else and if you don’t like what I send you can unsubcribe straight away!

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The Great Sleep Obsession (The Problem of Modern Day Life versus the Primitive Infant)


No other word can generate such an emotive response in so many parents of young children. The ‘baby sleep industry’ is worth millions of pounds, a myriad of products from pharmaceutical to musical, mechanical and material adorn the shelves of the high street luring in tired new parents with the promise of peaceful nights. Thousands of professionals earn a living from exploiting the vulnerabilities and exhaustion of sleep deprived parents around the world, training babies and toddlers to ‘sleep through the night’. To add to this the media regularly report on surveys showing how the sleepless nights of baby and toddlerdom lead to breakdowns in relationships and now television producers want a slice of the pie with new programmes, like the shockingly awful Bedtime Live, springing up and with no doubt more to come.

Sleep is a big issue in our modern day society and an enticing money-maker. Yet, is our species so flawed that we must forever be destined to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown for the first three years of our offspring’s life? Or does our infant sleep obsession show a more concerning need for a greater understanding of the norms of our evolutionary biology? If parents were truly educated about the sleep behaviours of normal babies and children and the illusion of the perfect ‘contented little baby’ sleeping 12 hours at night by as many weeks was shattered and replaced with realistic, evidence based information then everything would change. It would change how we are with our babies and children, it would change the value of motherhood and it would change the support we give to young families, I do not think I am being over-dramatic to say that in turn it may then just change the world.

Currently, as a society we are not supportive of young families. Only a century ago it was acceptable to be a mother, it was rightly seen as the important job it is. Now we parent miles away from our own families, no longer embraced by a support network. We are under pressure to “have it all” to be a ‘yummy mummy’, with a perfect figure, a perfect house, perfect clothes and a perfect job. It is however, just not possible to live up to this ideal whilst also responding to the normal and natural needs of our infants. Something has to give and sadly, very often, it is the needs of our children. We sleep train our children in order that they fit into our modern lives more easily, we fool ourselves into believing that it is our offspring that have ‘sleep problems’ rather than opening our eyes to the real problem – that is the disharmony between the primal needs of our young and the expectations of the modern world. Who really has the problem?

baby toddler asleep with teddy bear
Babies and toddlers don’t sleep like adults, they wake – lots – and this is perfectly normal.

When a baby is in utero he borrows the circadian rhythms (body clock) of his mother as melatonin is passed to him via the placenta, after birth however, he’s on his own and it takes his body a while to be able to do what his mother’s did. In fact it takes him until at least 4 months to get anywhere close and even longer – until he begins school to really get the same effect. That’s not all though, not only do they lack the hormonal regulators of sleep of an adult, a baby’s sleep cycle is hugely different at about half the length of an adult sleep state. Now this makes perfect biological sense, it keeps our tender young offspring more alert should a predator threaten their life – but what predator will come and gobble them up in their nursery I hear you ask? Nature might be clever, but not quite clever enough to evolve us that quickly, so – for now – we still possess the same innate responses that kept our hunter gatherer predecessors safe. Imagine then that a baby goes through a sleep cycle twice as quickly as an adult, that means they wake at least twice as much as us during the night, in fact they move into a light sleep state around once every 25 minutes. That means the likelihood of waking fully every 25minutes if something alerts them.

In addition to this babies and toddlers have a hugely underdeveloped neocortex in comparison to an adult’s brain, this frontal section of the brain, responsible for rational and analytical thought as well as the regulation of emotional responses, means that they do not yet possess the skill of emotional self-regulation, or as the sleep trainers like to call it the skill of “self-soothing”. The ‘self-soothing’ referred to in mainstream books is anything but that, it is a myth – a myth perpetuated to make parents feel better about ignoring their baby’s needs. The real key to boost emotional self-regulation in an infant is to be responsive to him when he needs it, so that in time, when the brain connectivity matures it will hardwire the pathways necessary for true ‘self-soothing’.

