Finding a parenting method that fits your personal and family values can be challenging. This is especially true when blending parenting styles from different upbringings (and dealing with all the stressors that parenting throws your way).
Today, we’re finding that many millennials and gen X-ers were raised with an authoritative parenting style and are looking for a different method for their own kids. Gentle parenting is one option that many are embracing. As a result, it has received lots of social media attention.
There are a lot of misconceptions around this term, and that's partly why it's become such a buzzword. In order to understand what gentle parenting is, it's really important to understand what gentle parenting is not.
Gentle parenting is NOT:
Gentle parenting (also known as responsive parenting) is an evidence-based model of parenting that has been proven to be effective in raising healthy, resilient and connected kids. It's based on four tenets: empathy, respect, understanding and boundaries.
Gentle parenting acknowledges that we, as parents and kids, are responding to stressful situations from our nervous system, or our automatic responses, and not from a logical place. Rather than working against our nervous system by escalating responses with yelling and added stress, gentle parenting works with our nervous system and its response to stress.
Our stress response was designed to keep us safe from things that cause life-threatening physical harm. Today, it's often triggered by stressors like having a long to-do list or children misbehaving. For kids, a response is typically the result of having an unmet need. When we become activated and our nervous system responds, gentle parenting focuses on being gentle with ourselves (and our kids), realizing that our responses are part of our biology.
Gentle parenting strategies involve "bringing in" rather than "pushing away". Yelling, threats or timeouts are all reactions that separate a parent from the child. They only cause more nervous system stress and bigger behaviors. Instead, gentle parenting relies on the foundations of a healthy relationship in de-escalating triggered behavior.
As mentioned above, gentle parenting doesn't mean simply allowing your child to do whatever they want. Gentle parenting involves responding to challenging behaviors in ways that illustrate and model empathy, establish mutual respect, show understanding and set firm boundaries. Here a few gentle parenting strategies:
In order to be empathetic, respectful, understanding and set boundaries with our kids, we also have to give those things to ourselves.
Research about secure attachment tells us we only have to get things right in relationships one-third of the time. We're going to mess up a third of the time. And then the other third, we spend making a repair. That is the recipe for secure attachment. It’s a lot more doable than feeling like you have to be at 100 percent all of the time.
So, give yourself grace. You're not going to do everything perfectly. You're going to lose it and yell at your kids. But, take that opportunity to make a repair. Tell them how you were feeling and how you wish you would have handled it. It’s okay, and important, to apologize when we mess up! Opportunities like these can help you build more secure connections with your children and help them learn how to respond to stressful situations.
If you're looking for more information on gentle parenting, I've provided some resources below. Each of our primary care offices have behavioral health consultants as part of the care team. They can answer any questions you have about gentle parenting or about your child's behavior in general.