Gentle Parenting is a method of parenting that focuses on giving feedback to the child through teaching, rather than reprimanding. It is an inspiring approach that many parents are interested in, but would like to know more about. Is gentle parenting really effective?
Gentle Parenting is an effective way of child-rearing because its temperate nature creates a bond between parent and child based on respect and trust. Children raised using gentle parenting receive tender nurturing rather than negative feedback. This allows children to grow confidence in their abilities as they learn. It likewise allows children to build strong relationships with their parents, whom they see as warm, loving carers. As a result, they grow into self-assured, well-adjusted adults.
To understand how Gentle Parenting is effective, let us start by defining effective parenting. Is there such a thing as effective parenting?
What is Effective Parenting?
Parenting is considered effective if it accomplishes the goals parents have set for raising their children. Each parent has different goals for their children but there are also similar universal aspirations most parents wish their children to achieve.
Most parents have the same goals of raising children. They may look different based on cultural values, but essentially, parents want their children to grow up to be the best version of themselves possible. The American Psychological Association (APA) identifies three major goals shared by most parents worldwide:
- ensuring children’s health and safety,
- preparing children for life as productive adults, and
- transmitting cultural values.
Parents, in effect, just want their offspring/s to be happy, kind and respectful, responsible, smart and successful, and to have a good relationship with them. The good news is Gentle Parenting, because of its positive nature, is an excellent method to foster these outcomes. Let us measure Gentle Parenting’s effectiveness against each of these goals:
Gentle parenting raises happy children because it focuses on patiently teaching children right and wrong rather than controlling them with fear of punishment. This method avoids punishments and reprimands, in favor of carefully guiding children and allowing them to learn from their mistakes. As a result, children live joyful young lives, free from unnecessary fear of punishment or ridicule.
Example – instead of screaming at a child for spilling their drink, explain to them why it is important to be careful when handling their drink and what the consequences are.
A child that understands why, and why not will be a happier child than one that is screamed at or forced to abide by a punishment.
Kind and respectful children
Gentle parents respect their children as individuals and pay attention to what they have to say. This demonstrates to children how to show respect to others and that they are worthy of respect.
Example – if the child is trying to explain why they spilled their drink, do not interrupt them and let them finish their explanation. This shows that what they have to say is worthy of attention. They will then in turn do this to other people they converse with.
A child that feels listened to will feel respected and will develop respect for others.
Children who love learning
Because gentle parenting does not use fear to discipline children, children are free to question, make mistakes, and ask for help as they learn. This results in inquisitive children who are inspired to learn about the world.
Example – when the child asks why it is bad to spill their drink, explain to them what results from their actions and how this impacts other people. Be specific with your explanations so they understand it in the context of their daily life – such as it will make the floor sticky and dirty, we will need to change and wash your clothes, the drink is wasted and we will need to pour another one, etc.
A child that feels heard and understood will be calmer and feel more open to conversations with their parents and will be open to listening and learning.
Children who will be successful adults
While this is not a direct by-product of gentle parenting, the traits cultivated by this approach aid children in becoming future adults who are able to handle challenges and use their knowledge to become productive members of society.
Example – when a child is mindful of actions and is aware of consequences of their actions, they learn to be more thoughtful and considerate. This means they learn to think things through, set intentions and plan – essential steps towards success in any endeavor.
A child learns from its environment and experiences. Positive experiences will allow a child to be open to learning and be more confident socially – key ingredients for future success.
Have a good relationship with their parents
The respect, empathy, and understanding shown by gentle parents are seeds that develop a strong and a healthy bond between them and their children. When a child is shown gentleness, they learn to be gentle. The same goes for any other trait modeled to children.
Example – If shouting is a normal behavior in a household, the children will adapt this pattern early in life and see it as a normal part of communication.
Positive experiences through Gentle Parenting will ensure that the child develops strong bonds with its parents. These bonds will be the foundation for a good relationship whatever challenges they may face throughout their life.
The Gentle Parenting Approach
We’ve seen how Gentle Parenting is applied to the most common parenting goals, but what does the approach really comprise?
Gentle Parenting is a parenting approach that is focused on helping the child learn through natural consequences and using reasoning. It deviates from the mainstream parenting style of punishing children to correct ‘bad behavior’. As its name suggests, it aims to make learning fun and pleasurable, not stressful. It is giving the child a positive childhood experience, rather than a fearful one.
There are misconceptions about Gentle Parenting being a lax and permissive kind of parenting. This is because being gentle and nice are often misconstrued as weak. On the contrary, it is a parenting method that relies on strength and patience. It requires strength from the parent to resist the urge to scold, and instead, take time to understand the child, explain to the child, and teach the child. It requires patience as the results of gentle parenting are not immediately evident, but it is sowing the seeds that will eventually blossom into a well adjusted, happy child.
Is Gentle Parenting Evidence-Based?
Sarah Ockwell-Smith, who coined the term Gentle Parenting in her book Gentle Discipline, states that this parenting style espouses the principles of Authoritative Parenting – one of the four main parenting styles identified by psychologists Diana Baumrind and researchers Maccoby and Martin, that vary in levels of warmth and demandingness. Authoritative Parenting is where the parent has a parenting approach that is high in warmth (lots of love and care) and high in demandingness (adequate age-appropriate expectations). The other three parenting styles are Authoritarian (low warmth, high demandingness), permissive (high warmth, low demandingness), and neglectful (low warmth and low demandingness).
Gentle parenting is evidence-based in that, as stated above, it follows the same principles as authoritative parenting, a style that is seen as the recommended parenting approach based on evidence based studies.