Modern day science supports the notion that our sleep expectations are anything but realistic, with recent research suggesting that at least a third of 15 month olds still wake regularly and the concept of ‘sleeping through the night’ not being a reality for most children until they are over 2 years of age. If sleepless nights are still so common in toddlerdom why do we consider it a problem if our babies and toddlers do not sleep all night? Why do so many enquire about our baby and toddler’s sleeping habits and suggest methods that do not meet the needs of our children in an attempt to ‘fix’ their sleeping problems? Indeed even the NHS website recommends controlled crying. Contradicting themselves with the sentence “By the time your child is six months old, it’s reasonable to expect them to sleep through most nights. However, up to half of all children under five go through periods of night waking.” Surely if as many as half of all children under five go through periods of night waking then night waking in children must be normal and not really a “common sleep problem” at all?

Sadly we have such incorrect expectations of normal infant behaviour in society, we try to fix babies, we sleep train them, we wean them early, we give them ‘hungry baby’ formula to make them sleep for longer and we follow routines of baby experts to train them to ‘sleep through’. However it isn’t our babies who have ‘sleep problems’. They are sleeping normally; quite simply they “sleep like a baby”.

Rather than fixing our babies and toddlers isn’t it time we looked to fix ourselves?

bcsleepIf we have realistic expectations we realise that what we really need is not to train our babies and toddlers, but build a network of support once again for parents, a ‘village’ as some say. The issue really is a problem belonging to adults and society, what really needs fixing? We need to respect what a huge job parenting is and we need to support mothers as much as possible so that they can concentrate on the most important thing they will ever do – raising their babies. How do we return respect to motherhood and provide that most needed support and value that I’m sure we must once have had? How do we get our leaders and policy makers to understand that what families really need is support to be just that – a family. We need to firstly begin with a change in expectations; here we are lucky that science is on our side, someday soon it will be impossible to ignore the research any longer. As mothers we also have the opportunity to gently re-educate from a grass roots level, I call it ‘The Maternal Revolution’, the revolution of giving back power to mothers, when the mothers of the world reclaim their power I believe they can do anything. Will you join the revolution?

The NEWLY UPDATED Gentle Sleep Book – out now! If you would like to understand and learn how to improve your baby, toddler, or pre-schooler’s sleep WITHOUT cry-based conventional sleep training, this is the book for you!


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

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

If you’re new to Gentle Parenting and would like to learn more about the specifics, then my Gentle Parenting Book is a good place to start. It covers 0-7yrs.




p.s: Come and chat with me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram You can also sign up for my free weekly parenting newsletter HERE.


Help – My 4-5 Month Old Is Sleeping Like a Newborn Again (AKA ‘The 4-5 month old babies from hell’)

If you asked me what point of parenting I found the hardest (excluding tweenhood, because that’s a WHOLE other ball game, whoah have you got fun to come!) it would have to be 4 and 5 months. I’ve always found the newborn period pretty easy, I think in part to the hideous morning sickness, PGP and insomnia I experience during pregnancy meaning that even 3hrs of broken sleep at night is an improvement on my pregnancy sleep, plus you get lots of lovely warm squishy cuddles and an immobile baby who’s content with his or her world revolving around your chest not needing anything else. I enjoy toddlerdom too I love that willful curiosity and the real emergence of personality (despite the sudocrem smeared on the sofas, unrolling of toilet roll and emptying of baby wipe packets that occurs on an almost daily basis), but oh 4-5 months that is a period I **HATE** with a passion (yes I did say that, me the supposed ‘baby expert’, I willingly confess to hating being a mother to a 4 or 5 month old baby!). It is, without a doubt, the hardest stage of parenting a baby or toddler and I have struggled with each of my four children.


So what happens at 4 and 5 months? You’ve just settled into a routine, both day and night. Your little one may be sleeping stretches of 4 or 5 hours at night (or if you’re lucky, even longer!), you’ve got some semblance of normality back in the daytime too. Your house may be resurfacing from the bomb site it became during the newborn days when you didn’t have the time or energy to even plug the hoover in (unless it was used as white noise to get the baby to sleep!), you’ve started to eat better, maybe exercise a little too, heck you may even have started to brush your hair and put on lipstick, yep – you’ve got this parenting thing sorted, you’re emerging from the fog of the fourth trimester and you’re feeling good (particularly when it comes to your little one’s sleep!) ………and then it happens…………..your baby doesn’t sleep, that smile that you’ve come to love, it doesn’t happen very often now, your baby is always grouchy and unsettled, they cry to be picked up constantly (much more than they did as a newborn) but when you pick them up they’re not happy and squirm around on your lap. What the hell went wrong?! To add to this their dribble is akin to Niagara falls and they ram everything they touch into their mouth, teething? Surely not (the answer is probably not by the way!).

