Our young ones don’t come with remote controls or manuals. We have to learn and let our parenting philosophies evolve. At times, we use our own childhood experiences to devise our parenting strategies. A parent raised in a strict environment might consider it to be the most appropriate way of grooming children to become responsible adults. On the other hand, if a person never felt comfortable with a strict parent as a child, he/she might never use strict discipline as a parent.
When it comes to parenting, “good parents” is a phrase highly subjective in nature. We look around and see different parenting styles being used and advocated. Research on parenting also provides evidence-based findings about the pros and cons of certain parenting styles. Yet, as parents, we have the freedom to decide which style best suits our personality, situation, and parenting philosophy.
The choice of a particular parenting style mainly depends on how you want to raise your child. You might consider having a friendly but firm relationship to make sure that your child knows the boundaries. You might be of the view that children naturally grow into responsible and happy adults if they are given full freedom to learn and set their own rules. Alternatively, you may consider strict discipline the best means to make your children behave.
At times, parents themselves aren’t very well aware of their own parenting practices. I have come across parents who considered themselves gentle parents but were actually practicing permissive parenting.
Let’s explore parenting styles, the difference between gentle and permissive parenting, and the effects of parenting styles.
Styles of parenting
According to Diana Baumrind, Eleanor Maccoby, and John A. Martin, there are 4 dominant parenting styles.
- Some parents enforce extremely strict rules, have very high expectations, and even use punishment to get the desired behavior from the children. Harry Potter’s strict aunt and uncle and Cinderella’s stepmother are good examples of this parenting style, which is called authoritarian.
- Some parents avoid confrontation and don’t expect their children to mind any boundaries. Believing that kids will learn from experience, such parents offer very little or no guidance. This style is known as permissive/indulgent parenting.
- Some parents don’t get involved in the daily activities of their children. They don’t know what their offspring are doing and rarely give them time and attention. This is the so-called uninvolved/neglectful parenting style.
- There are parents who make a lot of effort to develop a positive relationship with their children. They want to set boundaries and teach their kids to differentiate right from wrong. Such parents practice positive discipline techniques and place considerable importance on the feeling and expectations of their children. This style is known as authoritative parenting.
Gentle parenting done right is authoritative parenting
The term “gentle parenting” started gaining prominence in recent years. If we look closely, when done right, with empathy, love, and respect, gentle parenting is actually authoritative parenting. Parenting experts and psychologists also use terms like parenting with understanding and positive parenting for this type of parenting style.
Gentle/authoritative parents use positive reinforcement, reasoning, respect, and empathy to guide their children. Kids raised in this way are more likely to become independent, socially accepted, well-behaved, academically successful, resilient, empathetic, and emotionally strong.
Permissive parenting vs. gentle parenting
These days, we hear a lot about gentle parenting. When prospective and new parents read about the effectiveness of gentle parenting, they try to become gentle in their approach. At times, parents fail to distinguish between permissive and gentle parenting. Many parents unknowingly practice permissive parenting instead of gentle parenting.
Permissive parenting means mostly letting your children have their own way. A permissive parent can be the one who lets their kids do what they like just to prevent them from crying. They believe that children will learn by themselves to behave appropriately as they grow older. Therefore, permissive parents offer very little direction or guidance.
Even if they set a few rules, they don’t make much effort to ensure that those rules are followed. Actually, permissive parents feel that saying “no” to their children will have a very negative impact. So, with this parenting style, children easily get away with bad behavior because parents don’t consider it appropriate to stop or confront them.
Research indicates that children exposed to permissive parenting have a higher prevalence of behavioral problems and behavior inhibition from early childhood to adolescence. According to research conducted on the college population, permissive parenting was associated with higher perceived stress and poorer mental health.
Parenting expert Nicholeen Peck says that permissive parenting can lead to many problematic behaviors in children, such as lack of foresight, lack of respect for authority, loneliness, weak family bonds, and less empathy.
Gentle parenting is characterized by lots of concern, effort, and time invested to make sure that the child is learning the required skills to grow into a happy and responsible adult. Parents very carefully lay down rules and ensure that those rules are understood and followed by the children.
Empathy, respect, and love are at the core of this parenting style. The feelings and expectations of children are given due importance. Parents tend to sit with the children, listen to them, and rationalize the family rules. They practice positive discipline to equip their children with the required social skills and inculcate empathy.
Parenting coach Marcella Collier explains gentle parenting as parenting with understanding. Gentle parents take the behaviors of children as overt signs of feelings and needs. They make conscious efforts to develop a strong bond with their children, communicate with them, and help them become responsible, resilient, and empathetic.
The impact of gentle parenting on children
As I noted above, gentle parenting is authoritative parenting. Research conducted on gentle/authoritative parenting suggests that this parenting style has numerous positive long-term effects on children’s personalities. The benefits include:
1. Better mental health and self-concept
Children raised by gentle/authoritative parents have better self-concept. They are more accepting of their personal strengths and weaknesses and enjoy better mental health.
2. Healthy and positive relations with parents
Gentle parenting creates a strong bond between children and parents. Research findings support the claim that children with gentle/authoritative parents have the highest cohesion and understanding with both parents. They enjoy healthy and positive relations with their parents.
3. Higher academic achievement
A review of parenting styles and adolescent school achievement reveals that children raised by gentle/authoritative parents show a higher level of school achievement and tend to be more successful in their studies. They also exhibit a more positive attitude towards reading books as a leisure activity.
4. Better self-enhancing and achievement strategies
Research conducted on adolescents’ achievement strategies indicates that the children of gentle/authoritative parents have better adaptive achievement strategies, a low level of failure expectation, and more self-enhancing attributions, i.e., developing a positive self-perception.
5. Better brain development
Children raised by positive, empathetic, and supportive parents have better brain structures as adolescents. It means that gentle parenting plays a positive role in a child’s brain development.
Are you practicing gentle parenting?
If you can relate to the following statements, you are practicing gentle parenting.
- I provide comfort and understanding when my child is upset.
- I share with my child how I feel about his/her good/bad behavior.
- I explain the reasons behind my expectations.
- I encourage my child to talk about his/her feelings and problems.
- I respect my child’s opinions and feelings.
- I treat my child as an equal member of the family.
- I compliment my child.
- I consider my child’s preferences when planning anything for the family.
Parents are also human, and they have good and bad days. I always tell parents to be gentle and empathetic to themselves. Despite being a very gentle parent, you still might find yourself getting angry, feeling overwhelmed, or even shouting at your child in an intense situation. Embrace your struggles, stand up, and start practicing gentle parenting again from the very next moment. Practice will make you a proficient gentle parent.
- The Gentle Parenting Book: How to raise calmer, happier children from birth to seven: Sarah Ockwell-Smith shares information about what to expect while practicing gentle parenting. Her book also offers practical solutions to parenting challenges, e.g., handling a crying baby, teaching healthy eating habits, and potty training.
- Gentle Parenting: A Beginners Book For Raising Children With Love, Respect, And Positive Discipline: Elizabeth Ray explains how gentle parenting and positive discipline can help in raising children in a loving and respectful environment. Real-life examples and simple language make this book highly enjoyable and easy to understand.
- Ready, Set, Go!: A Gentle Parenting Guide to Calmer, Quicker Potty Training: Also written by Sarah Smith, this book explains how to potty-train your little one in a gentle way.
- Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child: Eliminating Conflict by Establishing CLEAR, Firm, and Respectful Boundaries: In this book, Robert J. Mackenzie discusses how parents can set limits and use positive discipline with misbehaving children. The writer provides up-to-date alternatives to punishment and permissiveness.