In the recent years we’ve seen a sort of revolution in people’s approach to parenting that looks very different than the no nonsense style of raising children that many of our own parents brought us up according to in the 80’s and 90’s. I’m referring to what is commonly known as gentle parenting. Gentle parenting is a parenting style that promotes an empathetic relationship with your children based on willingness and choices, rather than demands and rules made by a parent. The parenting style is meant to instill a desire to do good or right in the child via positive reinforcement and patience as opposed to fear and punishment.
Parenting expert Sarah Ockwell-Smith is an advocate of gentle parenting and author of The Gentle Parenting Book. Sarah says: ‘Gentle parenting isn’t really about using specific methods. It’s about an ethos and completely changing the way you think. It’s more a way of being than a way of doing. Approaching any and all parenting situations with empathy for the child and trying to understand the reasonings behind their behavior, working together to change it positively and accepting what cannot be changed.’ This parenting technique inevitably creates more calm adults as they attempt to calm their riled-up children. This can’t come easy to people who were raised quite differently as it is instinct to do what you know, but with an intentional sense of self awareness and awareness of where one’s children’s actions and feelings really stem from, a parent can evolve past their own childhood experience and pave the way for a new way of doing things.
There are four crucial components of accomplishing this: empathy, respect, understanding and boundaries. Which let’s face it, the whole world could use more of. In regards to being empathic with one’s approach to parenting, you have to first grasp that a lack of understanding is often what makes a difficult situation that much harder to navigate. So, by first slowing down our instinct to react and taking the time to ask a couple of questions to understand what it is that caused a child’s misbehavior can move things along so much quicker and can often prevent a repeat of the ordeal in the future. This effort will even lead to the child respecting the parent for their genuine effort. In most parent child relationships, respect is expected from children without any effort from the parents simply based on the fact that they are the adult. However, the gentle parenting requires respect to be earned through parents respecting their child’s feelings and personalities, and over time a child will learn to respect their parent.
Empathy and respect being practiced in tense situations can lead to children understanding the parents’ motivation for setting boundaries as well as parents understanding that children are not fully developed and therefore do not have the same control over their actions. With this in mind, parents can learn to change their expectations of what is ‘normal’ or bad behavior. This is important when a child is having a hard time behaving. Surely everyone remembers the banter of asking their parents “why” when they were told to do something a certain way and only getting “because I said so” in response.
Gentle parenting may be viewed as some as a very relaxed approach however it actually takes quite a bit of work, as well as time to accomplish the desired outcome. It’s a little bit like reparenting your own self. For instance, when you’re frustrated with how your child is acting, before you react, stop and ask yourself if how you’re behaving is really what you want to teach your child. If they have done something inappropriate, do you really want to yell at them to get it right or punish them, inevitably teaching them that yelling is how to resolve situations, or do you want to teach them how to stay calm and problem solve? If we were all to adopt this technique in our own families and relationships, we’d end up being surrounded by kinder more respectful people, who are confident in their abilities to set and respect boundaries.