….and you know what’s worse? You’re not special anymore. The interest in your baby has waned now they’re not a newborn anymore, the congratulations cards have long since been taken down, the petals on the flowers relegated to the compost heap, the visitors have stopped coming which is a good job really as they only comment about teething and “you really should be giving her proper food by now, you need to wean, that’s why she’s not sleeping”. The midwives have long since discharged you from their care and you only see the health visitor (who tells you that you’re making a rod for your own back and that you need to sleep train using controlled crying/CIO and *never* let your baby fall asleep in your arms) if you go to baby clinic. No, mothers of 4 or 5 month old babies are not special, they are ‘old hands’ and expected to get on with it without the help that was offered in the newborn period.

So, why are 4 and 5 month old babies such hard work? Developmentally so much is happening. I always used to look at my babies at that age and feel so sorry for them, they were so much more alert, understanding so much of the world now, but their bodies were still effectively pretty useless, they couldn’t sit unaided, couldn’t crawl, couldn’t stand – “the mind is willing but the body is weak” was a phrase that came to mind, imagine the sheer frustration! It may be hard parenting a 4 or 5 month old, but imagine how hard it is to BE a 4 or 5 month old?!

Baby crying, mother in background

So much happens developmentally at 4 or 5 months, physically babies become so much stronger and more able to do things such as grasp and move their body with purpose and their hand-eye coordination really picks up a gear. The world takes on a whole new sensory quality as their vision and sensory processing matures. One of the most sensory areas of a baby’s body is their mouth – which is why *everything* gets put in there and why many mistakenly think their baby is ready for weaning and/or teething, babies put keys in their mouth, does it mean they want to eat them? The ‘putting everything in their mouth’ stage is a normal developmental one. I’m not saying your baby isn’t teething, they may well be, but the constant putting things in their mouth isn’t a sign, neither is it necessarily a sign of readiness for weaning. At this stage babies become so much more aware of their surroundings and that includes recognising people (and the opposite! ever wondered why your newborn was happy to be passed around to complete strangers as a baby, but now isn’t happy with anyone apart from you?). Language acquisition really kicks in too with the emergence of babbling. All this in just a few short weeks, imagine how exhausting and confusing that must be for your baby.


I always liken the 4-5mth experience for a baby as akin to you emigrating to Africa. Imagine moving somewhere with an entirely different climate, a different language and different food – in fact *everything* is different. It would freak you out wouldn’t it? All this change, all at once. How might it affect you? Well you might want to cling to those you love or those things that remind you of home, you’d probably be pretty cranky in this new overwhelming world of change and your sleep is probably most likely to be seriously affected – with all these thoughts running through your mind it would be mighty hard to switch off, especially when you do finally get to sleep and then wake up in strange surroundings only two hours later. Just for 5 minutes try to imagine how your baby is feeling with all of these changes, imagine how overwhelmed he is – now – should you listen to your mother in law or health visitor and start weaning him, introducing yet something else new into his life? Or should you start sleep training? Leaving him to cry by himself when what he really needs is you to help comfort him and be his ‘constant’. The key really is to CHANGE NOTHING. This too will pass.

The secret to surviving the 4 to 5 month old babies from hell? Well that secret is you. It’s what *you* do during these long 8 weeks, what support will you have? Who will you ask to help you? Who will you ask to support you whilst you are busy being there for your baby? How will you put as much of your life on hold for the next few short weeks whilst you help your baby to navigate this critical period of their development? What steps will you take to help you to cope with the transient sleepless nights?

