Gentle Parenting Discipline raises happy and successful children. I have no doubt of that in my mind. However, in order for us to agree on this matter we need to clarify what it means to be happy and successful. Sure, we all want our children to have it all, the friendships, the career, the family, the money. But let me ask you this? Do you help them achieve these goals by allowing them space to find their true selves? Or do you push them to pursue milestones set by society?
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If the answer is to find their true self, maybe your ideals align better with that of Gentle Parenting Discipline. This parenting style was coined by Sarah Ockwell Smith in the early 21st century and has exploded ever since. She is a British author and psychologist who has written 12 books on gentle parenting discipline. The subject of her books are children from birth to 6 years of age.
Gentle Parenting Guides More Than They Lead
As a Gentle Parent, the primary focus is on the child’s natural predispositions and interests. You are the guide that helps them find the tools to explore who they are. Mainstream Parents often inserts themselves for who they feel their child should be.
Don’t get me wrong, both mainstream parenting and gentle parenting can raise well educated, happy and successful adults. There are 5 big differences though between these parenting styles that are worth exploring.
Continue reading to find out!
5 Ways Gentle Parenting Discipline Varies from Mainstream Parenting:
1. Unmet Need vs. Bad Behavior
“Identifying the Unmet Need, Instead of Correcting Bad Behavior”
Believes that bad behavior is a child’s way of expressing an unmet need. At younger ages, children are not equipped with the skills to properly communicate. Therefore, it is the parents role to model the preferred behavior and communication. The reason children can’t behave well at times is that their brain is under-developed. Under moments of stress when they are upset, the brain can’t fully keep up with parent expectations.
Manipulation is often believed to be the basis for bad behavior in young children. From a very young age, mainstream parenting thinks of a baby or child acting out as manipulating. Parents in this mindset fall into power-struggles with their child on a daily basis. They will try and assert control over the child in form of time-outs and punishments.
Example of Unmet Needs vs Bad Behavior:
Your 2 year old is on the floor screaming because they don’t want to put their shoes on. The gentle parent seeks the unmet need. A common one is the child’s need to have some control over their day. A gentle parent would tell the child they have to wear shoes, but they can pick between the blue or black one’s. The power struggle is diverted once the focus moves to something acceptable for the child to control.
In mainstream parenting, this tantrum would most often be seen as the child being disrespectful. The parent then feels the need to remind the child who is in charge. The easiest way to do that is screaming and punishments. Depending on the child here, they might give in and move on. If you have a strong willed child, they will push through until they feel their needs are met. This can be really challenging for the parent who then escalates their punishments until they see a result.
2. Dependence vs Independence
“Allowing Dependence From Your Children Results in Independent Adults with High Self Esteem.”
Children yearn for the safety of a main care-giver that leads them. They are well aware of how small they are in relationship to their environment. That can be very unsettling for anyone. Dependence normally starts off with seeking the mother, but can naturally evolve to multiple family members. It can also be a daycare teachers who the child sees on a daily basis and feels safe with.
Gentle Parenting Discipline believes that allowing children to be fully dependent on their main caregivers is important. That relationship will naturally evolve to independence when they are developmentally ready.
In the meanwhile, main stream parenting believes that independence needs to be taught as soon as possible. It is often assumed that a dependent child (sometimes referred to as clingy) is signaling a larger issue that needs resolving. The fear is that children who don’t want to do things on their own, will not grow up to become independent adults.
Example of Allowing for Dependence vs Forcing Independence:
Baby and toddler sleep are a great example of how gentle parenting views on dependence varies from mainstream parenting. Gentle parents acknowledge that self soothing is a developmental milestone and can’t be forced. That is why sleep training is not practiced. The belief is that the child will sleep through the night when they are ready. Mainstream parenting believes that its the parents responsibility to teach a baby to self soothe at an early age.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t other methods to helps your baby sleep better. In Sarah Ockwell Smith’s Book, The Gentle Sleep Book, you can learn more about these gentle methods. The book goes over how to survive night time with a baby and not use cry-it-out methods.
The balance between dependence and independence looks different for every child. The main difference is that the child initiates independence instead of parents choosing it for them.
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3. Authoritative vs Authoritarian Parenting
“Focus on Consequences not Punishments”
These are Authoritative Parents and teach through guidance. They acknowledge that discipline is important, but recognize that the word means to guide, and not to punish. Authoritative parents are flexible and offer open communication between parent and child. They believe that children do not have the same capabilities for self-control as adults and therefore expectations are different. They use time-ins instead of time-outs (read more below) to stop escalating behaviors, physically stop children when necessary and refrain from yelling and absolutely no spanking.
The belief is that mainstream punishments are ineffective, and create frustrated children. Boundaries are still really important though (Submissive parenting is another style and not in line with gentle parenting ideas). Instead, they might use natural and logical consequences to help their child understand why certain actions are unwanted.
These are often Authoritarian Parents who use force and coercion to exert control. Mainstream parenting believes that children have the same capability for self control as adults but without the same rights. In order to get children to behave in the desired manner, parents use control and a factor of fear through punishments, spanking and yelling. Children might start following instructions this way but the relationship is often severed and fear is the basis for desired behavior.
