There are so many different types of parenting that it can be hard to keep track—attachment, authoritative, peaceful—but the most important thing is finding out which style (or combination) works best for you and your little one. And now there's talk of another parenting technique worth considering: gentle parenting. It may sound a bit counterintuitive based on the name, since let's be honest, all parents should be gentle when it comes to their tinies, but bear with us.
"Although attachment parenting and gentle parenting can be complementary, attachment parenting is a style of parenting following specific principles, whereas I see 'gentle parenting' as just a way of being that has no bearing on making specific choices to be in line with a certain style," says Sarah Ockwell-Smith, a parenting expert and author of educational childcare books like The Gentle Parenting Book. Below, keep reading to see the main tenets of this parenting technique, plus why some parents find it so effective.
Gentle parenting is not just about letting your toddler throw a tantrum—it's all about digging deeper to find the root as to why they're unhappy in the first place. It places an emphasis on treating your child as you would want to be treated (you would want someone else to understand you if you were visibly upset or distressed).
- Let your child be in charge of their own emotions—and how (and when) they let them out.
- Don't bribe or punish to get the results you think you should get. Instead, let your little one trust their instincts.
- Only set limits when necessary, like for safety purposes.
Sometimes we expect little ones to act like adults, but we need to educate ourselves as to the developmental abilities at each age they hit. For example, a 5-year-old often throws temper tantrums, but if we had the same problem with a 12-year-old, we should consider that an issue worth working on. Instead, we should focus on treating our kids as we would want to be treated. "Children have bad days just like us. Some days the world is overwhelming; some days they are scared, lonely, confused, anxious or angry," says Ockwell-Smith. "Some days they need duvet days, hugs, and for us to listen to them."
- Don't let your child cry it out at night.
- Give them your full attention as you would want (even if they're not acting the way you'd want them to).
- Refrain from instituting time-outs.
You probably understand the concept of respect, but it's important here to underline the importance of respecting your child's individuality. If you don't like to do or eat something, you don't force yourself to do it, so why would you force something on your child? By giving control back to the child, you're playing into the concept of respect.
"If we respected our children, we would listen when they woke crying in the middle of the night instead of returning them to bed with minimal eye contact or conversation," explains Ockwell-Smith. "If we respected our children, we would not force them to eat the untouched broccoli on their plate that they beg us to leave. If we respected our children, they would respect us and not feel the need to display half of the behaviors listed above."
- Let your child tell you what and when they want to eat.
- Work your schedule around your child's while they are still young.
- Let them have their own opinions—and support them. ■
Now that you have more background on gentle parenting, you can consider trying it with your little one. And remember: There is no one-size-fits-all approach for parenting.