Gentle Parenting: What Is It, What It Looks Like + 5 Pillars Of The Concept
Parenting trends, oh they certainly come and go: Helicopter parenting became snowplow parenting. Mindful parenting became free-range parenting became independent parenting. What's the next "craze" people are buzzing about? It's a concept called gentle parenting.
And, well, you might already be doing it. Here, we explain what it means, what the pillars are, and the various pitfalls.
What is gentle parenting?
This trend is rooted in building a strong relationship with the parents and child, where they are open to chatting about feelings, expectations, wants, needs, self-regulation, and reasonable discipline. We also call it a "trend" as it's not a documented concept rooted in research; it is instead a way for people to express and talk about parenting choices in an easy way.
However, as Aliza Pressman, Ph.D., co-founding director and director of clinical programming for the Mount Sinai Parenting Center, notes, gentle parenting is really just another variation of authoritative parenting. She notes you don't need to get caught up in the semantics of this, as it's really all the same concept: You want to raise a kid with sensitivity and warmth while also measuring out reasonable expectations and boundaries.
"Any of these trends is not necessarily better than the others; it's a lot of semantics," she says. "If it works for you, and it improves your relationship with your child, then that's great."
Another thing to note: Gentle parenting is also highly culture-dependent. Being "gentle" to children in one family or culture might look different from another. That's OK.
Pillars of gentle parenting:
1. It's about bonding with their kid.
At its core, gentle parenting is about the bond a parent makes with their kid. As licensed psychologist Nicole Beurkens, Ph.D., CNS, tells us, "Gentle parenting is also sometimes referred to as attachment parenting or positive discipline, and its focus is on the parent-child relationship as key to helping children develop internal self-control and the ability to regulate emotions and behaviors. In practice it looks like parents spending time talking with children about options, feelings, and challenges—as opposed to imposing rigid expectations or consequences."
2. Using autonomy and choice.
This part is about seeing a child as a person, worthy of feelings and emotions. "Some of the key components are treating the child as the parent would want to be treated, including allowing for autonomy and choice; understanding that behavior is always rooted in some kind of need or underlying issue—and seeking to understand the child's perspective before making assumptions about their emotions or behavior," says Beurkens. "Giving children the freedom to make choices and learn from them; open communication; respect for all members of the family; problem-solving when challenges arise; addressing things in playful ways when appropriate."
3. Not using punishment as a way to discipline.
Instead of dishing harsh repercussions for kids, they focus on moving away from punishment toward learning from the child's mistake and figuring out how they want to make up for their actions. "This tends to have better behavior outcomes for kids," says Pressman.
What does this look like in action? A recent psychologist-approved alternative to timeout is a good place to start: Instead of putting kids in an isolated space as punishment, this idea (from TikTok user Maarte Mami in a widely shared recent video) instead allows kids to explore their negative feelings in a safe space (in this case a comfy corner of the home) with tools that can help them process.
4. Being mindful of the way you use praise.
"Using praise as a motivator certainly works for kids sometimes," says Pressman. "But you want to be careful that you're not overpraising them in an attempt to build confidence, as it undermines their confidence. Kids learn to think that they need outside validation to feel good about themselves, or they feel the need to always get praise."
5. Allowing kids to be part of the parenting process.
This one really goes back to choices: If you want your child to grow up a self-sufficient kid, you need to let them know they have choices in matters big and small. Yes, this includes day-to-day hassles and chores.
"If a child refuses to clean up his toys, a gentle parenting approach could involve making a statement about the toys getting cleaned up so everyone can enjoy the room and then giving the child some time and space to decide how to manage the situation," says Beurkens. "If the child refuses, the parent might then sit with the child (either at that moment or a later time when calm) to discuss how the child is feeling and what solution might work for everyone."
What are the downsides?
"It can easily move into the area of no boundaries, so that's what you want to be careful of," says Pressman. In an attempt to be gentle with your child, you may feel that any sign of distress, expectation, or so on is you not acting "gentle," which is a trap Pressman warns about.
And also be careful about your needs too—part of being a "gentle" parent is being gentle with yourself. In an attempt to be so focused on the child, parents may stop paying attention to their own needs.
Gentle parenting as a phrase may be a "trend," but the concept is rooted in practices experts have been discussing for years—and parents themselves may already be practicing. The end goal of gentle parenting is to foster a strong relationship with the child based on trust, growth, and safety.
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