Gentle Parenting is a parenting style that avoids traditional methods of ‘discipline’ for a more child-centered approach. This is similar to Montessori parenting’s focus on the child rather than the parents’ needs. A focus that has earned the Montessori method a reputation for being a gentler kind of parenting. Is Montessori then the same as Gentle Parenting?
Montessori and Gentle Parenting methods overlap in their approach. Montessori parenting is based on respect for the child and its belief in the child’s learning by doing. The Gentle Parenting term was coined in the book “The Gentle Discipline” by Sarah Ockwell-Smith to describe parenting that is less punitive and more focused on teaching. Both methods use reasoning – Montessori relies on the child to figure things out with a little bit of guidance, and Gentle Parenting relies on parents to clearly explain to the child why something is good or bad.
The similarities in their approach are in respecting the child as an individual capable of learning through reasoning. Both agree on seeing the child’s needs as worthy of consideration; not an inconvenience. Let us look at the similarities and differences in depth in the areas of respect, discipline, independence, and learning.
Respect for the Child
Montessori – respect for the child is paramount in the Montessori way. One of the best ways to show respect is to acknowledge them as their own person who knows what they need and want. Montessori parenting is hands-on and involves observing and listening to the child to know what they need to learn and grow. Children are not ignored or left to their own devices. While children are given a degree of independence in their prepared environment, parents play an active role in responding and guiding as needed. The child grows secure in their relationships with family and is confident in their abilities to make decisions.
Gentle Parenting – goes against the parenting methods that encourage ignoring the child to train them to become less demanding. Gentle parents do not believe in the idea of ‘manipulative children’. They see events such as crying and unruly behavior as ways children express their feelings. Gentle parents allow their children to show their needs and support them by responding to their needs and giving them attention, not by punishing them.
Montessori – Learning by doing is the foundation of discipline in the Montessori setting. As the child does their work, they learn through trial and error how things work. They develop discipline by focusing on the work they do. Parents can guide their Montessori children by observing them and narrating what is happening to the child to encourage curiosity and reasoning. However, the actual thinking and determining is as much as possible left to the child. Curious determined children are not thought of as naughty or spoiled, but rather their interests and direction are examined to uncover new teachable moments. Crying or otherwise challenging behavior is observed and discussed, for the children to reflect on.
“There is no punishment or reward in our schools to interfere with the joy in the work itself. The only reward is in the completion of the work – it is at this time that internal discipline establishes itself, and the foundations of character are laid.” (Maria Montessori, Maria Montessori Speaks to Parents, p. 22)
Gentle Parenting – disagrees with the idea that discipline and punishment are the same. It advocates teaching that does not involve punishments such as spanking, smacking, time-outs, and grounding, but instead explains to the children what behaviors are appropriate and how to do better.
Gentle parenting uses natural and logical consequences of the child’s actions as teaching tools. This allows the children to learn from their mistakes rather than being shamed and punished. This results in children who will learn and know that they have to do better because they know the consequences of their behavior. Examples of this are:
– If the child doesn’t wear footwear outside, their feet will become dirty or wet
– If the child doesn’t wear a jumper/coat when they go out, they will feel cold
– If the child isn’t careful while playing ball inside the house and hits the television, the television will break
– If the child tracks mud into the house after playing outside, they will have to help clean it up
– If the child hits another child in the playgroup, they will not be allowed to participate
– If the child stays out past the curfew agreed upon, they cannot go out the next day
Natural consequences often happen immediately and without parent intervention. Logical consequences are an effective method of discipline that teaches children what logically results from their actions. This is an ideal teaching method for children who already possess the capacity for logical thinking. For younger children, these consequences will need to be explained by parents so the children will understand why their actions resulted in the consequences.
Montessori – encourages independent thinking and doing by asking their opinion on different topics or situations. Through questions like “what do you think?” parents show they respect the child’s thoughts and ideas. They do not belittle children’s ideas as they are learning their way. Parents help them think it through by asking guiding questions.
Children are allowed to choose among available activities to strengthen their confidence in their ability to make decisions. When the child is trying something out and not confident, parents do not step in and do it for them but rather help them figure out how to do it by asking them questions that will lead to them thinking.
Gentle Parenting – is often perceived as a permissive type of parenting because they do not advocate leaving children by themselves to learn to self-soothe. Gentle parenting is somehow perceived to curtail independent learning by accommodating the child’s needs. However, gentle parenting is advocating following the child’s cues at their readiness to take on more independence such as sleeping in their rooms.
Ockwell-Smith states: “(independence) happens when children have had their needs met and as a result feel confident enough to walk out into the big wide world alone, knowing that if they need them – their parents are there for them. Gentle parenting creates, not stifles, independence!”
Montessori – believes encouraging children to be independent and learn by themselves is the most effective way of teaching them. This is carried out by giving them the freedom to pursue what interests them. Montessori parenting discourages hovering over the child but instead suggests giving the child time and space to pursue work, play, or chores that they gravitate towards. Within this freedom, parents are advised to observe and guide children through a sort of Socratic questioning to develop the child’s reasoning and thinking skills.
“If teaching is to be effective with young children, it must assist them to advance on the way to independence.” (The Discovery of the Child, p. 58)
Gentle Parenting – believes in raising thinkers, rather than children who will follow rules blindly due to fear of punishment. Critics of gentle parenting suggest that their methods do not prepare children for a life of disappointment, demands, rules, and regulations. However, gentle parenting instead advocates teaching children to question the rules when appropriate and expect respect for themselves the same way they know to respect others.
In some ways, this is similar to the Montessori method in that the training is for children to evaluate what is right and wrong instead of passively accepting what is given to them. Gentle parenting aims to raise empathetic children who can put themselves in others’ situations and understand how behaviors are inappropriate.
Montessori and Gentle Parenting are both methods of instructing the child in a manner that demonstrates respect for the child, a method often misunderstood by traditional parenting as permissive and weak methods. For both parenting approaches, discipline is not equivalent to punishment. Instead, discipline is a child’s mastery of one’s self by learning through experience or doing things.
While Montessori does not use the terms natural and logical consequences, these are exactly how Montessori students learn their lessons. Montessori children evaluate the situation and learn from the consequences.
Gentle parenting has more parent intervention in their teaching methods, Taking the role of teaching and explaining why actions and behaviors are appropriate or inappropriate. Also, the main focus of Gentle Parenting is more on the aspect of disciplining, while Montessori’s has a wider scope, that aside from discipline includes learning by doing, developing work ethics, concentration, critical thinking skills, independent learning, and freedom to self-determine.
Both Montessori and Gentle parenting require the parents to be an active presence in their children’s lives by responding to their child’s needs, spending time with them, instructing them, and showing confidence in them.
Montessori is a gentle form of parenting, but it is not the Gentle Parenting approach. While there are points where these two methods intersect and diverge, the common denominator is the focus on the well-being of the child. Preparing the child for the world by building up the child’s confidence in themselves, and teaching them to think critically, rather than being punished or shamed into submission contributes to secure and well-adjusted children, who in turn will become secure and well-adjusted adults.