There are no hard and fast rules as far as parenting goes. Contrary to what ‘experts’ would have parents believe, parenting is mostly trial and error. There are no perfect parents, only those who have learned from experience and research. Those who are deemed experts are so because they help others with the best practices they have studied and discovered. As such, there is no perfect parenting style – each has its own pros and cons – and Gentle Parenting is no exception. What are Gentle Parenting’s pros and cons?
The overarching view of Gentle Parenting shows its tender, child-focused approach as its main strong point or pro. Yet it is the same mild method of nurturing that seems to be judged as its weak point or con. This is because gentle parenting is not a one size fits all type of parenting and is more suited to parents who adopt a more westernized and modern view of child-rearing.
Let us examine these pros and cons in more detail.
Gentle Parenting Explained
Before the pros and cons, let us revisit what Gentle Parenting is. Gentle Parenting is a term coined by author Sarah Ockwell-Smith in her book ‘The Gentle Discipline Book’. It describes a parenting style that is focused on correcting rather than scolding and rejects the idea that disciplining equals punishing. Its aim is to ensure the child understands and learns, rather than act to avoid reprimand. Its focus is on the child’s learning, rather than the parent’s disappointment.
Gentle Parenting takes its cue from the popular Authoritative Parenting style discussed by Diana Baumrind in her early research paper, “Effects of authoritative parental control on child behavior”. Like authoritative parents, gentle parents shower their children with warm affection while also setting a high standard for them. According to Baumrind’s research, children of parents who use the authoritative parenting style are said to exhibit assertiveness, self-reliance, self-control, buoyancy and an affiliative nature.
Gentle Parenting Pros
The term ‘pros and cons’ comes from the Latin phrase pro et contra which means for and against. The strong arguments for gentle parenting are its approach and its results. An approach that respects the child and focuses on empathy, understanding, and boundaries yields happy, well-adjusted children. Let us delve more into these Gentle Parenting outcomes:
Children who love learning
Gentle Parenting’s use of teaching rather than punishing enables children to learn in a safe and comfortable environment. Without the fear of being reprimanded, they can be themselves and follow their curiosity and interests freely. They are not afraid to make mistakes as they see these as opportunities to learn. They know that mistakes they make are not a reflection of how good or bad they are, but an action that must be considered more carefully next time. When challenging situations are framed as teachable moments, learning becomes a more pleasant experience.
Gentle Parenting’s method of using logical and natural consequences as a way to teach makes children more aware of cause and effects or the relation between their actions and its results. They realize that their actions can lead to desirable or undesirable outcomes depending on whether they have thought about the possible effects of their behavior. When children are shown that behavior leads to certain outcomes, they become more mindful of what they are doing and learn to think things through.
Because gentle parenting does not treat mistakes as a punishable offense, children learn that their actions are different from their person, and their mistakes do not define who they are as people. Children learn that they can bounce back from making a mistake and try again. This is an important skill to have in an increasingly stressful world. Knowing that if things do not go their way, they can still persevere and try again will help children through many challenging situations throughout their life.
In children’s first relationships, parents or carers set the tone for how children will view and be in other relationships in their lives. Gentle Parenting’s respectful approach where the needs of the child are considered demonstrates to children to interact with others in a respectful manner. Being on the receiving end of this considerate exchange establishes to the child the type of congenial interaction that occurs in a healthy relationship. This positive view and experience of relationships enable them to initiate and maintain good relationships themselves. Yes, this includes maintaining good relationships with their parents with whom they have well-established respect and trust.
Gentle Parenting Cons
With respect to ‘cons’ or points against Gentle Parenting, I have found that it is more things that other parents disagree with rather than something that can be hurtful to your children. The cons represent a difference in preference – opposition to this parenting style. Let us have a look at some of the identified cons of Gentle Parenting.
Gentle Parenting requires a particular mindset of parents wanting to engage in it. This mindset is one that is proactive – thinking of the end in mind for their child to guide their decision-making and lifestyle. Gentle Parenting is not a ‘winging it’ or knee jerk type of parenting, but one that is considered and thoughtful. As such, it can seem too involved and a more difficult way of raising children. For example, instead of getting mad instantly as something wrong a child has done, gentle parents think about how to talk to their children about the mistake and how it could be done better.
It takes time
Gentle Parenting is not an instant fix. It takes time and effort to correct and teach children consistently. It takes time to explain why something is right or wrong, it takes time to listen to children explain what they are thinking. Results of gentle parenting are not seen overnight but over time, through consistent effort.