Apart from Baumrind, Maccoby and Martin, other researchers worldwide have reported beneficial effects of authoritative parenting in diverse countries such as China, Czech Republic, India, Israel, and Palestine, as well as most Western countries. Because gentle parenting is essentially the same as authoritative parenting, this shows gentle parenting’s effectiveness as a method of raising children. The overall beneficial effect is the child’s wellbeing as well as optimal parent child relationship.
Benefits of Gentle Parenting
As mentioned in our previous article “What is Gentle Parenting?”, this style of parenting has been found to be a good predictor of a child’s social, mental, and academic wellbeing. Their exposure to high warmth and high demandingness instills in them a can-do attitude that is supported by loving care from their parents.
This is based on Diana Baumrind’s first study on parenting styles in the 1960s which reported children who were raised in the authoritative parenting style exhibit assertive and self-reliant behavior. Baumrind actually observed three patterns of behavior in her sample of 110 children in the study.
The first group showed behavior that was assertive, self reliant, self-controlled, buoyant and affiliative, the second group showed behavior that was discontented, withdrawn and distrustful, and the third group showed behavior that had little self-control or self reliance, and retreating from novelty. These three patterns of behavior corresponded to authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive styles respectively.
Subsequent studies show that authoritative parenting, on which gentle parenting is based, is also associated with emotional stability, adaptive coping patterns, and general life satisfaction.
Apart from research, child and parent interviews likewise report the same results. As compared to children whose parents use the authoritarian style, those whose parents use the authoritative style tends to be more well-adjusted socially.
Finally, the respect and trust built into the parent-child relationship of gentle parents is a benefit that will impact all future relationships including a parent-child bond that will last into adulthood.
Why Gentle Parenting Works
Gentle parenting works because it is not only a method of child-rearing but rather a lifestyle. Parents who use the gentle parenting approach apply the principles to all aspects of the child’s life, not just discipline.
Empathy, respect, understanding, and having clear firm boundaries are carried out in every stage of the child’s life and become a guide to the way they live. This results in children who are self- assured and confident, who are at ease speaking their minds, are able to manage their emotions and can engage in meaningful relationships with others.
It is important to note that Gentle Parenting is not an instant solution. The principles of gentle parenting are considered and adopted in each parenting decision made until it becomes a normal part of child rearing and lifestyle for the family. It is a process that requires patience, it is building a system that the child can refer to as they grow into adulthood.
Is Gentle Parenting Better?
It is difficult to give an absolute answer to such a question because parenting styles and outcomes rely on many factors including culture, age of parents, and beliefs, among others.
There are definitely many schools of thought with regard to parenting that are as diverse as the people on the planet. That is why it is important to consider a parenting style that works for you and your family.
A good way to do this is to read up on various parenting styles and pick and choose the parts of each approach that is suited to how you would like to raise your family. Just like other methods, Gentle Parenting’s principles are not a “one size fits all” – its principles are best for those who would like to adopt this approach.
There is a cultural aspect that must be considered in applying Gentle Parenting. As mentioned earlier, while studies show beneficial results in many varied countries, it was found that the Authoritative/Gentle Parenting approach is most suited to the Westernized, individualistic societies, rather than societies where stringent rules and punishments are part of raising children. It will definitely not fit in with those who believe in the “spare the rod, spoil the child” philosophy.
How does one apply Gentle Parenting? Where does one start?
Gentle Parenting goals can be achieved through long-term, consistent, creative effort in caring for and teaching children in daily life, with the child’s best interest at heart. It is:
- Long-term – because parenting is a lifelong commitment that begins in childhood. It is not a day job that ends at 5 pm. It is considering your child’s needs as you go about life, 24/7, 365 days a year.
- Consistent – because it takes repetition to create a habit that will last, sporadic discipline is ineffective and teaches children that rules are not always enforced. The best way to teach is by example, so modeling how you would like your child to grow up, by the way you live your life is the best way to be consistent.
- Creative – because effective parenting includes reframing mistakes into teachable moments and problems into opportunities for finding creative solutions. It is transforming awkward and challenging situations into fun and inspiring moments that can spark a lifelong love of learning.
- Effort – because it is easier to be a lazy parent and let children do what they want, and not teach them right from wrong. However, effective parenting is thoughtful and considered, making sure decisions made are for the child’s benefit rather than the parents, to help the child grow into their best version.
- Caring and Teaching – because the basis of raising a child is providing for their needs – physical, emotional, mental, intellectual, spiritual, cultural by nurturing them.
Gentle parenting has piqued the curiosity of many parents because it is a tender child-centered parenting approach that is the antithesis of how past generations have been raised. Many of today’s parents still remember the spanking they received or that they were not allowed to reason or explain if they did something wrong. They wish to do better for their children, and are always on the lookout for a happy medium between too hard and too soft parenting.
Apart from avoidance of punishment as discipline, Gentle Parenting method also promotes the building of a high-quality parent-child relationship based on trust and respect. The APA believes that this is critical for healthy child development.
The parents being the first relationship of a child sets the tone as to how other relationships will develop. A child who experiences respect learns their worth and how to treat others with respect as well. A child who has someone to trust feels secure knowing that there are people whom they can depend on, and in turn, models this in relationships they will have in the future.
The effectiveness of Gentle Parenting rests on the parents’ desire to provide their child with a positive childhood experience based on respect, trust, and a loving parent-child relationship. When a child experiences loving support and knows that their worth is not tied to whether or not they make mistakes, they are able to live and learn more effectively.