“I was spanked and punished when I was a kid, and I turned out fine.”
“We got to prepare kids for the real world.”
“Kids today have no respect.”
“You’re going to let them walk all over? I feared my parents.”
If you are a parent and have decided to adopt gentle parenting, you might have heard one of those sentiments from a family member or even a spouse.
If you have, I’m sorry. That’s frustrating. But you’re certainly not alone, and I’m here to help.
1. Explain What Actually Is Gentle Parenting and What It Is Not?
Gentle parenting is an evidence-based approach to raising happy, confident children. Gentle parenting, or authoritative parenting, focuses on respect, empathy, understanding, and boundaries.
It is NOT permissive parenting, which is defined by its lack of discipline, enforcement of rules, and boundaries. These parents take on the role of friend, rather than parent.
It is likewise NOT authoritarian parenting which focuses on obedience and punishment over discipline. The emphasis is on making kids feel sorry for their mistakes instead of teaching them how to make better choices the next time the problem arises.
It is also NOT
And it certainly IS NOT uninvolved parenting where parents pay little attention to their kids and offer them little guidance. Kids are almost expected to raise themselves.
While a parent can definitely fall into more than one category, it is important to explain what gentle parenting is and even more important to explain what is not when getting your family on board with your gentle parenting approach.
Sometimes, family members might scoff at the approach of gentle parenting because they are confused about what gentle parenting actually is. They, in fact, might be confusing it for permissive parenting.
Therefore, the first step is sitting all parties down and going over the definition and key terms of what gentle parenting is and is not, so everyone has a clear idea of what to expect.
2. Explain Why Gentle Parenting is Beneficial
Now that you have established what gentle parenting is, I’ve put together some arguments about why gentle parenting is beneficial, and, in my opinion, the best style of parenting.
As parents, our goal should be to raise kids to be good adults. Childhood is the time to give them the skills to become good adults. It's the time to teach.
I have unfortunately heard adults who have criticized some of the approaches of gentle parenting say things like “No one is going to coddle you in the real world,” or something along those lines.
While that may be true, I’d argue that no one is also going to feed, dress, and drive your child to work in the real world, and no one is going to read for them and write their emails for them. Yet, it would be absurd to expect our children to do any of those things themselves and then punish them when they couldn’t. When they are developmentally ready and we’ve taught them the steps to achieve these life skills themselves is when we can start to hand some control over to them.
The same is true with communicating big feelings and emotions. Temper tantrums are 100% a normal part of a child’s development and the only way they will learn how to handle them is if we TEACH them how to handle them and not PUNISH them. Here is an article of the stages of emotional development.
That’s where gentle parenting comes into play. The whole concept of it is to teach kids appropriate behaviors in place of inappropriate behaviors while still validating their kids feelings but ultimately showing that they are the confident and calm leader their child needs.
The benefits of gentle parenting are immense.
On the other hand, authoritarian parenting can have some lifelong negative consequences.
The next step to getting all family members to accept gentle parenting is to explain the benefits of gentle parenting while lovingly explaining some of the downfalls to other styles of parenting.
3. Address That Information is Constantly Changing
Heraclitus said, “The only constant in life is change.” And that is especially true for parenting. Parents are not parenting the same way they did 1,000 years ago or even 100 years ago.
Babies used to not sit in car seats.
Parents were told to put their babies to sleep on their stomachs.
Kids would often quit school before high school to help out the family.
As our society advanced and we learned new things, parenting practices changed as well. That has just been the way of the world.
Parents did the best they could with the resources they had. But with new research, we adjust and adapt in hopes that we continue to leave the next generation better than the previous one.
I’m sure when I get older and become a grandparent, there will be even new research about parenting out there.
“When you are finished changing, you are finished.” - Ben Franklin
There is a lot of parenting information on the internet. At times, it can be overwhelming.
