One of the biggest assumptions I hear about gentle parenting is that you are a push-over whose trying to be your kid’s best friend. I can admit I have had times where I would get slightly defensive about that assumption because it doesnt ring true for me. Gentle parenting is one of the best decisions I made and it improved my parenting. Of course everything isnt for everybody but it is being talked about more than it has in past years; which is a great thing.
I’m sure many of us were raised in the era of “do what I say because I am the adult and you are the child” or something close to the sort. I am also sure some of us grew up in the era of spankings solving the case to all behavioral issues.
I know traditionally the authoritative approach is deemed “best,” but my oldest taught me a few years ago that there isnt one linear parenting style; and everything doesnt work for every child. That was mind blowing to me.
If you are reading this and already thinking this is a preface to excuse behaviors that should be corrected; or this will serve as an explanation for why we shouldnt correct our children – you are in the right place.
I will add this post isnt means to degrade individual’s choice in parenting style; but it is means to address assumptions and give information on Gentle Parenting.
So lets start from the top…
What is Gentle Parenting?
Gentle parenting surrounds the ideals of empathy, communication, respect and partnership between parent and child.
Gentle Parenting is not permissive parenting. Gentle parents just tend choose their boundaries wisely with the neurological capabilities of their child in mind.
If you are a book worm, a really good introduction to Gentle Parenting is The Whole-Brain Child
Most parents demand respect from their children, yet few truly respect their children in turn. I think often the mistake of viewing a child as “less than” plays a factor. We can tend to forget our children are human beings just like us, we are here to guide without dictation ; and this includes respecting them. If parents respect their children and most importantly their child’s unique feelings and personality, then the child in turn is more likely to respect the parent. It is impossible to command true respect from somebody via fear or a mis-balance of power. Think of the people you most respect in your life, how did they gain your respect? Did they demand it, or did they earn it? Did they respect you? Do famous dictators really command respect? Or do people follow them out of fear?
Once a child respects you they become intrinsically drawn to want to help you and to keep you happy. Just as you desire to help and make happy those you respect and like.
It definitely helps to understand child development ; and you dont need a degree to so. I personally have come acquire alot of information about child development due to my oldest being on the Autism spectrum with ADHD and an anxiety disorder. My son’s therapist explained that all children are naturally impulsive until roughly age 9 or a bit older due to their frontal lobe still developing. This was a game changer for me because I used to battle with my frustrations because my son was extremely impulsive. I found myself doing time outs or taking toys away and nothing was changing. When I realized this was something all children grow through, I ditched time outs and focused more on his coping skills. The root of most of his impulsivity was connected to his social skills – wanting to be around others but not knowing how to interact and react in social settings. I started paying attention to what triggered his impulses and giving him advice on how to handle things when he got upset, frustrated or sad.
This snippet of my personal experience ties into a part of Gentle Parenting’s foundational core:
Most difficult parenting situations arise because the child’s needs are misunderstood, mainly because most popular parenting methods consider young children “manipulative” or “naughty”. If the parent takes time to consider the child’s feelings and the root cause of their misbehavior, in most cases it becomes obvious that the child’s behaviour is a sign of distress, unease, anxiety or fear. Once the true feeling and cause behind a behavior has been identified it can be dealt with and ultimately the reasoning behind the ‘bad behavior’ is better understood, and the perception changes from negative to positive. If parents only respond to the behavior without empathy, the root cause is never dealt with and the behavior will either continue or will manifest in another undesirable behavior as time progresses.
The human brain is not fully developed until the child enters their third decade of life. In regard to children, their neurological functioning means that they dont see the world in the same way as us, they do not have the same control over their behavior, the same ‘self soothing’ skills, the same empathy skills, or the same abstract thinking skills as adults. This means that our expectations of what is normal and what is problematic behaviour cant be the same as they would be for our fellow adult peers.
Expectations such as when children should share, when children should sit still and quietly, when children should cease tantruming and when children should sleep through the night change when parents understand some simple brain biology. With these new expectations and understanding it becomes far easier to parent our children.
So what do I do if my child should be corrected?
Do exactly that. “Discipline” means to teach but society has essentially given it this negative connotation. To discipline a child means to teach them the qualities you most want them to have in life. If you want a child to be a free-thinker, should you really discipline them for questioning an instruction you give? Positive discipline nourishes the traits you would like your child to develop as they grow while helping them to understand how to display them in an appropriate and socially acceptable way.