This stage WILL pass, I promise, six month old babies are a dream, the fun of weaning, the babbling, the real emergence of personality, the ability to sit upright unaided and amuse themselves for more than 10 seconds and SLEEP…….sweet, sweet sleep…(I’m not talking ‘sleeping through the night’ here by the way, that’s pretty unusual for any child under 2 years old…I’m talking no more waking every 2hourly!). THIS TOO WILL PASS.

The NEWLY UPDATED Gentle Sleep Book – out now! If you would like to understand and learn how to improve your baby, toddler, or pre-schooler’s sleep WITHOUT cry-based conventional sleep training, this is the book for you!


p.s: Come and chat with me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram 

Or watch my videos on YouTube

You can also sign up for my free parenting newsletter HERE.

Taming Toddler Tantrums? It’s Common SENSE!

I do love an acronym and this one came to me in my (almost) sleep last night, as do most of my writing ideas (frustratingly!). So I’d like to introduce you to my super easy to use common SENSE (© Ockwell-Smith 2013!) acronym for coping with toddler tantrums, whatever their cause, wherever you are.  I hope it helps.



If your toddler has a tantrum, hits, bites or throws the most important thing to think about is safety – their own safety, your own and those around you. Before you do anything else make sure that your toddler is not in immediate danger (away from a busy road etc..) and is not likely to hurt anybody around them (this could mean moving away from others/objects).


Once you have dealt with the immediate safety issues it’s time to empathise with your toddler. WHY are they having these big emotions that they can’t control? What has triggered them? How are they feeling? (usually pretty awful, scared and out of control) – try to understand what is upsetting your toddler and let them know that you are hearing them. Remember they are not acting this way to give you are hard time, they are having a hard time!


Help your toddler to understand what they are feeling by naming their emotions, this will help with the empathy point above and will also help your toddler to learn to understand their emotions and hopefully progress towards verbally communicating their needs as they develop a little more. “I can see you are very angry that the little boy took your toy from you”, “You are sad that it is time for us to leave the park and go home”, “You were scared when the girl ran over and grabbed your hand” and so on.


Your toddler is not yet capable of emotional self regulation, they generate lots of big feelings, yet their brain is not yet sufficiently mature enough to diffuse them, they need your help for that! Most mainstream toddler taming methods, such as the naughty step and time out, mistakenly believe that a toddler has the brain development necessary for emotional self regulation and reflection – they don’t. At best these methods work as a form of conditioning and ‘learned helplessness’ (i.e: the behaviour is eventually – usually temporarily – extinguished because the toddler learns that there is no point in crying, all that will happen is they are left on the step alone, without their needs met).

Drawing on the empathy point above it is your job as a adult, to step in and offer your more mature capabilities of emotional regulation and soothing to help your toddler to calm down. Think of a toddler having a tantrum like a pot of water boiling over with nobody available to turn the gas off. Your role here is too turn the gas off and mop up the ‘mess’ (the tears and stress)  when the water stops boiling over.

Some toddlers will appreciate a big hug, others need their space initially – but offer your help “I can see you are having lots of big feeling, I’m here for you when you need me, please let me know if you’d like a hug”. Be ready to support with listening ears and open arms (and forgiving heart) when your toddler is ready.


Exchanging is all about offering alternatives that are more acceptable to you (and society). Offer your toddler a more acceptable choice, exchanging the unacceptable for the acceptable “I can see you want to play with water, we can in the sink instead of pouring water on the floor”, “I know you’re hungry, we can’t eat food in the supermarket before we’ve paid for it, so I can’t let you eat the bread, but I have a banana in my bag for you”. “We don’t bite people, it hurts, but you can bite this teething toy instead”, “We don’t hit people, it hurts, but you can hit your special angry cushion” and so on.

I can’t promise these 5 simple tips will work *instant* magic, but they will have a positive effect in the long term, you will find tantrums easier to deal with and in time they will lessen too.


If you enjoyed this article you can read more discipline tips in my Gentle Discipline book, available HERE in the UK, HERE in the USA, HERE in Canada and HERE rest of the world.



p.s: Come and chat with me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram You can also sign up for my free weekly parenting newsletter HERE.