Here are a few things I remember when I see new information:
The third step is sharing these questions with your family members and inviting them to reflect on these new rules, boundaries, and discipline measures. Carefully, lay out what you expect everyone to do and say when it comes to gentle parenting. (i.e. if a child hits, we do xyz).
4. Reflect on Whether We Actually Are Fine
In the most loving way without pointing out a singular person, it could be beneficial to point out if we actually turned out fine like so many people who advocate for “old school” parenting like to say.
It sounds funny.
But so many people were never taught how to deal with frustrations, rejections, and conflict that these people grew up to have their tantrums manifest in different ways.
Just go to Twitter or the comment section or even turn on the news. These people are throwing adult tantrums in a very unhealthy way! My 3 year old son can handle his frustrations better than some of these men and women.
You might want to skip this step if you think your recipient will become combative (which is exactly my point), but otherwise it wouldn’t hurt to just reflect with others what turning out fine actually means.
And I don’t know about you, but I want my son to turn out more than just fine. I want him to be the best version of himself. I want him to thrive and live up to his true potential.
5. Gentle Parent the Parents
Gentle parenting doesn’t just work on kids. It works on adults too. Lastly, when sitting down relatives to have this conversation, remember some of the key points of gentle parenting - validating all feelings and applying the Most Generous Interpretation (MGI).
Here’s a conversation you might have…
“You’ve always taught me to __________, so I’ve been researching gentle parenting and really like the long term benefits of it.”
In this first line, you are complimenting the parents for their style of parenting.
“I’m hoping we can all get on board with it for the benefit of ________ [child’s name].”
Here you are providing a poignant reminder that it’s all about the child whom you all love.
“If we ask you to ________, we are not criticizing you. I know it’s hard to remember everything when you’re used to one way for so long. It’s been hard for me too. We just want us to all be consistent because that’s what is best for [child’s name].”
Again, remind them that we are all in this together and that you are applying the MGI if they make a mistake.
“How would you like us to address any concerns to you?”
Lastly, you are involving them in problem-solving and helping them meet their needs.
Allow them to ask questions and make mistakes as long as they are open to learning and doing better.
Gentle parenting works for all ages. I use it on my son. My teenage students. My husband (or at least I try 😂).
But, I also give myself grace if I sometimes yell or lose my cool.
The thing with gentle parenting is that it allows for mistakes and continued improvement.
I hope that those five steps are enough for family members to get on board.
Unfortunately, there will be people who simply won’t listen, become defensive, and criticize you still.
If that is the case, I either recommend family therapy, parent coaching, conflict management and conflict resolution, or setting boundaries that limit the time you spend with this person.
Dr. John Delony is my favorite when it comes to walking you through hard stuff.
There will also be times when random people will say something to your child that doesn’t align with your values.
For example, I refuse to call my child shy to his face. But other people have. When they do, I usually say something like, “Ohh, he just likes to observe first before jumping in.” Then, I turn to my son and say, “It’s okay to take your time.”
I’m not making a big deal or lecturing people. My actions do the talking and my son knows that I’ve got his back.
Likewise, if someone tells your child that they are making them sad by not listening or hugging them you can either talk to your child in private and explain that what the adult said was wrong or you can jump in and set the boundary straight, “Oh, we’ve been teaching our children that they don’t have to hug if they don’t want to. I’m sure you understand. You wouldn’t want someone just always hugging you.”
Yes, this might be awkward and tough, but this is what we are literally teaching our kids - to do things that might be awkward and tough.
Then, release any guilt about what the receiver of what you just said might be feeling. It’s on them. Not you. Listen to this if this is hard for you.
If your family members decide to jump on board with gentle parenting, great! Now let’s set them up for success with the right tools.
You can refer them to my blog - Laurenbarrettwrites.com to read my blogs on parenting strategies.
Or they can join my email list where they can get monthly tips for free or weekly tips and a chance to submit questions in my Lauren Barrett Writes Insider’s Scoop Membership for a small fee.
Or you can gift to them my book or course called Now What? Mindful Parenting Checklists for Life’s Hard Moments.
You got this!