Example of Authoritative vs Authoritarian Parenting :
A child continues to throw a ball against the wall after multiple requests to stop doing said activity. A gentle parent believes that when a child can’t stop doing a certain activity despite being instructed to, it means they really can’t stop. This goes back to the fact that children’s brains are underdeveloped and self control is the last part to finish growing (not until in your 20’s by the way). A gentle parent would use consequences which in this case could be physically removing the child to reset their focus onto another preferable activity.
In mainstream parenting, the parent’s irritation would escalate as the ball continues to be thrown, as they believe their child is doing it on purpose to be irritating. Often a punishment would be thrown out to try and curb the behavior, such as time-out, taking away privileges, or spanking.
Natural and Logical Consequences
The big difference here is the belief of using Natural and Logical Consequences vs Punishments. Keep in mind though that if a consequence is not Logical or Natural, it becomes a Punishment. in the above example a Natural Consequence could be that throwing the ball will wake up their little sister which means no more alone time with mommy. A Logical Consequence (more appropriate in this instance) would be that the parent physically removes the child because they can’t stop. A Punishment would be taking away screen time for the whole day because the child didn’t listen.
==>I am Sharing the 3 Things I do to Get My Toddler to Listen<==
…without yelling, shaming or punishments.
4. Child-led Routine vs Parent-led Routine
“Gentle Parenting Focuses on Getting to Know The Unique Needs of a Child”
Routines are set based on the natural rhythm of the child. Of course there are other family demands that need to be considered, but overall the child’s schedule takes into account their individual needs. During those early months a child-led routine seeks out cues from baby as to when they are hungry and tiered.
Gentle Parents are more likely to feed on demand and not worry about what is right or wrong. As the child gets older and starts having their own interests, a child-led routine encourages the child to explore their own interests.
Life for a child is more prescribed by the parent who makes the major decisions. This can often be easier for parents (especially if there are multiple children in the home) as daily activities are predictable. The predictability can also help children feel safe and therefore happy. It’s good to keep in mind though, the child could get used to being told what they need, instead of seeking it out on their own.
A parent-led routine often follows a more rigid timeline prescribed by pediatricians. This can include sleep training which helps to put baby on a schedule and rigid meal times. These routines put focus on what the parents feel is best for their child and highly encourages them to seek activities that align with those values.
Example of Child-Led Routine vs Parent-Led Routine:
Nap schedules are a good example. A child-led routine would look for cues that the little one is tiered and encourage nap time when that happens. Keep in mind that children tend to be naturally quite predictable with their wake and sleep times.
A parent-led schedule would set up the times their child should nap regardless if they’re tiered or not. This can often result in down time for a child that is not tiered and can be good. However it is a different way of looking at what the parent’s role is in their child’s upbringing. Parent-led routines gives all the control to the parent, while child-led routines allows the child some freedom based on their needs.
5. Time-In vs Time-Out
“Time-in is Not a Punishment”
Parents follow the time-in technique instead. Time-in’s are fundamentally different because they are not a tool for punishing a child. Instead, time-ins are an opportunity for the child to wind down together with a trusted adult and regain control over their emotions. The belief is that time-outs do not allow the child to properly decompress. They have no way of breaking down what happened and establish more constructive and positive habits.
As mentioned above, Gentle Parenting discipline believes that bad behavior is signaling an unmet need, so stepping away to a calmer area, allows for the adult accompanying the child to figure out what they need and move forward in a constructive way.
Time-outs are a really common type of punishment believed to curb unwanted behavior. The point of time-outs is to punish the child for acting negatively and have them think about what they did. The goal therefore is that a child would stop the unwanted behavior to avoid the time-out. Most likely, the child will continue the bad behavior, despite their parents actions. This is not because they don’t care, but because they have not been taught the tools to act differently under stress.
Example of Time-in vs Time-out:
Your toddler hits his little sibling with a toy. Example of time-in, the parent would remove the child from his sibling and sit with him to let him wind down. Depending on the age this might look different. If they are under 2 years old distracting them with another activity is enough, but if they are older the time-in is an opportunity to seek out the unmet need. Maybe he was upset that his sibling came to close to him. The parent would then discuss what he can do instead when that happens.
In the same situation mainstream parenting would use time-outs where the child is sent to his room or instructed to sit in a chair for a period of time to curb the behavior. You can see how the child has not been taught what to do instead when he gets upset which will make it tough for him when presented with other stressful situations.
I Understand my Child so Much Better Now
Learning more about child development and brain function has been really eye-opening. I now get less frustrated when my 2.5 year old toddler acts out, gets upset or screams. I am able to predict common red flags that indicate upcoming unwanted behaviors. These are when he is hungry, tiered or going through an activity transition I know is hard for him.
Gentle Parenting Discipline has helped me not take my child’s behavior personally. It has also helped avoid many unnecessary meltdowns as I get to know his unique cues and needs.
==>Interested to Read More about Gentle Parenting? This is how life has become easier parenting this way.<==
What Is Your Biggest Parenting Struggle?
I would love to hear about your parenting struggles in the comments below!
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