Gentle Parenting discipline is done with the aim of teaching the child and also with their level of brain development in mind. What does a two-year old learn when they bite another child and are forced to sit in time-out for two minutes? Their brains are not developed enough for empathy or analytical thought so they cannot consider how the other child feels, or that what they did was ‘wrong’. Instead they sit on the step quietly for two minutes, because they learn that if they sit still and quietly they will eventually be allowed off of the step. No change has happened in their motivation. They may still bite again.
I used to the time out Queen until I began researching Gentle Parenting and came across The Trouble With Time-Outs by Deborah MacNamara. I felt thats what was done to me so that certainly has to be the quick fix to correcting my child’s age appropriate behaviors. This only caused frustration with seeing no change in anything; he would do his time and repeat the same things he was being punished for.
So I focused on communication; and it was (and still is) very repetitive. Making sure there is complete understanding on why a behavior should change and ways to change it – whilst preserving my child’s emotions. I never wanted to be the parent that scared my kid into listening to me. I personally dont spank because I feel it doesnt teach anything ; it just makes a child afraid to repeat an offense so they wont be hit. Dr. MacNamara’s explanation on how time outs are variants of ostracization also hit home for me as well. I didnt want my child feeling like I was so upset with him that he couldnt be around me and the family for a bit. I adopted the “lets talk and move on” approach. I wanted communication to be open on both sides, so we both got clear understandings in situations; and then we moved on from it. This helped my son realize he is able to communicate with me even if he was in the wrong for something; and that once it was dealt with – it was over. This improved our communication drastically.
If you are wondering how one could decipher the true root of a child’s behavior instead of assuming the traditional negative that brings me to the last point:
4 Functions of Behavior
I shared about this briefly in one of my first blog posts, My Journey as a Mother to a Special Needs Child. This is where your roots are. When a child acts out or misbehaves, the biggest mistake is to assume it intentional and/or manipulative behavior. Mis-behavior is almost often connected to a true source of an underlying cause or need that the parent takes time to understand.
My son used to elope. When he didnt want to do something ; he would dart off. In school, he would run out of his class, then find somewhere and just sit until the staff found him.
Omg that is NOT safe! You are right, it isnt. I take safety very seriously and we had some serious conversations about running off. However I put alot of my energy in figuring out WHY he was eloping.
With Gentle Parenting, parents focus more on the WHY than the reactionary behavior. Note that just because most of our focus isnt on the latter, that doesnt mean the reactionary behavior is dismissed. It simply means we get to the root of the behavior so we can prevent it from happening again.
So often traditionally the root causes of behavior arent paid as much attention to because the reactionary behavior takes the spotlight. We focus more on what the child did, instead of why.
Elopement is a form of Escapist behavior; one of the 4 functions of behavior. My child eloped from class when it was time for Math. We went on to figure out while he is very good at Math, the harder the work got, the more anxious he got. He wasnt eloping because he was being “naughty”, he was eloping because he felt Math was too hard. He figured if he left class, he wouldnt have to do it. Now to an adult that doesnt make sense ; but to a (then) 5 year old it made all the sense in the world.
We spent alot of time working on him with Math and building his confidence up – and he doesnt elope anymore (this wasnt a quick this was 7 months of hard work). Implementing the core factors of Gentle Parenting helped prevent me from focusing solely on the negative behavior and instead getting to the root of why it was being done.
Those who think this is an easy , friend based parenting style are mistaken. Gentle Parenting is VERY hard; it requires soo much repetition and patience. Its also hard especially if you were raised in a traditionally authoritative household. It can be a struggle to essentially undo the traditional things you experienced or have picked up on.
Gentle parents still make mistakes, just like their children, they are learning too. The key here is to learn from the experience, forgive yourself, apologize to your child if necessary, take time for ‘self nurturance’ and promise to do better tomorrow. I have apologized to my child, I have had days where I needed to take a break to collect myself and remember to match my expectations to his development, to have empathy so I can understand what he needs and where I need to support him.
Are we friends? No.
Does he walk all over me? No.
Does he realize I respect him for the human being he is, that I will set reasonable boundaries, hold him accountable when necessary and communicate calmly to assist and guide him to adulthood? Yes.
Gentle Parenting isnt for everyone but it works for my household. In modern motherhood its seemingly becoming more popular ; if you are interested in more info my favorite links and books are listed below:
Making Sense of Kids through Developmental Science
Rest, Play, Grow: Making Sense of Preschoolers (Or Anyone Who Acts Like One)
Beyond Behaviors: Using Brain Science and Compassion to Understand and Solve Children’s Behavioral Challenges
No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind