What Is Gentle Parenting?

What is Gentle Parenting? I get asked this a lot, or worse yet, I don’t get asked and people just assume things that are entirely untrue. Not that I am particularly concerned with what people think about my parenting. However, if I’m being perfectly honest I do care, at least a little bit. More importantly, I want people to understand! I want people to know the positive benefits of being a more gentle parent, to our children, families, and to ourselves.

Many people want to know, what exactly is gentle parenting and why is it so important to me? Let me start off by first explaining what gentle parenting is NOT.

Gentle Parenting is NOT permissive parenting.

Gentle Parenting is NOT the same thing as attachment parenting.

Gentle Parenting is NOT “helicopter” parenting.

and Gentle Parenting is NOT “coddling” or “overprotective” parenting.

Gentle Parenting, simply stated, is a philosophy that focuses on respect, empathy, and responsiveness. Gentle Parenting includes philosophies on positive discipline and setting boundaries that guide children to make positive decisions and ultimately to make their own choices to do the right thing. Versus punitive punishment – which only teaches children to obey, for the sake of obeying.

Gentle Parenting is the opposite of permissive parenting. Gentle Parenting actually takes a whole lot more of an emotional investment than the “traditional” styles of parenting that involve swift “correction” or “punishment” for any bad behavior that parents deem inappropriate. Gentle Parenting has a long-term view on parenting, and contrary to popular belief does not make children into disrespectful, self-absorbed little brats who think they can do whatever they want. Gentle parenting relies on developing a relationship with our children, connecting with them, empathizing with their feelings, and helping to teach THEM to make better choices on their own. Sure, the threat of consequences might make someone stop a behavior in the short-run, but are they truly learning why it is wrong? Helping children to grow into adults who choose not to commit crimes and treat people with love and respect out of a personal desire to do what is right, versus a fear of repercussions or jail-time. When a child misbehaves, a permissive parent lets them continue on for fear of hurting their feelings or making them cry. This is not what gentle parenting is about. Gentle parenting requires that the parent get down on the child’s level, connect with them, correct their behavior, and redirect them to something more acceptable. Therefore, helping the child to truly learn why the behavior is wrong, and what they should be doing. Setting boundaries and helping children to learn their limits if of the utmost importance, for all parents. Being a “gentle parent” does not mean your children are exempt from these boundaries and limits, it just means they are not forced into “instant obedience” out of fear of punishment. Instead, they are given a chance to learn from their behavior and therefore correct it – of their own accord.

Gentle Parenting does in fact borrow some concepts from “attachment parenting”, but at the end of the day the two are not the same thing. Attachment parenting is a specific “style” of parenting. Gentle parenting does not quite fit into that same neat little box. Gentle Parenting is not a “style” of parenting it is a way of life. Very simply put, is about using your own parental instincts and taking a more gentle approach to all of the things that being a parent throws at us. It is true that developing a securely attached relationship with our children is incredibly important, and many attachment parenting principals are great at helping families to do that. However, there are a number of ways to develop securely attached relationships with our children, so long as we learn to focus on respect, empathy, responsiveness, and intuition. Parents who practice attachment parenting are in fact gentle parents, however gentle parents do not have to practice “attachment parenting”. You follow?

“Helicopter” parenting is an unfortunate side effect of the common misbelief  that gentle parenting or attachment parenting is meant in the most literal sense of the word. Meaning parents remain constantly physically “attached” to their children without any regard to their personal preferences or desires. True respectful, empathic, and responsive gentle parenting  takes into account what the child wants and needs from the parent at all times. Day and night. Sometimes, children want to be given the freedom to explore and play. Keeping a child wrapped up tightly in a sling or carrier out of principal is absurd. Children need to run and play and experience the world. Children need the freedom to learn from their mistakes on their own – but in their own time, and when THEY decide they are ready, not the parent.

Most commonly people assume that “gentle parents” are “coddling” and “overprotective” which in return ends up turning their children into spoiled little narcissists who end up as wimpy losers who live in their parent’s basement. As if somehow loving and respecting your children too much makes them wimpy winers, but that is another topic in which I will not dive into yet. Gentle parenting really has nothing to do with “coddling”. Sure, there are some parents who coddle their children who also happen to call themselves “gentle” or “attachment” style parents. However, the same can be said for any other “type” of parent. In my opinion, “coddling” is more about a parent struggling to fulfill their own unmet emotional needs.. Often times it is related to their desire to feel “needed”. When children start to pull away, they pull them back. This can happen to any kind of parent, gentle, strict, authoritarian, attachment, and sadly even abusive parents. At the end of the day it really has nothing to do with gentle parenting at all. As a parent, I hope to be that “safe place” or source of comfort. If that means nursing through the night because my son needs me, or being there for a cuddle when he is scared, that is where I will be. There will come a day in which he will no longer need me, and when he is ready I will let him go, but until that day comes I will be here. Call it what you want I suppose. To me, that is not and never will be “coddling”.

Gentle parenting allows parents to teach their children by example how they should treat others. Which is why Gentle Parenting is so much more than just a parenting style. Developing a securely attached relationship with our children is only one aspect of a journey towards being a more gentle parent. Gentle parenting is also (and arguably even more so) about learning to be more gentle with all of the people in our lives, including ourselves. Gentle parenting forces us to take a long hard look at our own behavior. It forces us to see the things in ourselves that we don’t wish to pass on to our children. It requires a whole lot of honesty, and humility, to accept how wrong we have been. Modeling good behavior forces parents to practice what they preach, as well as to apologize when they fail. Unfortunately, the “do as I say not as I do” approach has never been effective. Doing something (or not doing something) simply to receive a reward or because you are afraid of the consequences does not mean that a child is disciplined. It means they have learned to dance for a cookie. While helping children to be internally motivated to do the right thing might take more time and effort – in the long-run it is well worth it.

Gentle Parenting is a state of mind. Something we strive to BE, not something we do. There is no rule book, and there are no “steps” to follow. It is as much about respecting our children as human beings (not pets to be “trained” at our every whim), as it is about respecting others. It’s about modeling to our children what respect is, not expecting it without giving it in return. Respect is earned, and you cannot FORCE someone to respect you. They need a reason to, so give your children one.