Articles for the time-poor parent who just wants...
The media and the ‘mummy blogosphere’ have birthed countless parenting styles. "Gentle parenting" is a relatively recent parenting style that has more staying power than most. TikTok is awash with gentle parenting advice, and everyone wants to know more.
What is it? Is it good or bad? Does it work or is it a waste?
With gentle parenting, traditional authoritarian methods are out. Compassion and emotional literacy are in.
Old-school parenting focused on behaviour and used rewards or punishments to “motivate” compliance.
Gentle parenting elevates emotions, relationships and understanding a child's needs.
Gentle parents see challenging behaviour as a stress response; a reaction to unmet needs (not wants). Their goal: address the underlying emotional needs.
If you’re a gentle parent you’re guaranteed to be accused of coddling and bubble-wrapping your child. She’ll be “too precious” according to the naysayers. Outsiders see a gentle approach as permissive.
But gentle parenting is really about three things:
1. Respect for the child as a real person whose feelings (and hopes and dreams and challenges) are as real as our own
2. Empathy and Understanding
3. Boundaries that, to the greatest degree possible, are self-determined by the child.
But it’s hard to do. Life is fast-paced. Elevating children’s emotional needs and desire for autonomy doesn’t always fit into a tight schedule. And plenty of people argue that they never got this kind of attention as a child but they “turned out fine”.
Gentle parenting is really about emphasising the relationship so a child feels safe. With safety comes self-regulation. And this takes time. When a child's nervous system is in distress, gentle (or perhaps a better word is responsive) parenting is about helping them move from the "red zone" (high stress) to the "green zone" (calmness). This can be achieved by reducing stimulation and customising calming techniques based on the child's sensory systems. It’s hard to do this in a time-crunch situation.
Does it work?
To date, gentle parenting is yet to be academically defined, studied, analysed, and reported on. It’s still in the realms of the mum-bloggers and influencers.
Rather than emphasising a social-media parenting style, let’s stick with evidence. Need-supportive parenting encourages a gentle approach that:
1. Builds relationships through healthy and supportive involvement
2. Creates competence through developing structures and frameworks to guide effective behaviour, and
3. Promotes autonomy by focusing on supporting self-determination in children.
This responsive, gentle approach incorporates gentle parenting characteristics but adds depth and evidence-based engagement. And this has a positive impact on a child's resilience. When parents respond effectively to a child's emotional needs, it creates an environment where the child can work through challenging situations with a calm and regulated nervous system. It enhances their capacity to manage emotions and develop self-regulation over time.
In a world where emotions are contagious, practising responsive parenting styles can lead to healthier and more cooperative interactions with children. While it may seem labour-intensive at first, with practice, it becomes a natural and more efficient way to address children's needs and support their emotional development. And in the end, responsive parenting can foster stronger connections, build resilience, and create more harmonious relationships within the family.
The Happy Families Podcast
Episode #706 | Gentle Parenting: Is It a Fad or Fabulous?