It is not for everyone
There are many different schools of thought as far as parenting goes. Gentle parenting is not a rules-based method but rather an ethos or way of life that guides parents on how to go through parenting with their children. It is not for parents who believe in punishment – emotional or physical. It is not for those who favor the authoritarian rule of low warmth and high demandingness, or those who believe whatever the parents say goes without question.
The principle of empathy in Gentle Parenting focuses on the parent having empathy for their child’s situation. It views parenting from the child’s perspective rather than that of the parent. This means thinking of child-rearing, not in terms of what the parent expects of the child alone, but rather thinking of what would be best for the child as well.
Criticisms of gentle parenting
Because of these perceived ‘cons’ of Gentle Parenting, those opposed to its ethos believe that it is a dangerous method of parenting. Among the criticisms levied on Gentle Parenting are that it is:
- Permissive – this is not true as gentle parenting encourages boundaries and expectations of children. There is discipline but it is not the punishment so often thought of when discipline is mentioned. Gentle parenting uses teaching as disciplining was originally intended to be, not punishing.
- Indulgent – often the child-focused approach of gentle parenting is misunderstood as parents paying too much attention to every whim of their children. Critics believe in parenting that ignores children in the name of ‘self-soothing’ when children’s cries are trying to communicate a discomfort that they are experiencing. They see attending to children when they cry as indulging children’s misbehavior.
- Curtails Independence – in the same vein as indulgent, critics of gentle parenting believe that attending to children’s needs makes them less able to take care of themselves and become independent. However, what gentle parenting actually does is take its cue from the child to see when they are ready to detach from parents and become independent. Because children have been attended to and parented gently, they are confident in their abilities and self-reliant – traits that will help them when they are ready for independence.
- Spoils Children – as Sarah Ockwell-Smith mentions on her website, parents cannot love their children “too much”. Gentle parents love their children as much as they need and this creates children who are secure and confident. Spoiling comes more from having no expectations of your child, but as long as warmth is tempered with age-appropriate expectations, the child will learn responsibility.
- Toxic – toxicity is defined as something that is harmful – similar to being poisonous. Gentle parenting is farthest from this definition in that it seeks to move the child away from the harmful effects of physical and emotional discipline often dealt by frustrated authoritarian parents.
The problem with gentle parenting
The problem with gentle parenting is that it departs from the conventional ways of parenting most people grew up with. Anything that departs from tradition is often met with skepticism, and this approach to parenting is no exception.
Parents who have a stricter way of parenting will be put off by the name alone. It is seen as weak as it does not enforce disciplining as it has always been known, with stern words and physical punishment as the case may be.
Gentle Parenting endeavors to respect and understand the child from their viewpoint – and aims to teach life lessons in a manner that makes learning fun and pleasurable experience for the child. It makes curiosity, questioning, and learning from mistakes rewarding. It takes the fear out of not doing things right the first time, being precocious, or asking too many questions.
Having said that, as mentioned at the beginning of this article, there are no hard and fast rules for parenting, only experimentation with different proven methods to find out which one is most suited to your family. Most parenting methods are not mutually exclusive so feel free to try the best parts of each approach to find which one works for you and your family.
Why does gentle parenting not work, and what to do?
Ockwell-Smith says that it is not that gentle parenting does not work, it is more likely that parents have not given it enough time to work. She said that patience is a key ingredient in gentle parenting – changes do not happen overnight, so just be consistent in your approach and make it a lifestyle, rather than a one-off solution to a situation with your child.
With the plethora of parenting methods out there, there are many possible ways of raising a child and no one correct way. Gentle parenting offers an alternative approach to the conventional ways and those passed on through generations, an approach that considers life from the child’s point of view.
Most of us remember being young and overwhelmed with new experiences, not to mention fearing making mistakes and disappointing people we care about. We were scared of being scolded and punished for not thinking things through before acting, for acting up, for being careless. Gentle parenting aims to overturn this childhood experience with its ethos of empathy, respect, understanding and boundaries. This is done by talking things through, explaining why something is wrong, modeling respect, and setting clear expectations of what is acceptable and unacceptable.
Gentle parents, just like any other caring parent, want the best for their children and want to be able to raise their children so they grow up to be the best they can be. They help make this happen by ensuring a happy childhood where children are cherished and nurtured well. They respect their children and make an effort to understand them and their views. They have open lines of communication where children are not afraid to raise their views or reason out. They model what they hope for their children in the way they live their lives such as a calm and respectful demeanor, and a moderate approach to challenging situations.
Gentle parenting is the starting point of a lifestyle of respect and empathy, understanding, of healthy boundaries. A child raised in gentle parenting ways grows up to be a gentle person themselves – one who is respectful and commands respect, one who can empathize with others, one who seeks to understand, one who knows about healthy boundaries – how to enforce and respect them.