Gentle Parenting is more of a sub-method, but I think it deserves its own post, because it is a direct response against “Authoritarian Parenting.” Here are the basic principles of gentle parenting:
- Guide instead of controlling or ordering
- Connect instead of punishing
- Encourage; don't demand certain behaviours
I like the idea of gentle parenting, in the sense that you try to listen to and communicate with your child when it comes to correcting certain behaviours and attitudes. What I don't like is the supposition that authority is a bad thing. Here are some thoughts on the various principles and why I do or don't use them
Guide – Don't Control
I believe the idea of guiding has its roots in a dislike of parents expecting children to obey “because I told you so”. I understand this, and I hope I don't hear myself saying that, but I don't think it's wrong to expect your child to obey without an explanation. This isn't to say a person should never explain to a child the reason for doing something, but there are times when immediate obedience is more important than stopping to explain why. If my child is about to drop something valuable into the toilet and I tell her to stop, she should stop. If I need to her to come over to me when she's in the middle of something because I see danger about to occur, I need to know she will do that.
Probably this can best be achieved by using a lot of guidance initially, when your child is smaller, so that they come to know you don't just order them around for no reason. It's probably also helpful if there is little need to order around (i.e. you keep your home well child-proofed when they're little and allow freedom with responsibility when they're older).
Connect – Don't Punish
This is an aspect of gentle parenting I agree with up to a certain age, then I think punishment is needed – though the punishment may differ from child to child. I've seen studies that show spanking creates aggression in babies and young children, and it makes sense: they spend all their time copying what they see. If I respond to my baby by spanking her when she does wrong, she will “spank” me when she believes I am doing wrong. She isn't capable of understanding my purpose.
That said, I think once a child is old enough to have explained to him or her what a spanking is, why it occurs, and what they can do to prevent it, it is reasonable to punish using a spanking or other punishment. I was spanked as a child. I always knew why I was being spanked, I was never violently spanked (nor did my parents ever spank us in a state of anger), and I knew it was done because it was a way my parents were teaching me. Because I understood the reasons and was able to comprehend the idea of consequences, I was able to avoid spankings, and I only remember it occurring two or three times. Other of my siblings were not much effected by spanking, so they might be grounded to the house for a time, have some special treat taken away, or were otherwise punished.
I believe punishments should not be extreme, nor used often. They should never be done in anger, and they should be used when the child is able to understand why they are happening and be capable of preventing them from happening in the first place.
Encourage – Don't Demand Behaviours
This is probably the area of gentle parenting I use the most. I feel that a lot of parenting styles tell you how to enforce certain behaviours rather than teaching a child to recognize their own feelings and benefits of certain conduct. This shows in how I allow my child to cry instead of shushing her when she's upset. Instead of trying to distract or invalidate her reaction, I acknowledge her feelings and try to show her how to handle them. If she falls, I say something like: “Did you hurt yourself? Do you want Mommy to hold you?” This shows her that when she is hurt, she can come to me for comfort. If she screams because I won't let her play with the phone, I might say: “this is Mommy's phone, and I know you want to play with it, but you have toys of your own,” and I redirect her toward something she's allowed to play with.
It's the same idea as distracting, because I help her move on, but I think first saying I can see that she's upset is better than ignoring it. It is okay to feel angry or sad, and I don't want her to think crying is something she isn't allowed to do.
I think this type of parenting also lends itself toward no-cry methods when it's time to sleep. I've talked about our method of putting our child to bed, and although it isn't a no-cry method per-say, it doesn't expect my daughter to be logical. I teach her that bed is a safe place by talking about it as something good. I don't say: “sorry, but you have to go to bed! I know it sucks.” I say: “let's get some rest so we have lots of energy to play, tomorrow!” I teach her that I will always be there by coming when she cries (that doesn't mean I come in if she whimpers – I do give her a chance to quiet herself – but I don't expect her to do this if she's clearly crying out for me). I don't require her to sleep through the night when her own father often gets up to snack before the night is over. If adults don't always sleep through, why should I expect my baby to understand why she can't eat if she's hungry?
I love the way gentle parenting teaches us to allow babies to be babies. We shouldn't expect them to be born with the knowledge that sleeping through the night by six months is more restful, hitting is bad, and we should always do what we're told (and no exceptions!). I think it goes a little too far in trying to distance itself from authoritarian parenting, but it's worth incorporating in little ways, as you teach your child to navigate the world and learn about themselves.
Next time: Minimalist or "Simple" Parenting