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What is gentle parenting, and how can I implement it?

Gentle parenting is a parenting approach grounded in three central elements: empathy, understanding, and respect.

Gentle parenting is a parenting style that encourages you and your child to work together to make decisions based on internal motivation rather than external constraints. 

This parenting style encourages you to be conscious of the behaviour you model for your child, promotes compassion, accepts emotions, and embraces the child as a capable human.

The method does not adhere to a particular set of guidelines. It was not invented by a lifestyle or parenting expert, nor is it the result of a celebrity craze. The gentle parenting philosophy encompasses many tactics you may already be familiar with. 

Parenting specialist and author of The Gentle Parenting Book Sarah Ockwell-Smith defines gentle parenting in three words: empathy, understanding, and respect.

Common misconceptions about gentle parenting

It’s tempting to think of gentle parenting as boundary-free. Parents may be hesitant to adopt a kinder approach because they fear losing control. They are concerned that it will lead to their child’s inability to distinguish what is and is not inappropriate for their child’s safety and treatment of themselves and others. While this is an understandable fear, parents may rest assured that gentle parenting does not forego discipline or boundaries.

Remember that the purpose of this method is to encourage collaboration between parent and child. Arbitrary anger and directives, such as continuously justifying requests with “because I told you so,” are discouraged. On the other hand, gentle parents deliver messages that not only set limits but also have a long-term impact. 

How to implement gentle parenting 

The following suggestions can assist you in adopting gentle parenting into your home:

Comment on the action, not the child

When you speak, try to keep the action apart from the child. It’s the distinction between saying, “You’re mean to your sister“, and saying, “I don’t think your sister appreciates it when you do that. Let’s try something different and see how she reacts“. This emphasises that mistakes happen to everyone but do not define who we are. They’re a normal part of life and learning, and they shouldn’t make us feel bad about doing the right thing.

Be a role model for self compassion

Show your child how to be inquiring and empathetic about their own feelings by being good to yourself. If you’re exhausted, take advantage of the chance to explain what self-care means to you. For example, you could say, “Oh boy, I’m tired today. I’ll take a lovely shower to feel more relaxed and go to bed earlier tonight.” You’ll also be modelling how your child should treat themselves and others in difficult situations.

Phrase your words differently

Sometimes it’s not so much what we say but how we say it. It can be frustrating when your child doesn’t listen to your instructions. For example, if you’ve asked your child to tie their shoelaces but they refuse. In this case, a gentle parenting approach would suggest you respond by saying, “Should we tie our shoes so we don’t trip?” instead of “Tie your shoes, or I won’t read you a book tonight“.

Be patient and stay calm

Gentle parenting is not for the faint of heart. Parents can watch all the YouTube videos they want and read everything gentle parenting experts have to offer, but implementing those skills is often challenging. It requires parents to be calm when their child is being infuriating, which is especially difficult when you’re tired or stressed. 

The shift to gentle parenting is built on the parent learning to be patient and unlearning some of the more controlling parenting habits they may have picked up on when they were children.

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